Once upon a time, Americans had the likes of Emily Post and Miss Manners to gently guide their behavior at solemn events and joyous occasions. Their insights into the proper etiquette for life’s gatherings served as the cornerstone for these rituals.
But times have changed and society has moved on. Gone are the days of strict rules for proper decorum and many individuals and families have opted to modify the traditions of the past to suit their changing world views, belief structures, and personal ideals.
It’s All About Perspective
Not surprisingly, those changes have impacted the ways in which society mourns the passing of family, friends, and colleagues. Indeed, the view of death as a cause for mourning has changed in and of itself.
Many individuals are treating funerals as a celebration of life, rather than a mourning of death. And with that change, the rules guiding the etiquette of those honoring their dead have shifted as well.
Traditionally, funerals and graveside services were the exclusive domain of somber dignity and sorrow. Those mourning their loss were hushed, weeping and gently murmuring their prayers and condolences for the departed and those left behind. And while those days are not over, the shift away from that ideal is noticeable.
More and more, as death becomes a celebration of life, the weeping and whispers have been replaced with laughter, heartfelt condolences, and shared memories of the life of the departed.
Typically, this is still done with respect and honor toward the deceased and his or her family, but that respect is given freely and not as a result of the expected pallor cast on those in attendance.
Another aspect of the changes seen in the modern funeral is the shift away from black. Traditionally, attendees would dress for their grief in somber black and dark colors, with many going so far as to remain in mourning dress for up to a month after a loved one’s parting.
While many still respect the traditions of black and semi-formal attire for formal funerals and graveside services, others are casting off the somber colors in favor of bringing a little life to the party.
Increasingly, family and friends of the departed are dressing not in black, but in vibrant colors. Or, at the very least, accenting their traditional garb with a splash of color that is symbolic of the deceased’s favorite color or other nuanced preferences.
Some individuals have gone so far as to include a dress code in their final requests, which may include aloha shirts, western wear , or come-as-you-are casual. Miss Manners might not approve. But, as the wishes of the departed are the ultimate dictate for the event, those requests should be respected.
Further considerations in modern funeral etiquette center on the matter of the memorials offered to the deceased and his or her family. Traditionally, sending flowers to the services was an undisputed part of the funeral experience. However, that tradition has all but fallen to the wayside in favor of gifts made to charitable organizations in the deceased’s name, sometimes in lieu of sending live plants. After all, these contributions will thrive long after the casket has closed.
Ultimately, the etiquette of the modern funeral should be determined by the services planned by the deceased or his or her personal representative. As with any ritual of life, the culture and customs of the departed is the ultimate guide to the proper behavior, dress, and mores of the event. With the multiplicity of ideologies guiding contemporary society there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grief and the rites of mourning.
Respecting the wishes of the departed and the life he or she has lived is of the utmost importance. Should questions arise with regard to the proper etiquette, it is always best to defer to the dignity of the event and the respect due the deceased in whatever way his or her culture and customs call for.
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