It is unfortunate; but, at some point in your career, you may lose a member of your team or someone close to your team. You may lose a friend or a family member. You may be called upon to represent your organization, brand, or family, at a funeral. This is a difficult time, and it is important to be comfortable in knowing how to conduct yourself.
Funeral traditions of some of the world’s major religions are reviewed in this article. If you are not familiar with the religious customs of your departed friend or colleague, research these before attending the funeral service.
Some religions have wakes, or viewings, a day or two prior to the funeral. Sign the reception book as you enter the funeral home so that the family knows you were there. It is up to you whether you wish to view the body, as wakes often have open caskets.
The family members will be seated in one area. Introduce yourself to the family. They are waiting to receive you and other mourners. State your relationship to the deceased. Say something appropriate like, “I am so sorry. John was very special to all of us at the hotel.” Or, “My prayers are with you.” Then move on, as others must also pay their respects to the family. Never say, “My goodness, what happened?” Never ask, “How did he die?” or “Was he ill for a long time?” Your job at this occasion is to provide comfort.
Certain religious groups do not conduct cremations. For those that do, there is generally a church service prior to the cremation. After the funeral service, just the family and the closest of friends attend a short service at the crematorium.
The family generally receives visitors at home following the cremation. The hours of visitation at the family’s home are announced by the funeral director at the end of the church service.
Funerals may be held at a church, synagogue, mosque, or funeral home. The burial at a cemetery follows immediately, and it is considered good manners to attend the burial in addition to the funeral service. If you are attending the burial, get into your car right after the funeral service and follow the funeral procession to the cemetery. There is always a police escort for the funeral procession. Cars in the procession will be asked to turn on their headlights. Some families keep it simple by having the entire service at the graveside.
You and your colleagues may decide to send flowers. It is traditional to send a wreath to the funeral home. Another option is to send a conservative arrangement to the family of the deceased. Sending flowers is not a part of either Jewish or Muslim tradition. Often families will suggest sending a donation to a charity in lieu of flowers.
Jewish families sit Shiva anywhere from two to seven days. Shiva means “seven” and represents the time that traditional Jewish people welcome mourners into their homes. There will be a pitcher of water either at the cemetery or outside of the home. Before leaving the cemetery, or when you arrive at the home after a Jewish funeral, rinse your hands from the pitcher. This is a symbolic cleansing.
The mirrors in the home may be covered. This represents keeping your thoughts on the deceased and not on vanity. Orthodox Jews have little wooden stools you may sit on as a sign that you are not thinking of your own comfort. Mourners may also wear socks but not shoes in the house of the deceased. Again, it is about quiet observance, not comfort.
It is traditional to send food and baked goods, as the mourners are in grief and should not be cooking for their guests. Sending flowers is not a part of the Jewish tradition. A donation to an appropriate charity will be appreciated.
If your coworker was Catholic, go to the family’s church and purchase a Mass card in his or her name. The church will then celebrate a Mass in your friend’s name. A Mass is the central act of worship in many Christian churches. During a Mass, bread and wine are blessed and consumed in remembrance of Christ’s death. Send the Mass card to the family. They will find comfort in your kindness when they attend this special Mass that you and your team have arranged. Mass cards provide all of the information the family needs regarding the day, date, and time of this ceremony.
The pallbearer is a person who helps carry the casket at a funeral. Should you be asked to be a pallbearer at the funeral, you must accept, as this is a great honor. Your participation is also a way of honoring your deceased friend, family member, or colleague. Catholic families receive visitors in their homes after the funeral.
Protestant families receive mourners in their homes after the funeral. As with a Catholic funeral, it is a great honor to be asked to act as a pallbearer.
If your coworker was Muslim, the funeral service will be held within twenty-four hours of his or her passing. Muslims are not cremated. The service is open to all mourners and is conducted after the funeral procession and the noonday prayer.
Men and women may be asked to sit apart from one another. It is respectful for women to wear a scarf to cover their heads, and dress hemlines must hit below the knee. Women who are not Muslim may not be asked to cover their heads.
Attend this service and offer your condolences to the family. The funeral procession itself may be all male and is conducted on foot, not by car. Sending flowers is not a part of the Muslim tradition. A donation to an appropriate charity will be appreciated.
Memorial services are held after the deceased has already been interred. The funeral may have been private, or it may have been held in another town. The memorial service gives those who were not at the funeral or cremation a chance to honor the deceased and to pay their respects to the family.
There is generally a clergyman leading the memorial service. Two or more individuals are asked to speak briefly about the deceased. Being asked to speak is a special honor. If the family will be receiving guests in their home or another location after the service, this will be announced prior to the end of the memorial service.
If You Are Asked to Speak
If you are asked to speak, whether at a funeral or a memorial service, you may not be given much advanced notice. Keep your remarks short, three to five minutes. Your remarks must be comforting and respectful. Consider telling a story that will make the family smile as they remember the departed’s special love for animals, tennis, or volunteer work. Should you become emotional and unable to continue, simply say “I’m sorry” and step down from the podium.
Visiting the Family
When the funeral service ends, a representative of the funeral home will announce when and whether the family will be receiving visitors. Visitors are usually received at the family’s home, but they may also be received at a social or catering hall, hotel, or other location. Whatever the religion, research the traditions before attending the funeral or visiting the family.
How to Dress
This is a solemn occasion, so dress conservatively for a funeral or a wake. Dark colors are a sign of mourning and of respect. Women should wear suits, long pants, pantsuits, knee length dresses, or knee length skirts. It is not appropriate to show a lot of skin. Men should wear a dark suit or a jacket and tie.
Attending a funeral is never an easy experience. This is all the more reason for you to be at ease in knowing how to comfortably conduct yourself.
Funeral traditions and religious customs vary. If you are not familiar with the religious customs of your departed friend or colleague, please research these before attending the funeral service.
Excerpts of blog taken from the book: Hospitality Management – People Skills & Manners on and off the Job. Copyright © 2015 Lyn Pont, PhD
“Pont’s book is a must-read for anyone considering a career in hospitality.”
— Isadore Sharp, chairman and founder, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
See the book at: www.HospitalityManners.com
Visit Lyn at: www.MannersForBusiness.com
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