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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Funerary Buffoonery

Experiencing the death of someone you’ve loved deeply is hard.  Grief is real—and most people have a difficult time working through it. While there’s much information out there about the stages of grief, some people are still caught off guard when those of us, as we limp through loss and bereavement, exhibit behavior that is,

Sometimes it can be hard to discern whether any unusual behavior witnessed at a funeral is the result of someone in the throws of grief allowing emotion rather than reason to guide their actions, or whether they're simply someone who's never been instructed on basic funeral etiquette.  To that end, and inspired by recent events, I offer the following tips for minimizing funerary buffoonery.

I’d like to start by saying that you can almost guarantee that the amount of foolishment you’re likely to witness at a funeral is directly proportionate to the size of the decedent’s family. This is especially true in the South where often times there’s that person that wants to get in the casket with the departed. Or faints. Or wants the inheritance they fear might not be coming to them and tries to take the jewelry. If you’re attending funerary services for someone with a large family, be extra prepared.

Tip #1—Attend sober.

Unless you are the parent or spouse of the deceased and have been prescribed some kind of sedation to get you through what I can only imagine is the most difficult thing you will ever do in life, DO NOT attend a funeral service under the influence of any mind-altering medications or illicit drugs.

If you happen to be someone that has battled virtually a lifetime of addiction, do your loved one a solid and make every effort to attend their funeral sober—especially if prior to their death you have experienced weeks if not months of sobriety. A relapse may inevitably be part of your grieving process, but trust me, you CAN find the strength to wait until your loved one is interred before you begin a bender that takes a room full of grieving friends and family of the deceased with you.

Tip #2—Select an appropriate outfit.

This doesn’t mean you have to wear all black, but a conservative outfit is best—especially if the services are being conducted in a church or sanctified place.

Once you have committed to said appropriate outfit, please continue to wear it for the duration of the funerary services.  At no time should you ever disrobe during a funeral for any reason. Even if the reason is that you are geeked out of your mind and the funeral home’s thermostat setting of 58 degrees Fahrenheit has you feeling like your skin is about to melt off, keep your cloths ON. All of them.

If you should encounter someone at a funeral that is obviously a.) high and/or b.) grieving the loss of someone very dear to them, and that person begins to take off his or her clothing, even as the officient standing in front of the closed casket in the funeral home sanctuary calls for a moment of prayer, remember that a gasp of shock or surprise will likely have zero effect on the offender’s behavior and only draw their manic, paranoid ire. If you care enough for them, grab that discarded clothing and see Tip #3.

Tip #3—Know the exits.

This is something to keep in mind wherever you go, but doubly so for funerals.  You never know when it may be necessary to extricate someone who is acting not quite right from an embarrassing situation until that person has gotten hold of himself or sobered up a little. They’ll thank you later.

Tip #4—Turn your cell phone off or leave it in the car.  At the very, very least make sure your ringtone isn’t set to Buckcherry’s Crazy Bitch.

If you’re seeing a movie, play or lecture, attending a church service, or seeing your grandmother off to the Hereafter, leave your phone in your car. If you fail to do so, for the love of all that is good in the universe, DO NOT TAKE A CALL DURING THE EULOGY!

It has also become necessary to caution (most often but not exclusively) young and inherently stupid “mourners” not to tweet or post to social media from funeral services. #grandmasfuneral #sobored #Ihatetheseoldsobstories

Not cute. #kissthatinheritancegoodbyeyoulittletwatwaffle

Tip #5—Share something positive about the deceased with fellow funeral attendees.

This is where the most people get into trouble.  It can also result in the most awkward of unfortunate funeral experiences.

Take for example what one commenter shared on Reddit:

“My grandmother and I went to my uncle’s funeral who committed suicide.  My aunt and my uncle’s mistress were both there.  Noticing that they were both overweight, my grandmother said loudly, ‘If I had to choose between those two heifers, I’d kill myself too.’”

Yikes! My own grandmother was apt to make such inappropriate comments at family gatherings.  So much so that an aunt once threatened her that she was going to start telling people, “We’ve only got Mamaw from The Home on a day pass and we’ll have to be leaving early to get her on back before they lock the gates.”

Awkward conversations or exchanges are common when talking to the grief stricken.  Take this little ditty, from another Reddit commenter:

“About 15 years ago, my mom died. She wanted to be cremated and scattered with wildflower seeds in a field, so we gathered the family and took her ashes and a half-full, 5-gallon bucket of seeds to a field in a small town in Texas to scatter.

With the family surrounding us, my father opened my mom’s ashes and dumped them into the bucket with the seeds. He stuck his hand in and began to mix.

‘You want a glove or something, Dad?’ I asked.

‘Why?’ replied Dad. ‘I’ve touched your mother before.’

‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘but to the wrist?’

The crowd was aghast. Dad glared. Some of Mom’s family still doesn’t talk to me.”

If the officient of the services (with the family’s permission, of course) asks if anyone wishes to share any remembrances of the deceased, remember the setting. There may be a more appropriate place to share your memories of the departed than a sanctuary.

Sheena Bryant, in an article titled “Let’s All Do Better: Crazy Things I’ve Seen at Funerals” on, shared this experience:

 “…the moment my super sanctified older cousin walked to the mic during remarks and reflections at my aunt’s funeral.  She began to talk about the ‘real good times’ her and my aunt had ‘out in the world before Christ’ and told everyone listening that there was a special friend she used to call I Hear Ya’ Baby and proceeded to say—at the front of the church—‘I Hear Ya’ Baby, if you’re here would you stand up?’ When it became quiet enough to hear crickets and everyone’s face was frozen in a blank stare, she continued, ‘I Hear Ya’ Baby, if you won’t stand then just wave at me so I know you in the building.’ She waited for several moments without a response from I Hear Ya’ Baby. Awkward.”

While recently attending the funeral of an elderly woman with a very large family, I was witness to a bizarre and uncomfortable story during the “open mic” portion of the services where one of the decedent’s daughters relayed how her small Chihuahua and another relative’s dog had proceeded to mate right on the Hospice bed of her dying mother, becoming “stuck together three times!” The heartbroken woman, who obviously loved and had cared for her mother, went on to clarify for the crowd that her little dog was “fifteen years-old…too old to be doin’ that!” and how the mating session had coincided with a “prophetic” dream her mother had about being led through the gates of Heaven by the very dogs going at it on the bed beside her.

I looked from the speaker to the Baptist preacher sitting a few feet from the casket at the front of the sanctuary and back again. Was this real life? Preacher’s face said yes, but his body appeared to be paralyzed as he didn’t move an inch.

The bereaved daughter continued, recounting for her audience how her Chihuahua's pregnancy took an unfortunate turn.  “We didn’t expect the puppy to be born for a while, but then it started to come early. My little dog had trouble. She’s just a tiny thing and the puppy got stuck.  Well, we had to violate my little dog…and I mean with everything from Vaseline to vegetable oil, but it was no use.  Her pelvis just wouldn’t let go of that puppy!  And, Momma, well Momma came to herself there in the bed and said, ‘It’s okay. I understand now. That puppy is gonna guide me through the gates of Heaven.’”

I fidgeted. I squirmed.  I began to sweat and to consider removing some of my clothing before I remembered Tip #2.  I looked for the exits. And still the Baptist preacher maintained his stoicism and his seat.

Sometimes that’s all you can do. Maintain your composure. Chalk up the craziness you’re witnessing to grief and sleep deprivation and pray for peace and comfort and maybe an intervention for the ones who need them.

When people are grieving, they may not be the most rational. They may give into their emotions and behave in bizarre ways. If you’re prepared for that, it’s easy to counteract that behavior with compassion and perhaps even an offer of help. That doesn’t mean that in the midst of those shenanigans you shouldn’t be straining to commit to memory every possible second of the incident to pass along to someone like me who will share it with the blogosphere. Because Good Lord—it’s theatre, people! “Life is fleeting,” says Sheena Bryant of Madame Noire, “but boy is it interesting…and may I add that funerals are too?”

So how about you? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever witnessed at a funeral? I’m positively dying to know!