What do you do at a funeral?
March 21, 2011 9:52 PM   Subscribe

Funeral Question: So my grandmother died. The wake is on Thursday and the funeral is on Friday. I've never been to a funeral before and not any Catholic services before. What's expected of me? What can do to help? Or at least not make things worse?

We weren't close( it's a big family, I didn't see that side too much) but I've never been to a funeral before and I don't know what to expect, exactly, aside from the stuff I've seen on TV or read about. I've never been to a wake or any kind of Catholic service, and this branch of the family was very devout. Do I go to each viewing? Am I expected to bring something? What's the structure of these things?

It's a total lacuna for me and I don't want to upset or burden my aunts and uncles or my Mom, who are of course going to be under more stress then me. What can I do to make sure I'm not adding to their agita?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're not that close, you're probably not expected to do anything other than maybe show up. A Catholic wake sometimes has a Rosary prayer. Which nobody is obliged to participate in. Maybe some kind of eulogy. Dress conservatively. Don't be a jerk. Any faux pas that might apply to a funeral of an any other acquaintance would also apply here. Being expected to bring something or otherwise perform some kind ritual would be more of a cultural or family thing than a Catholic thing.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:19 PM on March 21, 2011

A wake, in my experience, is a lot of drinking and eating. You can bring food if you want to a wake, but IMHO it's not required.

A Catholic funeral is a viewing, mass (with eulogies, specialized homily/sermon, but still primarily a mass), then a quick graveside service. If you're not Catholic, just sit when others kneel and either stay in the pew during communion or go up for a blessing. Crossing your arms over your chest is the most common way to signal you want the blessing.

Really, just go with the flow. Everything should be very slow and solemn.
posted by sbutler at 10:20 PM on March 21, 2011

Well, my grandparents were catholic, so I went to the wake and funeral. for them A catholic friend recently died, so I went to his wake too.
Before I went to my grandfather's wake, my father tried to prepare me. He said "Grandpa actually looks better in the casket than he did at the end of his life. " And that was true. My grandfather died after a long bout with melanoma and somehow seeing him in the casket kind of made it clear how much he had been suffering (although he never complained) and how death was kind of a relief for him. So I guess seeing the body in that instance wasn't so bad. My friend who died at 38 was a different story. Last I had seen him, he was hanging out at my wedding. I wanted to remember him that way, so I chose not to look at the body. And that was okay too. Alot of catholics go and kneel at the body and pray. I'm not religous and it made me uncomfortable, so I didn't do that and nobody has ever seemed to mind.

What I really don't like about wakes is that sort of chit chat with other people in the funeral home in the room with the body. I will never understand that. Maybe someone on metafilter can explain it to you, but I can't. At the recent wake for my friend, I walked up and gave my condolences to his wife (since you are family you may get people providing their condolences) which was fine, but then just like with my grandparents' wakes there was a lot of chit chatting and milling. You're not really grieving or remembering and you're not really socializing. It's just....weird. I went to a hindu funeral once and in the funeral home the close family actually wailed. And that made a lot more sense to me. Catholic wakes and funerals are weirdly stoic.

The funeral itself is just a mass except that the priest will talk about your grandmother and probably do readings related to death. The burial service for my grandfather was very, very short, but then he died in January so it was quite cold.

The other thing to understand about wakes/funerals is that they are kind of social. You may see people you haven't seen in a long time and be happy about seeing them or wanting to catch up and I think that's okay if done at appropriate times. After my grandfather's service my whole family went to a restaurant and my grandmother hadn't seen much of her family in a long time (and she'd been under a lot of stress too) so eventually they started laughing and singing (what my family does when they get together), but I totally think that was fine and a good, healthy way too grieve (though I know she felt guilty about it afterward).

I don't think you have to go to every viewing. Really, it's very draining. I only went to one viewing each for my grandparents and that was enough, really.

I'm not a public griever so I don't really cry at funerals/wakes. Not everyone does and that's okay too. After my grandpa died, I watched the movie Dad several weeks later and burst into tears. I needed to grieve privately.

Finally, words are inadequate and that's okay too. My friend died at 38 and I couldn't imagine what I could say to make his wife feel better. I realized that there really are no magic words. I think "I love you" and "I'm sad" and "I'm going to miss Grandma" are really all you can say, but it's really important that you say it.

I hope that helps.
posted by bananafish at 10:21 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

BTW, if you bring food, bring something that can be stored in the fridge for a long time. There might be a lot of food at a wake, way more than the people there can eat. Part of the tradition of bringing food is so that the grieving family (who is also hosting guests) doesn't have to cook. Often people get so busy with the preparations and grief that they forget to eat.
posted by sbutler at 10:22 PM on March 21, 2011

It's not true that every wake has food and drink. None of the wakes that I've been too had any food or drink.
posted by bananafish at 10:23 PM on March 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Show up at everything you can (if there are multiple viewings you probably don't need to go to all of them but it can't hurt, if you can stand it). Wear black and dress modestly. Be on time for everything. If there's anything at someone's house (a wake would be what I would call that, but I would expect that to be the night after the service so I'm not sure) and you have any way to cook, bring food, preferably something homemade, nutritious, and comforting (or if there's a favorite local restaurant or ethnic cuisine that works too). If you prepare a speech for the post-funeral lunch (or sometimes these speeches are during the funeral), keep it short and don't go off on tangents. I highly recommend writing something down. I have never seen speeches go so precipitously off the rails as at funerals, and families remember these things forever. I have an aunt who hasn't spoken to her cousin John since my grandfather's funeral almost ten years ago because she felt his speech was narcissistic and too long. I'm not joking. You may see people taking communion, but if you aren't baptized, don't do it. If you are baptized, you probably should, unless you really object to doing so. I consider myself an atheist, but I take communion at funerals to comfort the living who believe in my eternal soul.

Honestly, what people remember is mostly that you showed up, and if you give a speech, they remember that (if you opt to do this, I can't stress enough that you should keep it short and sweet). At every opportunity, ask people what you can do to help out.

I come from a very, very conservative (not politically, but just very old-school) branch of Christianity, and our funerals are high drama indeed. My dad's family are American Catholics and I found their funerals to be relatively self-explanatory. I don't think you should be too concerned. Just be there for your family and volunteer for anything that needs to be done, and make sure everyone is fed. Nobody's going to judge you for not knowing specific rituals.
posted by troublesome at 10:24 PM on March 21, 2011

It's not true that every wake has food and drink. None of the wakes that I've been too had any food or drink.

We might have different definitions about what a wake is. To me, a wake is something you do at a relatives house the night before the funeral. I think what many other people call a wake I would just call the viewing (and yeah, I don't go to those).
posted by sbutler at 10:25 PM on March 21, 2011

You count as bereaved family, which means you'll be more among those getting sympathy rather than those expressing it with platitudes, food, or flowers, but it sounds like you're not close enough to the situation to have obligations you don't seek out, like speaking at the wake. The major expectations are that you will attend all events, wear church/work clothes, act with respect and dignity while forgiving others who don't ("everyone handles this differently"), and between events or at the wake be especially solicitous of your mom's needs if your own emotional load is modest.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:28 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your loss. First thing is touch base with your Mom about what SHE expects of you and what you feel comforatble (and are capable) of doing. As the saying goes, wakes & funerals are for the living, not for the dead.

I'm guessing that there are probably two sessions for the wake, one in the afternoon, one in the evening. There's nothing really special that goes on at a wake. The polite thing to do is to go to the casket and (and at least) bow your head for a few moments before stepping away. If you want, there will be a kneeler and you can say a silent little prayer (not obligatory). Make sure to give your condolences to your aunts and uncles--they just lost their mom. Other than that, the advice already given for the wake and funeral is spot on. Be emotionally supportive for your Mom, more than anything else.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:31 PM on March 21, 2011

I was at a full-on Catholic funeral a few years ago. As for a little quick background: family is fairly devout, however, I am an agnostic and very much black-sheeped as a result. I spent more time observing than grieving, because I have a knack of death not clicking in my head for a month or two after it's all over.

The wake will be family coming in, mostly grieving. It's not as formal as one might think, usually family and friends. Closest family comes in first, talks to the funeral director and priest, sees the body. Then extended family comes in and close friends. Again, somewhat informal, lots of talking and condolences. About the only religious things that I would expect out of the wake would be a prayer from the priest, and probably a full rosary.

I don't mean this with any snark, but I had no idea what was happening with the rosary until it started, and was stuck until the end of it. Had I known, I would have stepped out ahead of time and smoked 3-4 cigarettes instead. The rosary will consist of repeated sayings of the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary's, along with other religious scripture, all lead by the priest. Depending on your family situation, you might have to bear with it.

The funerals tend to be early in the day. Being that the family is devout, I would expect a full Catholic funeral. They go on much like a Catholic mass, 45 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on the priest. If you aren't Catholic, don't take communion, big faux pas. My strategy for getting through mass is as follows: sit nearer to the back of the church, preferably near someone that you are close to that knows masses. Definitely don't sit in the very front unless otherwise told to. Sit when they sit, stand when they stand, kneel when they kneel. Sing along, or at least fake it. Silence during the prayers, because if you aren't Catholic or at least some type of Christian, you don't know the words anyhow. It isn't common anymore, but sometimes the mass will be in Latin, depends on the family and priest.

After the church they will move the casket to the graveyard. Grave-side is usually quick, 10-15 minutes. If you happen to be male between roughly 15-45, you may be asked to be a pall bearer. They will give you all the instructions on what to do. Stay silent and don't let go.

My family had a big meal after the grave-side service. I would call it one of the most surreal things I've ever seen. Everyone went from somber back to relatively normal in under 20 minutes. Take the time to get to know your extended family there. You might find some people in your family that you didn't realize were so much like yourself. I got to meet two of my fellow black sheep at the last funeral.

Last tips: dress in black or dark grey, and conservatively. Carry tissues, you never know who will want it or need it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:37 PM on March 21, 2011

Your responsibility is to show up dressed nicely and just be there. The wake will likely be at a funeral home. The casket will be off to one side, either open or closed. If it's polite, most people will stop by the body at least briefly. Religious people will say a prayer over the body. Otherwise, people will just be standing around talking. There might be snacks. The people you talk to will probably make a few remarks about your grandmother's life, how she passed, perhaps how it was a welcome end to a period of suffering, or perhaps how they're going to miss her. Then they'll segue onto other topics. At first your discussions will be quiet, sober, and serious, but in general, unless the death is perceived to be a great tragedy, eventually you'll be finding something to laugh about.

The attendees of wakes and funerals can typically be divided into condolence-givers and condolence-receivers. Those not in the family (the givers) generally approach those in the family (the receivers) to say things like, "I'm sorry for your loss." If people say that to you, you say "Thank you." You might seek out those who you feel are most affected by her death and ask how they are doing.

The funeral will be a mass. Singing, standing, sitting, sign of the cross, readings, and some nice words about your grandmother. If you're not a part of the flock, just stand and sit with everyone else and perhaps fold your hands respectfully. At some point everyone will go up to receive bread (the eucharist). If you're not Catholic, you should skip this part. Just move aside when others in your pew look like they're trying to make their way out and towards the altar.

Your main jobs here are to be present and respectful.
posted by epugachev at 10:42 PM on March 21, 2011

Slight disagreement with the folks above: I doubt wearing black is required. Dress soberly/conservatively, yes, but color is okay; no shorts, flip-flops, t-shirts advertising your favorite beer or plunging necklines please. (One of my cousins wore an *extremely* revealing, skin-tight, slinky & short dress with 4-inch stilletos to our grandfather's service...... think "Jersey Shore": all in all, it was an outfit far more appropriate for a stripper than a funeral!)

Otherwise, as others say, go with the flow and just follow what the grownups are doing. Be available for your Mom: keep an eye out for her and support her as needed. I'm thinking the simple fact that you're asking this question means you'll do fine.

Minor point: there are usually three parts to a funeral: the viewing is usually the day before (and usually at the funeral home), the religious service & actual burial, and finally a reception/wake (usually back at the family home). In my experience, the wake is the one that gets loosest: this is where you'll find both a)people catching up with folks they might not have seen in a while, and )b booze & food.

My condolences to you and your family.
posted by easily confused at 3:37 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was raised Catholic and have been to the funerals of three of my grandparents. I can attest that Mister Fabulous has it on the nose.

Although, if you weren't hugely close with this branch of your family -- keep an eye out for the people who look like they may want to cope by whistling past the graveyard. They may be the people you want to hang around with.

And Mister Fabulous also has it about "don't be freaked out if people go from grieving to normal real fast." People look for excuses to laugh and tell the funny stories at funerals to cheer themselves up; or some people may already be embracing the "let's celebrate the fact that this person was alive in the first place" point already. At my paternal grandfather's funeral, my dad took the attitude that "This is a Party," everyone, and kept cracking low-level jokes the whole time (in the funeral home, as he was standing by the casket and people came somberly up to them to offer their condolences, he'd mess with them by asking if he could see their ticket. And during the meal we had after the burial, he dragged in a whole bunch of goofy photos of Grandpa from when he was in the service and passed them out, just so everyone could be laughing at pictures of Grandpa and his army buddies mugging for the camera in goofy coconut bras and such.

All you need to do is just show up, be supportive, and roll with what happens. Mister Fabulous has the religious stuff dead on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:23 AM on March 22, 2011

If your grandmother had other grandchildren, and you keep in touch with any of them, check to see if there are plans for the grandkids to all chip in on a flower memorial. This would probably be a floral wreath with a ribbon that says "Beloved Grandmother" or something similar, to be displayed at the wake and funeral. I don't know if this is typical, but it's what we did at my grandmother's Catholic funeral. We were pretty tight-knit, though.

Don't buy one on your own--they cost around $150-$200. If there are no plans with the other grandkids, ask your mom if you should contribute a small arrangement (you can get a basic sympathy arrangement for $40). Be sure to include a card that says something like "In remembrance of a lovely grandmother, from her grandson/daughter _____."

Others have already covered most of the Catholic funeral advice. It'll probably be around 10 or 11 AM, with lunch served after the service. Stand when they stand, kneel when they kneel, bow your head and fold your hands when they pray. Don't take Communion, just get out of the way when they file out to take it. I don't recommend sitting in the back- your mom will probably want you up in front, with the immediate family. Sit where the other grandkids are sitting. Double and triple-check that your cell phone is off for both the wake and the funeral.

In general, just be available for your mom & aunts/uncles and offer to run errands for them. They might need someone to pick up dry cleaning or help fold programs or make them coffee. Funeral planning can be a lot of work, which is very hard when you're grieving.
posted by castlebravo at 7:13 AM on March 22, 2011

Wow, change the gender of the grandparent and the parent and I could have asked this last week.

The here hits it on the head based on my experience, except to say that female grandchildren were pallbearers in our instance. But if you weren't close, I doubt this may be an issue for you. But sometimes people who aren't close are asked because it is thought that it might be easier for you to "deal with" the whole situation. But obviously, you'll know this before going in and it's really not that big of a deal.

One more thing: don't fret. In my experience, though there is a lot of confusing-to-outsiders stuff happening at a Catholic funeral mass, Catholic churches are used to the fact that those outsiders are coming to funerals and explain things accordingly.

As far as not taking Communion, if you end up in a family line of those taking it (stranger things have happened), rather than making an awkward scene, simply cross your arms in front of yourself. At this point, the priest knows you aren't Catholic and won't give it you and will instead give you a blessing or just let you pass (I'm not sure how this works universally, but since I've done that in two separate, very different locations, I think this isn't some thing unique only to my world)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:17 AM on March 22, 2011

If you get the chance, look for a book called "How to be a perfect stranger (the essential religious etiquette handbook)." It explains what to do, not do, wear, expect, etc., at religious ceremonies not of your religion.
posted by bentley at 7:31 AM on March 22, 2011

I've been to LOTS of Catholic funerals (Irish and Polish, midwestern US). Mister Fabulous has it, although I've never heard the full rosary (I probably wasn't paying attention). Just dress nicely, be quiet and stay out of the way. If other people are more emotional than you, ask if you can get them anything (usually funeral homes have an area with coffee and water). If you're female, put a small pack of kleenex in your purse in case anyone else needs it.
posted by desjardins at 7:41 AM on March 22, 2011

Also, don't freak out if you do happen to end up in the line for Communion. It's not always clear why people are getting up or where they are going, if your attention drifts like mine, and I've ended up in front of the priest more or less by accident. It's very unlikely that anyone will say anything to you if take communion.
posted by desjardins at 7:45 AM on March 22, 2011

Nobody goes to a lot of funerals. There's no secret funeral handshake that everyone else has done a bunch of times and will be appalled that you don't know. Anything that's outside of the normal "attending events" behaviour will be announched or instructed. There will be no tests based on skill or experience.

So: Stand there when everyone else is standing. Sit when everyone else sits. When people start to walk somewhere, follow the crowd to wherever they are going (the parking lot? the buffet table?). Be quiet when everyone else is quiet. When people try to quietly chit chat with you, chit chat with them. Just follow the herd. Stop over thinking this.
posted by Kololo at 8:03 AM on March 22, 2011

Catholic here, and never seen a rosary at a wake (except arranged in the deceased's hands in the open casket). Food? Maybe in your region, but I've never seen it.

Wear nice, dark clothes; try to think of a good time that you shared, so you can offer it when conversation flags; shave [if applicable]; bring extra tissues to offer to others, and maybe some mints.

The wake happens the night before the funeral; it's held at the funeral home. The family gets there a little early and has some quiet time with the (open? shut?) casket. Usually everyone takes a minute to kneel and say a private prayer before the crowd arrives. Friends and colleagues and neighbors and classmates all show up at various times; they offer a handshake or hug to the people they know best. The family says "Thank you for coming" with a strained smile, "(S)he'd be glad to see you." The visitor says "Of course. I'm so sorry!" Visitors show up as they can -- hey, the thing is like two hours long! -- and slip out quietly. The oldest friends stay a long time, swapping stories with the family. If you're like my family, there's some quiet laughter among small groups as good times are recalled; people across the room might mistake the shaking shoulders for sobs and turn away, but we know that laughter eases grief and speeds the healing.

Perhaps some prayers will be offered as a group, perhaps not. (Is this where the eulogy is delivered? I always forget.)

No one sleeps well that night.

The next morning is the Mass, usually at the parish church. Family (in black clothes and dark sunglasses) shows up a little early and fills the first few rows. Full Catholic Mass, with a homily focusing on the Resurrection and the value of a life well-lived. After Mass, the casket is carried to the hearse, and family -- as well as some guests -- put on dark sunglasses for the drive to the cemetery. There, a few prayers are said and the body is committed to the ground. It's hard to leave: it really is the end. People may stand around and point out where other relatives, friends, and neighbors are buried; if weather permits, it's nice to walk over to those graves and visit for a moment, remembering how long it's been since they died and reflecting on good times you shared.

Forgive me if I sound flip -- it's not my intent. This is really how it goes in my tribe. My most recent funeral was like two weeks ago.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:23 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think whether or not there is a rosary is going to be either a regional or a family thing, because there most definitely was a rosary on the night before my mom's funeral. We didn't call it a wake; it was a visitation and rosary service at the funeral home. There was time for viewing, time for casual visiting, and then a formal rosary service.

Given all the variables, my advice to you is to just be there for your mom. Stay by her side, ask if she needs you to run any errands, have kleenex and maybe a granola bar in your pocket. Ask her if there is anything else she expects you to do, because all this might differ per region or family. You might: be a pallbearer, speak at either service, walk in with the family or sit elsewhere, bring up the "gifts" during the mass, ride in the limo to the gravesite or arrange your own transportation, bring food anyplace. And you are allowed to politely decline anything they ask - you can use the excuse that funerals affect you strongly and you "don't think you would be able to manage that responsibility" (especially speaking) but if you think you can do it, then do so.

And please, if it really is a rosary and it makes you uncomfortable, I advise you to just do it anyway. Don't go out to smoke or leave early. Just sit quietly and let it happen around you. Think of it as a lesson in comparative religions if you need to, but just stay there next to your mom. The whole thing is not for YOU; it's for your mom and her siblings. We're still talking about my sibling who got there late and missed the family viewing time, left during the rosary to go get food, then left the family gathering at 3pm the next day to "rest and pack" for their next-day flight. We understand if there really are circumstances (you have an important test the next day that you can't reschedule, etc) but if you are available, then just be there.
posted by CathyG at 9:16 AM on March 22, 2011

Please don't take desjardins' advice about receiving communion. If you're not a practicing Catholic eligible to receive communion, don't receive communion. While it is unlikely anyone would actually say anything to you if you do, recieivng communion when you know you're not eligible to do is disrespectful. When it's time to receive communion, either stay in your seat or follow any instructions given -- either by the priest or printed in the funeral order of worship -- about receiving a blessing instead (as noted by MCMikeNamara and others.) For the rest of the Mass, it's just like many have already said -- stand when everyone stands, sit when everyone sits, and kneel (if you wish) when everyone kneels. As far as praying along goes, say the responses to the responsal psalm, intercessory prayers and prayers of commendation as you feel comfortable.
posted by Ranucci at 10:02 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rannucci -- I would issue a small dissent about the "Communion -- yes or no?" issue because the OP is family. I don't consider myself Catholic anymore, really, but I still go with my family to mass on Christmas Eve -- and I take Communion, because my mother would give me a hairy eyeball if I didn't. Technically I'm not supposed to, but technically only my parents and I even know that, and they would be more bothered if I didn't. So I do, as I figure that God's own take on that situation is "okay, yeah, that's a tight spot, and I understand."

So I think the whole "Communion -- yes or no?" question depends on what the family would feel about it. The family could indeed agree it'd be weird if you went up to take Communion -- or they could want you to. I really doubt anyone outside the family would be miffed if you did, because odds are slight that they'd even know. And if they did know -- they may just assume that the OP didn't know, and forgive them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:11 AM on March 22, 2011

The big thing about communion is that you're not supposed to take it if you're not in a state of grace. I know a lot of lapsed Catholics who bend this point significantly. But the really, REALLY big deal is that you really shouldn't take (Catholic) communion if you haven't been baptized, and maybe not if you haven't been confirmed. So if you haven't, then don't, it's rude. You can still go up when everyone else is taking communion if you want, just cross your arms over your chest like you're giving yourself a hug instead of holding out your hand for the bread. This is the signal that you aren't eligible for communion, but you want a blessing in its stead.
posted by KathrynT at 10:52 AM on March 22, 2011

Your value is largely in just showing up and being there. So this shouldn't be too hard. :7) Do whatever you're asked, and it will probably mean a lot to your Mom.

That said, you can draw down that value pretty quickly by behaving like CathyG's uncle/aunt. Or by offending the priest. (Note that lots of people will show up for a funeral Mass but not take communion, for lots of reasons. Depending on the parish's custom, you might get in the Communiojn line but instead keep your hands clasped and discreetly shake your head "no" when you get to the eucharistic minister, or as noted cross your arms over your body. My younger kids, for example, keep their hands clasped, and they get a blessing instead.)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:22 AM on March 22, 2011

If you're not a practicing Catholic eligible to receive communion, don't receive communion.

I agree. It's definitely a faux pas to do it on purpose. I didn't say "go ahead and do it." I said "don't freak out if you forget you're not supposed to and accidentally do."
posted by desjardins at 11:44 AM on March 22, 2011

My catholic grandfather died over the holidays and had a traditional funeral. To answer your questions:

The family, including grandchildren, were expected to go to all viewings in their entirety. We had four of them over two days. My grandma, dad and his brothers and sisters would stand up next to the casket and people would come in, pay their respects and then kneel next to my grandpa. Then they would sort of mill around and make small talk / catch up. At first it was kind of sad and weird to see my grandpa in the casket, but honestly by the end of the second day I would go kneel next to him and hang out to escape the boredom. In between each viewing we went to my aunt's house and ate food. In my experience wearing black isn't a neccesity, but dressing nice and conservatively is. Suits for men, hose and heels for women. This was in north jersey.

It's more important to dress up for the third day. There was a short funeral at the funeral home, then a mass at my grandpa's church. Your male relatives will be pallbearers, which these days means rolling the casket atop a weird cart down the church aisle. It's no big deal to not take mass, but I would add: don't make yourself look silly by trying to make the sign of the cross, or tracing a cross on your forehead. I looked around at my cousins and thought about copying them but soon gave up.

Then there will probably be a funeral procession to the grave site, which will take approximately forever. A flower car might be responsible for transporting all of the flowers to the cemetary. Once there the priest will give a short service. You may have flowers to put on the grave. Then the family will host a post-burial luncheon, which has an italian name but I forget it.

One thing that struck me, and you might be surprised, too: It's all very modern. The rolling casket, the scaffolding supporting the coffin above the hole in the ground. My pop pop was a veteran and the guy playing the bugle actually had an audio player hidden inside the horn. It was weird.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:33 PM on March 22, 2011

It's no big deal to not take mass, er, communion.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:34 PM on March 22, 2011

Oh, pintapicasso reminded me of something else -- this isn't a Catholic thing, it's a veteran thing. Since it was your grandmother, odds are slighter that you'll run into this, but just in case -- at the funerals for veterans, the casket is draped with an American Flag. Before they lower it into the ground, a pair of guys - I'm not sure who - will take it off and fold it, and then just before the casket is lowered, they'll present the folded flag to the next of kin, with a brief statement like "please accept this flag with our thanks for your loved one's service to our country" or something like that. The person they give the flag to doesn't have to do anything but take it and say thanks.

My paternal grandfather was in World War II -- but not in combat, he was just in the Seabees or something like that -- and had always treated it like a no-big-deal thing. So my father was not expecting this, and was thrown a little when they gave him the flag at the gravesite. He just sort of meekly took it and said, "uh, thanks," and that seemed to be sufficient.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:47 PM on March 22, 2011

desjardins , I misread the intent of your post. Thank you for clarifying.
posted by Ranucci at 12:55 PM on March 22, 2011

I would not take communion if you are not currently eligible. It is about respecting the religion of others. Generally you would have to have gone to confession in the last 6 months.

As for the funeral, this is why there are funeral directors. They will explain everything.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:03 PM on March 22, 2011

Agree with everyone who advised you very well already:

1. Don't take communion if you're not Catholic - easiest just to stay in the pew. No-one will mind and probably will hardly notice.

2. Speak to your uncle, aunt or mom *briefly* just to ask what they would like from you.

3. Ask the funeral director and/or priest for any further questions, technical points.

5. Here is some more background for your own peace of mind:

- detailed background on funerals and wakes:

- Catholic Catechism's explanation:

Hope this helps.
posted by KMH at 2:57 AM on March 23, 2011

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