Help me understand what to expect for an upcoming funeral.
March 7, 2012 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand what to expect for an upcoming funeral.

A very good and close friend of my husband and I's was killed in a military training exercise two weeks ago. The funeral is next week. The funeral was postponed because they had not been able to find any remains at first. My husband will be a pallbearer during this funeral. I do not want to ask our friends wife (now widow) because I do not want to upset her and I have no one else to ask. I need to know what to expect during the visitation and the funeral. From the photos I saw of the crash site, there was nothing left. There will be a casket. I am assuming there will definitely not be an open casket due to the circumstances. I know that caskets are fairly heavy, but should my husband prepare for a shock that it may not be due to the lack of remains (again, I am assuming this). Is there proper etiquette we should know for a military service (Marine Corps)? I would like to know if there is something that we may need to prepare for that would be a shock, as if the whole thing isn't already.
posted by ForeverDcember to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am so sorry, how absolutely traumatizing. Have you thought about contacting the funeral home and talking to the staff? They should be happy to answer your questions.
posted by saucysault at 5:46 PM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I am terribly sorry for your loss.

At the visitation, the appropriate thing is generally to come in, sign the guest book, then go through the receiving line of family expressing your condolences. "I'm so sorry for your loss" and "{Name} was such a wonderful person; we will miss him" are always welcome as condolences if you can't think of words to say.

As for the funeral, this is a pretty good overview. When military salutes are exchanged, the appropriate things for civilians to do are to either place their right hand over their hearts (in the Pledge of Allegiance manner) or to simply stand quietly with arms by their sides.

My guess is that the casket will contain cremated remains, and will most likely be light. If your husband isn't an active military servicemember, but a majority of the pallbearers are, the pallbearers will probably be organized by the officer in charge of the military honors; if the majority of the pallbearers are civilians, the pallbearers will probably be organized by the funeral director. In either case, it's probably a good idea for you two to show up a bit early and your husband to identify himself to the funeral director's staff as a pallbearer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:46 PM on March 7, 2012

Seconding saucysault's good suggestion of calling the funeral home. They may also have relevant info on their website.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:47 PM on March 7, 2012

Ask nothing about the circumstances or the remains. Funerals are different depending on culture and the families wishes; there may be some things usual to a military funeral, a type I've never attended.
Let the family/others there demonstrate proper behavoir. Visitations usually are a little less ritualized than the more formal funeral part
Be supportive, respectful, non-intrusive etc. As if you were there to help. and DO help, if anyone needs it. You are there to show respect and express your sympathy in a way that won't upset the family
posted by bebrave! at 5:49 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wear sunglasses if you're worried about smeared eye makeup and/or tears. You don't have to view the body, but it's so unlikely that this is going to be open casket. If it is, sit in the pew, and don't go up. Write a nice letter to the widow (and say how how sorry you are) and be there for her. You're not going to be judged on funeral etiquette, I promise.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:59 PM on March 7, 2012

Best answer: If they do any sort of gun salute outdoors at the cemetery, the rifles are much louder than you would expect. In my experience, an officer generally addresses the assembly to warn of this right before the rifles go off, but it is still really, really loud.
posted by oflinkey at 6:05 PM on March 7, 2012

I've seen some situations (in magazines) where they will fill a casket with a carefully folded uniform, etc. That may not be an option in this case, though.

I don't think it's out of line to ask the funeral home about the situation ahead of time, especially since many of the people at the funeral itself will either be experiencing this for the first time themselves or be overwhelmed with their own feelings/responsibilities. A funeral home isn't just there for the immediate family; they're there for you, too -- especially if your husband will play a part in the ceremony.

I am very sorry for your loss, and I hope you and your friends can find strength in each other over the next weeks and months.
posted by Madamina at 6:08 PM on March 7, 2012

Best answer: There's unlikely to be anything shocking to you at either the visitation or the funeral. For the visitation, it's generally a drop-in situation, you say hello and sorry, sign the book, stay for a few minutes, and then leave. For the funeral there will be some talking, possibly one or several people. Sometimes these things go Southern-style and there will be a mini-sermon by a clergyperson of some kind. If there are military features, they will likely be announced/explained beforehand, and generally civilians do not participate in those rituals, so just stand/sit respectfully.

The graveside service, if there is one (I assume so since there are pallbearers*), will be more talking. Then there may be the gun salute, which is quite loud and hopefully they will warn you, a flyover, which is also loud and sometimes not perfectly timed and often unexpectedly moving as they fly in the "missing man" formation. There will also be a flag ceremony (you've seen it on TV, where they fold the flag and present to the family), which is moving under normal circumstances and may be absolutely gutting given the situation. I think these days the trend is to remain graveside for the lowering of the casket, but then it is not filled in until later because the backhoe is not exactly funereal.

You will not see anything scary. There's way, given what you've said, that there will be remains to view. The casket may be a little light but they're pretty heavy empty so it's not going to be like lifting an empty box.

*The one thing nobody told us at my WWII veteran grandfather's funeral, and I do not know if this is normal, but we had family/friend pallbearers at the service but the Guardsmen removed the casket from the hearse at the gravesite and carried it to the grave. It left the pallbearers standing around going "uh-?" for a moment. Other than someone forgetting something like that, your husband will probably be briefed immediately before the funeral about where to go and what to do.

This will be emotionally awful, but just because it's an awful thing. I am very sorry for your loss.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:39 PM on March 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the response so far. Neither my husband, nor any of the other pallbearers (all his best friends whom we are close to) are in the armed forces, so it will be all civilian. We will be driving up for the services as they are in his home state, so I am sure we will be there for a while at the visitation and such.

He was 25 years old, married for 2 years and his wife just found out within the weeks before his death that she is expecting their first child. You know when a friend is in the service that there is the possibility of them being killed, but you are never ready for it, especially so violently. Thank you again for the advice so far and the kind words.
posted by ForeverDcember at 6:56 PM on March 7, 2012

Best answer: I'm so sorry for your loss. I was just a pallbearer for the first time at a military cemetery, although perhaps because it was for the veteran's wife, there wasn't the level of military ceremony that there had been during her husband's funeral a few years earlier.

I was very nervous and unprepared for the pallbearer role, but the funeral home people were extraordinarily kind and helpful, they walked us through everything in detail, and made it very easy. They were very willing to answer questions and had clearly heard everything before. I'm sure they will do the same for you.
posted by Stacey at 7:04 PM on March 7, 2012

In case you feel you are "wasting" the staff's time, the family paid for their services so that they don't have to answer the logistical questions right now. People who go into funeral services tend to be very compassionate and want to make the grieving easier on everyone; part of that is answering normal questions like yours to make you feel prepared and comfortable so you can then more fully offer support to each other.
posted by saucysault at 7:33 PM on March 7, 2012

Best answer: I'm so sorry for your loss.

I was a pallbearer not two weeks ago. It was a for civilian who had been in the military (Korea) and then went on to work as an engineer for the Army as a civilian at Aberdeen Proving Grounds for over 30 years. While this was a civilian ceremony & funeral it had a military component. I will just speak to being a pallbearer for now.

In this case, the funeral director really had the job down in terms of describing what to do, when to do it and when to move away. The actual physical carrying of the casket was rather short with the rest of the time it being on a rolling frame that we assisted in pushing along. As there were 8 of us, the casket was not hard to lift at the appropriate times, but sometimes it was a bit tight when the space shrunk. For example, when we put the casket into the hearse, there was a bit of a backup as people bunched up. But nothing stupid happened and there was a dignified look throughout.

When the casket was being rolled in the church, we placed our hands on top and walked alongside. The funeral director did the pushing and occasionally we assisted directing the front end, but he had most of the control. The funeral director and assistant took care of all draping of flags or religious garments over the casket or helped the priest to do so. Essentially, as pallbearers, we escorted the casket in an out of the church and place our gloved hands on it while it was moved.

When we got to the cemetery, we did actually carry the casket from the hearse to the grave (about 50 ft) and placed on the frame provided. There then was the ceremony, playing of taps, folding of the flag and presentation to the widow. The family members then each placed a flower on the casket and those people who were pallbearers also removed their white cotton gloves and placed them on the casket per the instructions given earlier.


Prior to this, I had absolutely no idea what to do as a pallbearer. I had probably more experience seeing it on TV than anywhere else. However, the funeral director was the absolute best as he really knew exactly what instructions to give us in a manner that was clear and to the point, with respect but not a lot of fanfare. During the proceedings, he stepped in at the necessary moments to get things back on track when there was even a little confusion as to what to do next.

If you get to deal with a person like this, you will have no problems. Just be calm and listen to what they say and be prepared to adapt a little. Keep your eye on the funeral staff for any little cues that you might have missed something and even if you do miss something, just make the correction and move on.

I have a lot of other thoughts about it as it is so fresh in my mind, but I will leave it here. I hope some of this clears up the questions you have.

Finally this was my father’s funeral. I didn’t mention it at the top as I wanted you to hear it as a basic account of what goes on without that embellishment first. If you have other questions about the whole process from that last day of life to the ceremony, mefimail me. I am certainly no expert at this stuff, but it is still fresh and for my dads wake and funeral, it was a good send-off for a person who lived a great life. Not crazy, not opulent, just respectful and dignified.
posted by lampshade at 8:00 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

In revisiting this thread i realize I wish to offer condolences too. I am truly sorry for your loss.
Ugh, everyone's loss. I forgot to say so when answering, I focused on your question and lost my manners.
Which will happen at funerals too.
posted by bebrave! at 8:41 PM on March 7, 2012

Best answer: Something that you might think about offering to do - depending how close you are to his wife - is to be a contact person to help collect memories of your friend to go into a book/album that could be given to his child. If anyone speaks at the funeral, you could ask for a copy of their remarks, etc. This is especially true if you are in touch with all of his friends from some part of his life (eg college/high school) before he met his wife -- you could organize those people to write up stories to create a memory bank.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:47 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm so sorry for your loss.

In terms of being helpful durign the service, carrying those little packs of tissues so you can pass them around when people have forgotten or used up all of theres can be wonderful. If it;'s a cold area, those little warming packs (you break the pack inside and they heat up - often found in first aid sections of stores) are also really useful and were critical to my comfort during my grandfather's funeral, which was a military one and in the winter in Michigan - so very cold. You can tuck them in your pockets, or even your shoes.

I was also a pallbearer at my grandmother's funeral and it largely consisted of holding onto the bar to help lift, then coordinating your feet with the people on your side so that you didn't trip over each other.

I don't know how close you are to the widow or how broad her support system is, but if you have time/inclination, frozen, single serve, easily heatable meals (like quiche, lasagna, or mini-calzones) can help by minimizing the amount of cooking she has to do during the first rush of grief. You mentioned driving to his home state, so that might be more difficult to do, but it's a thought.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:49 AM on March 8, 2012

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