Is it weird to cry at a funeral/memorial?
September 1, 2014 1:26 PM   Subscribe

A not very close family member recently died and I would like to attend their memorial. However, I know that I will cry during the memorial and I feel weird about that.

I'm a crier. I cry at Dawn commercials (the ones where they rescue the ducks from oil spills). I cry whenever there's any vaguely emotional occasion. I have cried at the funerals/memorials of people I had met once or twice.

I feel like crying, even at these occasions, makes people uncomfortable. Even at my dear grandmother's funeral, people seemed surprised that I was crying, and felt like they had to comfort me specifically. It bothers me that people may be thinking that I am more upset than others when I have no right to be, particularly in the case of this family member who just died. Or people feel distressed by tears, even at an occasion that seems to warrant them.

Someone close to the deceased has also already complained to my parent that I didn't behave appropriately the last time someone in our family died (I don't know what the problem was, though). I want to behave appropriately this time. I think attending the memorial is the best thing, but is it okay to cry? If not, how do I avoid it?
posted by chaiminda to Human Relations (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is the first time I've ever heard that crying at a memorial service/funeral could be considered inappropriate. Some people are more emotional than others, and there's nothing at all wrong with letting that out.

If you threw yourself on the casket, that would be one thing, but a few tears are expected, I'd think.
posted by xingcat at 1:33 PM on September 1, 2014 [41 favorites]

It's okay to cry at a funeral or memorial service. It's normal and expected. Were you especially noisy or attention-grabbing the last time? Bring a pack of tissues and don't make a loud scene or draw undue attention to yourself. If you are feeling out of control/noisy, you can always withdraw to a bathroom or other small area away from everyone else.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:33 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry for your loss.

Yes, people cry at funerals/memorials and that is a-okay. There isn't some equation for closeness used to determine who gets to be visibly sad at a funeral. I guess I can see how it might look a little odd if you only met the person once and were crying harder/louder than his/her closest loved one, but that is easily remedied by not sitting too near the front.

Basically: no, you don't need to stifle your tears at a funeral, absolutely not! Anyone who gets their knickers in a twist over how you're grieving obviously isn't too torn up themselves, you know?

Again, sorry for your loss.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Someone close to the deceased has also already complained to my parent that I didn't behave appropriately the last time someone in our family died (I don't know what the problem was, though).

I would not concentrate on this kind of mean-spirited interfamily drama at all, and really, shame on your parent for sharing this kind of nasty commentary with you. Expressing grief at the loss of a loved one is literally the most natural human behavior in the entire world.
posted by elizardbits at 1:39 PM on September 1, 2014 [27 favorites]

Response by poster: Possible note of explanation: family of WASPs.
posted by chaiminda at 1:40 PM on September 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

If anyone tells you it's inappropriate, that person is the one who's being inappropriate, not you.
posted by John Cohen at 1:40 PM on September 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

It's not weird — a person has left this world. It's okay to cry.
posted by ageispolis at 1:43 PM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, people cry at funerals/memorials and that is a-okay. There isn't some equation for closeness used to determine who gets to be visibly sad at a funeral. I'll second this. There are so many reasons for tears at the funeral--sadness for your own loss, sadness for the pain of others, sadness for the brevity of life, sadness as you reflect on mortality generally.

Cry, if you are moved to cry. If you feel yourself losing control of yourself (which is normal in the face of all the emotions a funeral stirs, regardless of how keen your personal loss), step outside--go to the restroom and splash your face, take a quick walk down the sidewalk and back, whatever it takes to regain composure.

Carry tissues. Offer those tissues to people who also need them. Don't overstate your relationship to the deceased and be certain to offer genuine condolences to those who are closer to the loss than you are.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:50 PM on September 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

There is literally no time when it is more appropriate to cry than at someone's funeral.
posted by Jairus at 1:51 PM on September 1, 2014 [38 favorites]

It's okay to cry. But since you are worried about it why don't you tell your mom that you may cry at the memorial service, do you think that "other relative" will be a jerk about it?
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:57 PM on September 1, 2014

I'd have to agree with a couple of others' posts here. You haven't really clarified- was the relative criticizing you because you shed a few tears, or was it because you were being loud?

If the former, then your relative has a bizarre attitude.

If the latter, that might make sense culturally.

In white WASPy culture in the US, I've always observed that it's socially acceptable to cry and to sniffle. It's considered over the top if you're sobbing or wailing, though. Perhaps that might be excused if the deceased is your spouse, partner, parent, or child... but otherwise it would be considered poor form.

The thought many seem to have is that by being noisy (sobbing, wailing, etc.) you are drawing attention to yourself, and away from the deceased. In fact, WASP expectation is often that people will wear sunglasses so as to avoid having their sadness be noticed.

Of course many other cultures feel completely differently- they'd consider the quiet, stone-faced approach to be a sign that you don't care about the person. But when it comes to white, middle or upper class, WASP America, "cry quietly, if you must" is what is socially expected.

TL;DR of course you can cry, but in that culture, just try not to call attention to yourself as that's considered gauche and rude (specially if you're not particularly close to the deceased).
posted by Old Man McKay at 2:32 PM on September 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

I feel like crying, even at these occasions, makes people uncomfortable. Even at my dear grandmother's funeral, people seemed surprised that I was crying...

I'm from a family somewhat like this. In my case, the family unit is rampant with mistrust around any expressions of pain and grief.

I say as long as you feel safe to, cry. Tell the naysayers this is typical in groups of people at events where, when the majority is failing to express the appropriate emotion, one person is burdened with expressing the majority of that emotion for the benefit of all.
posted by human ecologist at 2:34 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is in fact NO OTHER POINT TO THE SERVICE than to express your sad feelings in the company of other people who share those feelings.

Obviously you want to not disrupt the service or make yourself the center of events (by, for instance, throwing yourself on the casket, as somebody mentioned).

Assuming that you're not going that far, I'd have to say anybody who is offended by people crying should probably not attend funerals.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:35 PM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I just want to pile on the bandwagon of "This is literally the most appropriate time and place in the world to cry."
posted by agentofselection at 2:52 PM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

My mother recently told me a story about an uncle who died, and at the wake, this distant cousin who had barely even known the uncle fell into these dramatic, heaving, theatrical sobs for the length of the afternoon. It took no less than six(!) family members, many of them who were sisters and daughters of the uncle, to comfort this random distant cousin to a degree that they didn't feel they needed to send for the doctor.

Crying is fine. Crying in such a way that those closest to the deceased have to interrupt their own grieving to comfort you is probably not fine.

I suspect you are not that dramatic. But if you do get noisy, it might be most respectful to those closest to the departed family member if you step outside and take a little walk for a minute. I never cry at funerals, but I cry at commercials and sad songs and random kindnesses. I like to cry in gardens. The funeral home near here has a perfect grounds and garden for that.
posted by mochapickle at 2:59 PM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm not typically a crier (far from it), and I can usually keep it together at funerals, but I lost it at the funeral of a lovely woman I'd met less than a handful of times. She was an extraordinary person who affected me strongly in those few meetings -- I'd never known anyone like her before and haven't met anyone like her since -- and she died in a stupid and preventable way. I was kind of young. I let it all get to me on an aesthetic level, and sort of worked myself up in that way. Once I indulged a few tears, I had a hard time holding others back.

It was inappropriate, imo, completely, and I'm still embarrassed by it. Tears are seen as a display of depth of feeling, and it can seem self-serving and inauthentic if you hardly know the person. I think it would have been better for me to shift my attention away from whatever story I was making up in my head, and to focus instead on the reality of the people who were close to her, still in shock and grieving.

Ways to cool down hot thoughts (that I wish had occurred to me at the time): focus on neutral aspects of the environment; bite down hard on your cheek; don't let those first few tears go -- look up to stop them if you have to; and try to keep your mind from going to the meaning or tragedy or 'aboutness' of the whole thing.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:05 PM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your crying doesn't make any normal person uncomfortable.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:10 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Funerals are for crying. If anyone gives you guff about it, they are a dope.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:11 PM on September 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I can see how it might be weird. Not inappropriate, but weird, if you barely knew the person, etc. I can also see how a certain level or type of emotional display could make someone else feel uncomfortable. I've been in this position myself.

None of these things mean that I think you absolutely should control your inclination to cry.

I only skimmed it, but if you did want to stop the behavior this previously posted thread might have some pointers.
posted by sm1tten at 3:16 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Crying silently into your hankie is fine. Sobbing is not fine, and is only borderline acceptable in widows, parents and young children of the deceased. Is this possibly where the disconnect is occurring?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:17 PM on September 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

Shaming someone for sobbing at a funeral is pretty much as ridiculous as shaming someone for crying at a funeral.

The saddest funeral in the world is the one where no one is crying. Or sobbing.
posted by sageleaf at 3:28 PM on September 1, 2014 [15 favorites]

Short answer: of course you can cry at funerals! But...

So I was at a family funeral a while ago where a fairly distant family friend who I'd never met was sobbing uncontrollably, and it was pretty weird, and later my sister and I were like, what was going on with her? But I just figured she had her own stuff going on.

So, like, try to rein it in, maybe sit near the back/on the outside aisle if you're afraid of making a scene. Ask a trusted family member to give you a heads up if you're drawing focus.
posted by mskyle at 3:38 PM on September 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Last year I went to a friend's father's funeral. I'd never met the guy, knew nothing about him except that he'd been ill for a long time and that my friend would appreciate me being there, and yet I cried throughout the whole service. One person squeezed my shoulder as she came in late, and someone gave me some tissues. No one ever asked me for my crying credentials. However, though the funeral was absolutely lovely and really gave me a sense of who he had been and what my friend had lost, my tears were honestly more for recently deceased patients whose funerals I hadn't been able to attend. But you know what? In the end, it doesn't matter. It's a funeral. People get sad at them. You're allowed to cry. You're even allowed to wave off people who you feel are putting too much effort into helping you. People who feel so extraordinarily uncomfortable about others crying that they complain about it afterward are the ones who should be asking if they ought to attend a service, not you.
posted by teremala at 3:54 PM on September 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

I think this is going to depend how important what others think of you is, to you. Like some upthread have said, I come from a somewhat WASPy background. I remember the funeral of a (not terribly close, and very elderly/infirm) family member, and some even more distant cousins openly sobbing, and my mother whispering to me about how they were putting on such a show.

So, yeah, you risk some other person in attendance being sort of judgy about the way you outwardly express your emotions.

But you know what? So some third cousin twice removed thinks you're too emotional. Life is too short to worry about such people.
posted by Sara C. at 4:07 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Possible note of explanation: family of WASPs.

That's kind of the tradition I came from (with a generational detour into more hippie-ish, expressive, relating). I think that I absorbed some of my grandparents' mores about public displays of emotion, at least to the extent that they make me a bit uncomfortable. And I'm pretty sure I'd feel sort of "guilty" if I really let myself go.

But reasonably quiet tears shouldn't be an issue at a funeral, for crying out loud. I remember my grandfather openly crying at my grandmother's funeral service. He wasn't bawling, but he was absolutely outwardly grieving. And I shed tears throughout that funeral, his funeral, and especially at a beloved great aunt's funeral, more recently. (She was the "free spirit" of her generation, so I bet she didn't mind.)

Obviously, rending of garments will be offputting, in this particular culture. It's not a judgment on the value of said culture; it's just going to be so far out of the norm as to be discomfiting to others in attendance.

Go ahead and leak a little.
posted by credible hulk at 4:21 PM on September 1, 2014

You asked about how to avoid crying. I think the consensus here is that it's absolutely OK to cry a bit if you need to, and that this should be a safe space to do so.

So I have this brother who has a level of disconnect when it comes to emotions. Years ago, he went to our uncle's funeral and burst out into these heaving sobs. But he confided to me afterward that those tears weren't for my uncle. Instead, he was mourning our dad, who was very much alive and sitting close enough to touch. He was imagining dad up in that casket, and wishing they'd spent more time together, when we had my dad for several more years (which my brother spent explaining that he was too busy to spend much time). All those tears were about a loss that hadn't even happened yet, about a problem he could actively prevent. Not about our uncle.

But my uncle was more than worthy of those tears for the way he shared his life with us kids and always with a lot of tenderness, sensitivity, and humor, despite battling alcoholism and an unhappy domestic life. Our father's funeral was some years later, and my brother didn't cry for my dad, but for himself. That someday he, too, will pass away.

That seems so weird to me.

So think about the person you are honoring that day. If you're using the funeral not as a time to mourn the loss of a good person but instead as a valve to cry about Other Sad Things, then maybe you're not giving yourself enough opportunities to have that kind of catharsis. I'll cry about random things every few weeks or so, just to process stuff. I can feel it coming on, and so I'll go curl up and watch a sad movie, and I feel a lot more balanced afterward.
posted by mochapickle at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ask your mother exactly what was supposedly wrong with your behavior that other time. The judge for yourself if it's BS. You might want to ask your mother not to pass along negative tidbits of that nature.

Certain eople are going to talk, and there's nothing you can do about it. They'll be talking about someone whose tie was a bright color, about how short so-and-so's skirt was, how an aunt always wears the same outfit to funerals, how somebody else's stomach was rumbling. They talk like that because they're petty and unhappy. Feel sorry for them, or at least ignore them.
posted by wryly at 5:44 PM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

It is appropriate to cry at funerals and memorial services. If you're loudly sobbing it might be a little odd, but crying is fine. If you feel uncomfortable, sit somewhere in the room that is far away from the person who complained to your parent about the last memorial service, bring a bunch of tissues with you, and cry as much as you need to. Ignore anyone that's a jerk about it.

Death is sad and it's okay to cry, even if you didn't know the person very well.
posted by bedhead at 6:26 PM on September 1, 2014

If you do want to avoid it, I find pressing on the inner corner of my eye (one eye) while looking up and breathing in sharply works. Big belly breaths.
posted by sweetkid at 7:35 PM on September 1, 2014

Best answer: Someone close to the deceased has also already complained to my parent that I didn't behave appropriately the last time someone in our family died

Bear in mind that people close to the deceased may be having all kinds of emotions, including anger, and that your quaint WASPy relatives may not be comfortable with their own emotions, and may therefore be groping for some excuse to justify these emotions.

My mom, when suddenly widowed, went to war with the next door neighbors. About their dog. They wound up selling their house. I asked her about it once, in the early stages, and she explained that it was horribly wrong for my dad to be dead and stupid little Mr. Neighbor, with his stupid little dog, to still be alive.

If someone is uncomfortable with their own emotions towards the deceased, you are the PERFECT target. Not only does your bereaved relative get to express emotions like anger; they also get to judge and thereby express distance from someone who is expressing other negative emotions -- emotions that they are perhaps ashamed to feel, or ashamed of not feeling.

TL;DR: this is not about you. Do not adjust your set. Sure, it's sensible to avoid noisy sobs, and politely wave off unneeded help; but here's the only emotional response you need to fix:

It bothers me that people may be thinking that I am more upset than others when I have no right to be

because blaming you for being upset makes about as much sense as blaming the stupid little neighbor dog for being alive.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:38 PM on September 1, 2014 [14 favorites]

I've been known to cry at the funerals of people I didn't know well, merely out of empathy for their survivors. Really hard when the choir to which you belong sings frequently at requiem masses. Bring kleenex. Do math problems in your head. Move your eyes up and to your right (there's some neurological explanation for why this works, but I can't remember what it is). Keep your brain busy and occupied, even if it means shutting out the service. And arrange to sit on an aisle where you can slip out relatively unnoticed if you REALLY think you're going to lose it. When you cry for people you don't know, you're acknowledging that loss is inevitable for us all. And if your uptight relative gives you grief, shrug and tell her that maybe you're mourning in the place of those who have a hard time showing sadness.
posted by tully_monster at 8:23 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For the record, no sobbing--just red eyes/nose and sniffling.

I don't know what the problem was with my behavior previously but feral_goldfish probably has the best explanation. This person has already accused multiple people of behaving badly after this latest death. I think that's just how they deal with the loss.

I really appreciate all of the thoughtful answers to my somewhat silly question. Thank you.
posted by chaiminda at 7:27 AM on September 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

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