Post-Funeral Etiquette
May 19, 2004 5:55 PM   Subscribe

My grandmother died last night after enduring 12 years of Alzheimers disease. When I spoke to my family this evening it was mentioned that there would be a luncheon after the funeral. I've only been to one other funeral in my life and that was not part of it. Sorry for the flippancy of this post, but I have a lot emotions all over the place right now, but to me a luncheon seems to be the height of tacky. Has anyone ever heard of this / done this before?
posted by pieoverdone to Human Relations (29 answers total)
When my wife's grandmother died last year, there was a luncheon after the funeral at a local restaurant. More people came to the luncheon than did to the funeral, actually.
posted by briank at 5:56 PM on May 19, 2004

Almost every funeral I've attended was followed by some kind of collective meal.
posted by mischief at 5:59 PM on May 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

Yep, that's the way both sides of my family does it, and I wouldn't have it any other way. You gather together to re-connect with your extended family, catch up on old times, and share fond remembrances of your loved one. It's bittersweet, but what's the alternative? Grieving in isolation? I say hoist one for your dearly departed, and relieve a little of your grief by celebrating her life with the ones that loved her best.
posted by lilboo at 6:09 PM on May 19, 2004

Response by poster: I'm having a hard time with it. Luncheon is like 'wedding reception' or 'graduation party' to me. This was a really harrowing 12 years. How can finger sandwiches make people feel better? How can we just write that all off and line up at the buffet line?
posted by pieoverdone at 6:14 PM on May 19, 2004

Every funeral I've been to has had something like this; it's the wake.

It gives those affected the chance to be together in a less formal setting than the funeral. It's all about the 'being together'. Nothing unusual in it at all.
posted by Blue Stone at 6:23 PM on May 19, 2004

Same here. Every funeral I've been to has been followed by a meal. Food can be comforting and it helps for family to get together and talk.
posted by tomorama at 6:24 PM on May 19, 2004

There was a party after each of my grandparent's funerals (so far), with pictures being taken and all. Unless it's some diehard Christian affair, there's no reason why a little 'fun' can't be thrown into a funeral. Sure, it has to be respectful, but being sad at a funeral just ain't my schtick. If the departed person would have been the ultra-traditional sort, then okay, respect that. But anyone I've known who has died was fun loving and actually demanded we have some fun after they died, so we did!
posted by wackybrit at 6:25 PM on May 19, 2004

The ritual is similar in Japan.

As sad as it is, funerals often bring together family who don't see each other too often, so in that sense it is reasonable for extended family to want to share a meal together.
posted by gen at 6:28 PM on May 19, 2004

Let me clear my throat here and say that I have been to some Christian funerals that definitely had the fun factor. One story told at the funeral of a church elder who died in his min fifties was that of the time he used pumpkin pie filling to simulate dog poo on the bottom of his shoe....there's more to the story but in deference to the poster's loss I will refrain at the moment.

Here where I live the custom has been for food-tons and tons of it-to be brought to the home of the family. After the service people show up and eat.

Maybe the sticking point is calling it a "luncheon." That does sound a bit funny, but whatever you call it, getting together over food is not a bad idea at such times.
posted by konolia at 6:30 PM on May 19, 2004

Luncheon is like 'wedding reception' or 'graduation party' to me.
Exactly, only this occasion is based around different emotions.
posted by mischief at 6:32 PM on May 19, 2004

Well once you get there, you will see that the tone of the event is entirely different. It's not like people are going to bust out the Macarena here. Besides, it's not about the finger sandwiches, it's about gathering all of her loved ones together in tribute. My grandmother also passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's, about five years ago, and we did all meet for lunch afterwards. But I don't remember the food. I remember meeting her friends from high school. I remember learning that she grew up on a farm in Brooklyn (!?!) And I remember hearing stories about how tickled she was about her first granddaughter (me) and all the times she had to drag me out of the water at Jones Beach. You are going to miss your own revelations if you don't go.
posted by lilboo at 6:35 PM on May 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

First off, I'm sorry for your loss. I hope you find peace.

I grew up in a funeral home, and I've worked hundreds of services. The collective meal is all a part of it. Some things to take note of:

1. Not everyone will be sad. Some people will be chatty. You'll hear people laughing. Men will discuss golf swings. This is all a natural part. No one could (or should) be constantly morose, even at a funeral. Life goes on.

2. Don't be mad at the people who don't seem sufficiently sad. You can expel a lot of anger at people who don't deserve it, just because they don't feel what you feel. (Even if you think they should feel it.)

3. And at the risk of contradicting myself: don't let anyone else tell you how you should grieve. The grieving process is different for every single person. It may take longer for you than it does for others. This is okay. If you feel that the reception will anger you, don't feel like you have to go. Remember her in your own way, that will always be the best way.
posted by ColdChef at 6:38 PM on May 19, 2004 [2 favorites]

I write obituaries as part of my job. If there's anything I've learned while doing this, it's that people have many very different ways of responding to death.

Some people have religious ceremonies that have nothing to do with the person's life. Some have "celebrations of life" that try to make the passing a joyous thing. Some don't believe in services at all. Potlucks are common. People have gatherings at the cemetery, at the funeral home, at a family member's house, at a rec center, at a church, at a community gathering place and in parks.

When my grandmother died in March, my mom and aunt arranged a religious service at the funeral home. There was then a procession to the cemetery where palm bearers carried her to the grave and the minister said a few more words. Afterwards we went to my aunt's house. Although it wasn't billed as a luncheon, there was a buffet. Considering that she showed up at the funeral home early and it was about 1 p.m. by the time we got to my aunt's house, I think it would have been cruel not to feed us.

People stood around and reminisced. There was laughing at funny memories, crying at sad memories. I spent more time with my grandma's sister and brother than I ever had before, and learned new things about her life.

I don't think there's a right way or a wrong way to do it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:09 PM on May 19, 2004

she showed up==>we showed up
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:11 PM on May 19, 2004

I have been to way too many funerals and every one of them has had a gathering afterwards, ranging from short, uncomfortable gatherings of people who don't know each other to all-night talk (and drink) fests where everyone shared their memories of the deceased.

I have always felt that the funeral is to mourn the person's death, the function afterwards is to celebrate their life. The wake used to be held prior to the funeral, but is nowadays usually held immediately following.
posted by dg at 7:12 PM on May 19, 2004

If the idea of this luncheon offends the feelings you have right now, that's okay. This means it won't be the most copacetic event for you. Maybe you shouldn't attend this part if it will fly in the face of your grief, rather than ameliorate it. But you should allow that different people respond differently to a death in the family, and if others want to meet, break some bread, talk, be there for one another, then let them do so without denouncing them. I'm sure they will understand if you'd rather bow out of that portion.
posted by scarabic at 7:25 PM on May 19, 2004

I'm sorry for your and your family's loss.

Last year, my grandfather passed away after almost 2 decades with Alzheimers. We had a luncheon afterwards. It wasn't as tacky as you may think. The family and friends got together, and it was a time to talk about our good memories of my grandfather, and we were able to find some joy and peace in those memories and each others company. After the days we all sat huddled in the hospital leading up to his passing, and the days leading up to the wakes and then the funeral, it was also nice to be around the family and relax a little.

If you aren't up for it, you'll feel it and know it at the time, and you can simply excuse yourself. everyone grieves differently, and you're entitled to that.

again, my sympathies. I know the heartache of Alzheimers.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:29 PM on May 19, 2004

Oh yeah, always, always food. Maybe I come from a biased perspective, but no Jewish relative of mine would ever allow people to go hungry at her funeral.

I'll echo what ColdChef said. Your grandmother suffered from a long illness. Many people grieve not at the point when the person dies, but at the point she slips into dementia, stops recognizing people, or at some other transformative event. Different people have grieved at different times over the past 12 years, and some may grieve well after the death. Those who mark your grandmother's loss with humor, or mark the family reunion with smiles and laughter, are no less respectful of her passing than you are.

Here's an overview of the New Orleans funeral procession, which kind of sets up the balance I'm talking about. "Nearer My God to Thee" on the way to the cemetery; "When the Saints Go Marching In" on the way back. Mourn the loss, then celebrate the life.
posted by PrinceValium at 7:40 PM on May 19, 2004

weddings and funerals ...

the older I get, the more I realize that a funeral is not only about celebrating the life and the loss of a loved one, but it's also an opportunity to be with far-flung parts of my family whom I don't often get to see.

the older I get, the fewer weddings and the more funerals I seem to be going to.
posted by crunchland at 7:53 PM on May 19, 2004

Sorry about your loss, pieoverdone.

In Scotland it's always been my experience that funeral == grief, wake (lunch+booze) == celebration of the life. More than once I've been in tears in the morning followed by laughter an hour later.

I find it helps me and many of the people attending a lot, whereas if we'd all gone our seperate ways still in the "grief" frame of mind it would have been much worse, I think. Plus, it's a final chance to do nothing but happily remember someone's life in a way that you can't really do at the next family get together.

But I don't really chime with "luncheon" either. Call it a wake.
posted by bonaldi at 9:19 PM on May 19, 2004

How can finger sandwiches make people feel better? How can we just write that all off and line up at the buffet line?

Just want to echo what most of the people in the thread are saying. It's not the food, it's that the food gives you all an excuse to sit in the same room and talk to one another about . . . whatever. Every funeral I've ever been to ended with food somewhere. Consider the alternatives: (1) everyone goes home without talking to one another; (2) everyone gathers at the house of the closest to the deceased, thus forcing them to play host at inopportune time. I can't think of any other options. And ditto what ColdChef said.

It's a good chance to talk to people you might not see again for a long time, and talking about your grandmother may help you. I'm sorry for your loss, though. And grateful I've never had to deal closely with alzheimer's; it seems like a harrowing disease. Best wishes to you.
posted by onlyconnect at 10:00 PM on May 19, 2004

pieoverdone - the cold chef serves it up with tact.

But I'd add one original note (and as one who's has some truck with Alzheimer's, now bracing for much more) this :

The best expression of grief - though it can be damn near impossible, still - that I know of is a jazz funeral.

There's food, booze, and best of all, music.

Cry enough sometimes, and you'll wind up laughing.

Then, you might even let that laughter take you by the hand and - if so - watch out! - Dancing may beckon....

And all who still live and breathe must - in their own fashion - dance, even amidst tears.
posted by troutfishing at 10:23 PM on May 19, 2004

pieoverdone - sorry for your loss, I know exactly how you feel, I buried my grandfather about a month ago...I even asked a question in here about it.

We had a collective meal afterwards...just round a relatives house, sandwiches and a glass of wine...its not often my family get together - being dispersed, and I like to think my Grandfather would have loved the idea of him being the cause of us all together.

Oh...and what everyone else has said in this thread...

I hope it works for you...

(btw - thanks to everyone that gave me advice in that reading was well recieved, and I enjoyed doing it.
posted by mattr at 7:43 AM on May 20, 2004

good luck to you, pieoverdone, and also to you, troutfishing.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:59 AM on May 20, 2004

Well, it is quite traditional, and here is not the best quotation to back it up (considering those involved took the meals to an ultra-tacky and offensive level) but at least it does make clear the tradition's age.
Hamlet I 2:
The funeral bak'd meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
posted by Gnatcho at 8:24 AM on May 20, 2004

Sorry for your loss, but a luncheon seems perfectly normal. My family tends to do two days of partying/mourning. There's usually a viewing the evening before the funeral and later that evening, the wake. The next morning will be the funeral, a procession to the cemetary, and then a luncheon. My family tends to deal with death best through laughter and lots of merryment. And liquor.
posted by renyoj at 8:58 AM on May 20, 2004

At the funerals I've been to, the best part of the lunch after is the children. After a long-ish morning in church and/or at a cemetary, in dressy clothes, with all the adults acting odd, and maybe having to look at the body, kids tend to respond to food and some open space with complete glee. Seeing the continuation of the life of the dearly departed in their happiness is consoling and affirming.
posted by donnagirl at 9:46 AM on May 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

While it may seem perfectly normal to expect food after a funeral, let me say that when my sister died, it wasn't a pleasant experience.

People brought plates of food over to my parents' house after the graveside service and they they hung out for a few hours. Not living in that town any more, most of the people were not family, or family so obscure that I didn't know them. A few of her friends I didn't like wanted to shoot the shit with me, and all I wanted to do was be depressed and alone. My husband and I ended up ditching the whole thing and driving to the beach.

So let me say that if you do not want to participate, if everyone fighting for finger sandwiches will annoy/aggravate you, do understand that you do not need to attend.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:15 AM on May 20, 2004

My Grandmother died a year and a half ago. Her children had a very traditional funeral, including a family luncheon afterwards. I was happy as possible at the lunch, swapping stories with my cousins and aunts and uncles about her, being reminded that we got scolded as well as loved, talking about my the first horrible sunburn that I remember and Grandma rubbing cool apple-cider vinegar over my skin, about her teaching me to play checkers. Enjoying the fruit of her life, her efforts at raising a family with the rest of that family seemed like the best way to mark the death. Those fruits are real and present, and while they will change over time, will persist for as long as people do on the earth, and maybe longer.

That was our way of doing things, our family, my Grandmother. Yours may be different -- especially because of the context of Alzheimers, which can put a big strain on the family, and from the sounds of the "harrowing 12 years" phrase, it sounds like it has. But if you can reach back beyond that, and if your family is reasonably close, and if you have good memories made with her and each other, perhaps you can get something similar to what we did out of the informal association at lunch that sometimes isn't possible during a formal, structured ceremony.
posted by weston at 1:29 PM on May 20, 2004

« Older French Connection bar IRL   |   Help me establish a small online retail business. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.