Am I expected to attend an associate's father's funeral?
November 16, 2007 7:30 AM   Subscribe

The father of a close business associate has died and I would like to behave appropriately and honor my associate's loss. They're Catholics in NYC. There is a wake which seems to be scheduled for several different time periods over the weekend. Then there is a funeral mass on Monday during business hours, followed by burial at the cemetery.

I'm non-Catholic, generally unfamiliar with funeral customs, and generally uncomfortable with large groups of strangers. The events are located about an hour and a half from my home and I have child-care responsibilities at home.

Am I expected to come to the wake and/or the funeral mass? Put another way, are wakes and funerals more for family, co-religionists, neighbors and non-business friends, and less for business associates like me?

I would feel more comfortable sending a card and making a generous donation in honor of the deceased.
posted by JimN2TAW to Human Relations (20 answers total)
Going to the wake is the way to be a good friend.
posted by shothotbot at 7:36 AM on November 16, 2007

Go to the wake, skip the funeral mass, and send a card. Beyond that is family territory.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:38 AM on November 16, 2007

You wouldn't be expected to go to the funeral, and appearing at the wake would be solely for the benefit of your associate; a nice gesture, to be sure, but not necessary.

Sending flowers is one option. A condolence card indicating that a donation had been made in honour of the deceased would also be thoughtful.
posted by LN at 7:39 AM on November 16, 2007

I've been to many a Catholic funeral, and anybody and everybody shows up at the wake, in my experience, including friends/business associates of relatives of the deceased. They hang around for an hour or so, pay their respects, and go. However, it's rare that these same folks do not show up at the funeral or burial unless they actually knew the deceased.

If you'll be really uncomfortable at the wake, then don't go, because you don't want to add to the grieving family's discomfort.
posted by desjardins at 7:39 AM on November 16, 2007

Wakes are precisely for everyone who wishes to pay respects. You walk in, sign the book, offer your respects to the family, if someone is collecting for the family you add your donation, make small talk with other persons at the wake, sit quietly for a moment (praying if that's what you do), then leave.

There were be less time for speaking with the family and more ritualized behavior at a funeral mass. If you are not close to the family, I would suggest attending the wake not the funeral.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:39 AM on November 16, 2007

Correction: However, it's rare that the same folks show up at the funeral.....
posted by desjardins at 7:40 AM on November 16, 2007

I agree. It would be a nice gesture to go to the funeral. If you're not as comfortable with the wake aspect (viewing of the body) then the wake might be acceptable to skip. Also, a card/donation as you mentioned would be nice as well. I can't imagine that any business associates, unless you're close friends as well, would be "expected" to come.

If you do decide to send a card, make sure you follow up in person a bit - say, a week - after the funeral in person. Either call your associate or stop by and check in and just let him/her know that you were thinking about his/her family.
posted by santojulieta at 7:43 AM on November 16, 2007

Wakes are the way to go. Funerals are for close friends / family.
posted by Stynxno at 7:50 AM on November 16, 2007

As a former Irish catholic, here's how it works. Those on the periphery of the family are expected to attend the wake. I would not attend the funeral unless I met the man on more than one occasion and he was a public man.

If it was my family, there'd be a hell of a party at the wake, with a lot of people getting drunk. If such a gathering is being organized, feel your way through it--if it is at a hotel, you might go if you know the family relatively well. If it is at someone's house, you should wait for an invite.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:54 AM on November 16, 2007

Go to the wake.
As a friend of the deceased's child you do not have to approach the casket. But do find your friend and offer condolences, sign the book, get a holy card and go.

This can be done in twenty minutes, and wakes of someone who has lived a full life are a celebration of that life. There will usually be a display of pictures - it's nice to see the wedding pictures, etc. It is always a comfort to the family to have people come.
posted by readery at 7:55 AM on November 16, 2007

As above, yes, everyone even peripheral can go to the wake, but no, you aren't expected at the funeral. Wake etiquette is covered above (and you can come in work clothes, if you work at an office.)

I think a lot of people are possibly missing this: The events are located about an hour and a half from my home. If it's out of your way, then don't go. You'd only have to stay about half an hour at the wake anyway. Send a card and flowers/donation as per the obit, and later follow up with your friend as others have suggested.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:12 AM on November 16, 2007

Another Irish Catholic chiming in. Go to the wake and give your associate your condolences. You really don't have to stay long - there's usually a receiving line and all you need to do is to introduce yourself and tell everyone how sorry you are for their loss.

But the funeral and the burial are really for family and close friends only.
posted by sutel at 8:12 AM on November 16, 2007

Also, in my family, there tends to be three parts -- the "viewing", the mass, and THEN the wake.

The viewing takes place at the funeral home. There's sometimes a prayer service. The family is there and they welcome all the people -- friends, coworkers, whatever. IT's held over two evenings so people can go whenever its easy.

Then there's the mass (smaller -- but may be attended by persons who couldn't make the viewing. Usually during the day so it requires taking time off work, and you shouldn't feel obligated to attend. But you certainly can) and burial (smaller yet). This is generally followed by a luncheon in the social hall or at someone's home.

THEN comes the wake. Usually a party. Lots of drinking, singing, and story telling. At someone's home or at a bar. Only to be attended if you are invited or if you have stories to tell.

Irish Catholic, here, too.

But really, if you're a ways a way, send a donation per the obit. Or, if there isn't info on that, go to the nearest Catholic church to you, or Catholic affiliated charity (capuchin soup kitchen for instance) stop by the administrative offices, and tell them you'd like to purchase a "mass card". This amounts to a donation to the church, and they'll give you a nice card to send that says "St. X is saying a mass in remeberance of [name goes here] on [date and time]." Much appreciated by most Catholics.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:31 AM on November 16, 2007

The viewing (sometimes called a wake) is usually public and announced in the newspaper. It's where anybody who wishes to pay their respects shows up. When my grandfather died the trash collectors that he said hello to on his morning walk came by to pay thier respects. Viewings are somewhat noted for the appearances of long lost cousins and other people who you haven't talked to in 20 or 30 years. It's 100% appropriate for you to attend one of the viewings.

There are few parties that rival a classic post funeral Irish Wake. That's one thing Catholics, and Irish Catholics in particular get right. They make it impossible to be down in those moments right after the funeral by forcing you to focus on the life of the deceased, and not the death.
posted by COD at 8:58 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lotta Irish Catholics here in the green. How appropriate.

Nthing the "drop in at the wake, have a drink, don't overdo it" advice above.
posted by rokusan at 9:15 AM on November 16, 2007

Another Irish Catholic here. In your situation I would go to the wake. Although the family would probably be very touched if you attended the funeral mass it is not expected. If they are avery observant / churchgoing family, one of the nicest gestures you can make is to send a mass card -- basically you make a small donation to whatever their parish is and they will say a mass in that person's name on a future date. Then they will put that info in a nice card and you can give it to them at the wake. Again, that's totally optional.
posted by contessa at 9:27 AM on November 16, 2007

Noticed recently that "wake" is no longer used for the funeral home segment - "viewing" or even "visitation" seems more common now. But then the funeral industry has been inflating its terminology for some time - most people dutifully refer to a "casket" instead of a "coffin" now, for example, because it's somehow felt to be classier or more tactful, and that's marketing at work.

Also, more pragmatically, flowers have gone very much out of fashion in favour of charitable donations: many families will indicate which charity the deceased would have preferred you to assist, although of course you're free to choose another if the suggested charity runs counter to your views.
posted by zadcat at 9:31 AM on November 16, 2007

My father recently died. My close business associates made it to the wake (visitation) and that touched me deeply. Ones who couldn't make it sent flowers or a condolence card with a personal message. Again, that touched me.

The wake (visitation) is generally non-denominational. At least, the ones I've been to have been. My family is Catholic, and at the end of each night of the wake the funeral director said a nice Bible verse and we said a rosary, which was a special request of my mother's. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have said that otherwise. If you are thinking of attending the wake and are uncomfortable with the Catholic views, I would go during the early/middle of the wake time period. I've been to a few wakes where they said prayers every hour, but that's been few and far between. I think you should be "safer" the earlier you go.

If it is inconvenient and you have child care duties, there is no reason you should attend the wake (visitation). Send flowers or a donation AND a card with a personally written sentiment to your colleague. That should be enough. You are certainly not expected to attend the funeral - that is for family and close, close friends.
posted by MeetMegan at 9:51 AM on November 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help. All of the answers are thoughtful and caring and much appreciated. I'll digest them and reach a decision.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:27 AM on November 16, 2007

Another opinion about wakes: it's always fine to go to the wake, but not a huge deal if you can't make it. When my father died, I spent so much time standing by the coffin in uncomfortable shoes, shaking hands, hugging and talking to people when I really just wanted to be around close family. I was touched that my friends made the effort to show up, but the gesture was almost purely symbolic. A generous donation will mean just as much, and will absolutely be appreciated.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:43 PM on November 16, 2007

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