Should I attend a co-workers wife's funeral?
April 7, 2008 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Should I attend a co-workers wife's funeral?

Similar to this question: (

I'm having a bit of a struggle. I've only been working at my place of employment for a year, and a co-worker's wife has just died after a long illness. I don't know this co-worker particularly well, and I didn't know his wife at all. A group of people from work are going to the service for her; however, none of us were explicitly asked to go, I think people just collectively decided to attend.

I feel extremely awkward about this, and subsequently I don't think I should attend. Putting myself in my co-worker's shoes, I imagine that I would be extremely displeased if people I hadn't asked showed up to a funeral for a loved one. I think of funerals as being private. My fiance however thinks it might be rude not to attend, and that you don't need to be explicitly asked to attend a funeral.

I'm wondering if this is a cultural issue - I'm American, and my boss (who is British) and I are of a mind; but every New Zealander I've asked agrees with my fiance. Does anyone have any advice for me? What is the etiquette of the situation?
posted by supercrayon to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't think of anything more warm, loving and kind than to show up to support a friend or co-worker, invited or not.

Funerals are about the living, not the dead. By attending, you pay your respects the survivors as well as the memory of the departed.
posted by moof at 4:25 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Send a card with your sympathy. You haven't 'crashed' the funeral, and you won't look as if you don't care at all, either.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:27 PM on April 7, 2008

You don't get invited to funerals. That's why they put the notices in the newspaper.

You should go. If you have any feeling to go, just go. The most horrible thing for a funeral is if no one shows up. You don't have to make a big deal out of it, just show up, say hello and then stand with whoever you know there. Your coworker will be glad you came, without a doubt.
posted by sully75 at 4:27 PM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Putting myself in my co-worker's shoes, I imagine that I would be extremely displeased if people I hadn't asked showed up to a funeral for a loved one. I think of funerals as being private. My fiance however thinks it might be rude not to attend, and that you don't need to be explicitly asked to attend a funeral.

I'm American, for whatever it's worth, and I think it would be rude not to go. I'd be happy if people I didn't ask to a funeral showed up -- you're just there for support and kindness, it's not like you're crashing a wedding or causing them expense or trouble.
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:28 PM on April 7, 2008

However, I am from Texas, which may or may not be considered part of the South.
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:28 PM on April 7, 2008

Best answer: I went to a service where the grieving family expected, like, a dozen people to be there. They were visibly moved when 200+ people turned out to say goodbye to their son, who had died suddenly and without warning. "We had no idea our son was so loved by so many," they said. It took a little bit, a tiny bit, of the sting away.

If there's already a group of people from work going to express condolences to their co-worker, there's nothing wrong with you tagging along.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:31 PM on April 7, 2008

Agreeing with your fiance. You go for your co-worker, not because you knew the spouse, but because you show support for your grieving friend/co-worker. If others from the office/work are attending, you'll fit in with them. Having recently lost a parent and been through this , I don't think people are "invited" to funerals. Concerned friends of the bereaved and the "loved one" show up to express sympathy. Go. Co-worker will appreciate the effort.
posted by Agamenticus at 4:31 PM on April 7, 2008

Best answer: If you're going to be uncomfortable and don't know the person well I wouldn't go. This is assuming not a small office where your absence would be obvious.

The mood and attendance of the wake could vary from what you're used to. My family is of Irish ancestry and, although the funerals are usually sad, the wake and after the burial are social events and usually loud and crowded and often include alcohol.

My high school English teacher and ex-boss and his wife showed up for my dad's funeral and wake, respectfully, and I was glad they came. I didn't invite them but they found out from someone or read it in the paper. My teacher had never met my dad, my boss had met him a few times. They just hung around for a short time, offered their condolences to me and left. None of my friends came and it still bothers me.

It's about supporting the surviving family member, so it doesn't matter so much if you knew the deceased. If you aren't friends with your co-worker I wouldn't go. If you are friends with him I suggest you show your support, even if you only hang around for a short time.
posted by Bunglegirl at 4:35 PM on April 7, 2008

In high school my school sent a bus-load of us to our teacher's husband's funeral. We'd never met him--it was for the teacher, to show our support for her. I think the same thing applies here.

(I'm American, btw.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:37 PM on April 7, 2008

Nobody explicitly asks someone to go to a funeral. Also whether or not you knew the wife isn't relevant, going to a funeral shows support for the survivor.

It is a kind, caring and appropriate gesture to go.
posted by necessitas at 4:40 PM on April 7, 2008

I think you should go as a gesture of support for your co-worker. It is very important to people that their loved one's funeral be well-attended. There was a major rift in my family recently over this. One person's in-law died, and it appeared that there would be practically no one attending the funeral, so she asked her own parents to attend, for her husband's sake. Her father refused, saying he didn't know the deceased well and it wasn't his family. Cut to major brouhaha. Totally different situation, I know, but my point is that funeral attendance really matters to people.
posted by Enroute at 4:40 PM on April 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all, you've convinced me, I think I'll go.

Thanks also for clearing up the etiquette issues - I really wasn't sure whether it was appropriate or not to attend if you hadn't been asked.
posted by supercrayon at 4:43 PM on April 7, 2008

Don't expect your co-worker or the family to acknowledge your existence and you should not infer anything about how they feel about your presence from that lack of acknowledgment. Family members in particular are usually in a daze during a funeral and the weeks before and after.
posted by about_time at 5:46 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think about_time makes a great point. I've been to a few funerals for people I didn't know that well, and they've gone well because I've adopted the attitude that I'm just there to fill up a seat, to be part of the crowd. They're "show up" events, I think.
posted by facetious at 6:38 PM on April 7, 2008

Go. No-one ever feels that the turnout at the funeral of a loved-one was too big.
posted by Oddly at 6:55 PM on April 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

Go to support your coworker. Your coworker will be likely be comforted by having a large group of people at the funeral, even if he doesn't consider them all to be close friends. It's a very tough time, but is also one of those rare occasions where a show of support can make a world of difference.
posted by alaaarm at 7:05 PM on April 7, 2008

'Eighty percent of life is showing up' applies here.

-recoveringsophist, U.S. American.
posted by recoveringsophist at 8:37 PM on April 7, 2008

Always Go to the Funeral
posted by JohnYaYa at 8:42 PM on April 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

My grandmother died last year and a couple of my coworkers showed up to show their support. I greatly appreciated it and it meant a lot to me.
posted by jmd82 at 8:52 PM on April 7, 2008

Best answer: I was recently in a nearly identical situation, and I chose to go to a colleague's wife's memorial service with some other people I work with despite never having met her previously. My colleague seem touched to see us, and I got to know a bit about his wife by talking to some of my other coworkers about her and seeing the pictures and mementos the family had chosen to display. Just as I was thinking I should probably make a graceful exit, the wife's sister approached me and introduced herself. We chatted for a couple minutes, during which time I explained who I was and why I was there. Truthfully, I told her that while I didn't know her sister, she sounded like a great person, and I was sorry I'd never had the chance to meet her.

I'd been feeling out of place all evening, and I felt even more awkward stumbling through what I was sure sounded like trite condolences. To my great surprise, the woman was so touched she almost began to cry. She thanked me for coming and for my kind words, and all the uncertainty I'd had about coming in the first place evaporated.

The smallest gestures can mean a lot to people in times of grief. I'm glad you've decided to go, and I'm sure your coworker and his family will be, too.
posted by I Said, I've Got A Big Stick at 9:23 PM on April 7, 2008

Put yourself in the shoes of your co-worker. I echo the sentiments expressed above. It means alot just for people to show up. All you have to say is, "I'm sorry." Funerals are for those left behind, not for those who are dead.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:56 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the majority here, last year a colleague's sister died. I'm not particularly close to the guy, but we sat near each other and got on just fine but I never knew his sister. 2 of us from the office went to the funeral and it obviously meant a lot to him that we were there, and I like to think we made it easier for him in an infinitessimally small way. I think as many friendly faces as possible is always going to help.
posted by jontyjago at 4:23 AM on April 8, 2008

Best answer: A few years ago, I’d only just started a new job when one of my colleagues died suddenly and unexpectedly. Most of my team mates and the rest of the company were going to attend the service because this was a much, much appreciated man not just as a work mate but as a person as well.

I wanted to attend too. Although we’d worked in the same team and he’d been very warm and welcoming to me, we didn’t really know each other or shared much work history. I appreciated his kindness and his willingness to share his extensive domain knowledge happily and unreservedly. I wanted to pay my respects to him and his family. But I did hesitate.

On the day the service was to take place a few low-key emails went round, the numbers of passengers and cars were matched in a manner completely appropriate for a software development company and off we went. No questions asked or funny looks when I got in the car of someone I’d seen and talked to last on the first day of my employment just a week or three before.

The service itself was heart wrenching yet wonderful. My colleague left behind a wife and family who were shocked to the core because of this sudden loss but somehow they still managed to be so lovely and kind to this horde of relative strangers, to them, though not to their husband, father, brother etc.

I was moved by the gracefulness and gratitude of his family for people paying their respects as manager, occasional golf mate, CEO, respected co-worker, mentor, mate, guy in the next cubicle, or just this new person who doesn’t have much of a history to share. The family actually came and sought us out – we were all at the back of the hall – they urged us to stay for coffee and a chat at the end of the service.

This family ended up consoling total strangers who might suddenly burst out in tears while trying to express their condolences or share with them their memories of him.

Now, a few years and a few personal losses later I admire the sincere and wholehearted response of this family even more. They fully embraced and even invited what must have been to them totally random people’s responses and feelings. If there actually is a service or a funeral (I’ve recently experienced losses where there was no service or funeral/cremation, which was fine considering the circumstances) and you want to go, go!

The service is for you! And all the other people who want to pay their respects, express their sadness (and/or share hilarious if/not if slightly inappropriate memories) or people who just want to be there to console their colleagues, or to simply be there. From what I’ve witnessed, the ones who are left behind take great comfort in the mere presence of whoever attends for whatever reasons.
posted by l'esprit d'escalier at 4:52 AM on April 8, 2008

At my first husband's funeral in 2005, there were quite a few people who attended just because they knew me. They had never met Nick. During those first few days, there are a lot of things I don't remember, but I do remember those people being at the funeral and being touched that they thought enough of me to take the time out of their busy day to show their support for me.
posted by moosedogtoo at 6:06 AM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: New Zealander here, you should go. I think it would be a good idea to stick with your coworkers, and generally out of the way of the family, unless they approach you.

You probably would have mentioned it, but just on the off chance that they're Maori, and it's a tangi - I hope you don't mind the sight of dead bodies. Also, if it's on a Marae, when you get to the gates, if there's a group of people there, don't go blundering in, join the group and wait for the powhiri to invite you on to the grounds. Make sure you wear your best hongi shoes.

If it's not a tangi (there's probably only a very small chance that it is), it'll be a fairly familiar service - hymns and pews, and tear choked speeches from family members.

Don't say "I'm sorry for your loss", the only place we ever hear that is Americans, and it always sounds disingenuous.
posted by The Monkey at 8:07 AM on April 8, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for that The Monkey, it's not a Maori funeral (the co-worker his wife are actually Dutch). Glad about the "I'm sorry for your loss" tip, I'll try to avoid saying that if the circumstances call for it.
posted by supercrayon at 2:16 PM on April 8, 2008

"I'm sorry for your loss" is trite. I think it's only ever used on Cop Dramas on TV.

Are you talking funeral mass itself, or the viewing/wake, or both?

Anyway, concurring with others who say that death traditions are all about the living/grieving.

Here in the Midwest (US), my conventional wisdom is always go to the wake. You show up, wait your turn, give Bob the Coworker a warm handshake and say "I'm sorry" or "I'm so sorry". The aggrieved will most likely say something weird and out of character, because they are whacked out and emotionally drained. Converse with them however they want to (like I said, people say weird stuff), and either they will move to the next person in line, or you tell them "take care," and take off.

Bob the Coworker probably won't remember anything about the entire day, but he will remember that you were there, and that will be a comfort to him. It must have something to do with our instincts as social animals.

The funeral mass itself is less mandatory, at least here, it IS more of a family thing. You are free to go, but it isn't expected.
posted by gjc at 6:18 PM on April 8, 2008

Response by poster: I just got back a couple hours ago. I just wanted to say thank you so much to everyone who responded, I think you were all spot on with your advice.

The coworker was sharing the fears that his wife had communicated to him about dying just a week or two before she died, and one of these was that no one would come to her funeral. It made us all laugh because there were about 80-100 people there, but it made me doubly happy that I went.
posted by supercrayon at 7:19 PM on April 8, 2008

Good for you mate, you did the right thing.
posted by The Monkey at 7:07 AM on April 14, 2008

« Older How long is Chartreuse VEP aged?   |   Is my off-brand laptop battery toast? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.