I have just got back from a funeral... I hate these things.

So, I just got back from a funeral. Well, actually it was a memorial service I suppose, in church, after a private family cremation service. I don’t believe in God though, sorry… so I am wondering why I went and whether I should have.

Does it comfort the bereaved, do you think, that non-believers should attend… does it show solidarity…respect… affection? Or do you think they think ‘what a hypocrite’? Personally, I don’t feel like a hypocrite… I think I went because I was asked to, and I was happy to go and show that I liked and respected the deceased and wanted to say how I would do what I could to comfort and assist those left behind, as it were.

I never know what to say either… ‘I am sorry for your loss’…err, well, I am… but I don’t speak that way, it sounds daft. ‘My condolences’… another word I can’t remember using a whole lot. ‘If there is anything you need’… well, at least I meant that one, but even then… a little voice says in my head “Well, within reason obviously… I can’t quite manage funding a couple of weeks in Jamaica which might do you the world of good”

Ach, don’t know why I am posting this… I just hate these things.

I agree with you. I was forced to go to a funeral for a co-worker’s family member. Not only do I not believe in this god person, which I don’t think is a reason NOT to go to funerals, I don’t really like funerals. ( I prefer cremation). It was creepy and icky seeing this person laid out in state, made up like a $20 whore. (I’m sorry but that’s what he looked like).

I don’t think they were particularly happy I was there. They didn’t know I was atheist, and I didn’t tell them of course, but wasn’t it bad enough that some stranger is intruding on their private grief??? It was the most uncomfortable situation I have ever been in.

I don’t think it’s hypocritical to go if you’re an atheist, though, if your friend celebrates their wedding in a church and you go, you’re going to be just as happy for them! I just don’t like going to strangers’ funerals.

I don’t think anybody cares about your faith or lack of it, it’s your presence that matters. And being there to show that you liked and respected the deceased is often a source of comfort to the family. It’s nice to know that people thought well of the ones you loved. And it’s nice to know that people are willing to make an effort to let you know they care.

As for what to say? Usually a simple “I’m sorry” works just fine. And if there is time, let them talk if they feel like it. They won’t really remember what you said anyway, just that you were there.

I want to record a video before I die to be played at my funeral that encourages people to celebrate my life and try not to mourn my loss too much. I then want to have specific instructions in my will about how my funeral will be. I want it to be more like a party than a funeral, where people that knew me can get together and talk about what a strange fellow I was over a nice cold brew.

Yes, I think most people will appreciate having an atheist come to the funeral just as much as they would with a religious person. The grieving family isn’t really going to be thinking about your religious views or lack thereof at a time like that. They just want someone to be there for them and to show respect to the deceased.
As for what to say, everyone is different of course, but I think “My condolences” is a good start. Rather than just the generic “If there’s anything you need”, you might want to try offering to help them with something specific like maybe bringing over meals or something. Then they will know you really do mean it. So many people use the “if there’s anything you need” line just as a cliche, and don’t really intend to help at all. :frowning:

What I hate about funerals is when they open the casket…because many times the person doesn’t even look the same and even if they do there is that odd stillness, does anyone know what I mean?
If the person is simply resting then there is subtle movements but when they are in eternity/ dead there is no movement and that is always hard to see.
Especially if you knew the person, when my classmate died, I remember that when he was alive he wore glasses, was a funny person and always wore his hair spiked. When he was in the casket he looked so unnatural, he was grey, he looked like he was frowning, his hair was done in a style he would have never worn when he was alive, his glasses were off… I kept looking at him thinking he was only 14 but can’t do anything anymore, atleast not on earth, he will never make another joke again he is just going to rot in the ground.
This happened a couple years ago but after I had passed by the body I saw some people standing off to the corner that had decided not to pass by the casket and I wish I would have been with them.
A memorial service with no casket is way easier to go to I think although it’s never fun. Why is seeing the body of someone you know or love supposed to make you feel better when someone I’m close to dies I’d rather remember them alive and breathing not cold and grey.

Well, obviously, different people take comfort from different things. In my MIL’s tradition, they not only have an open casket, the deceased’s loved ones will kiss the dear departed. :eek: If you don’t go through all the traditional mourning out loud, crying audibly, threatening to leap into the open grave with the coffin, etc., well then you didn’t *really * love the departed one and will be gossipped about by all your “friends.”

Frankly, I find that scene to be ghoulish and revolting, but it honestly seems to help her. She’s had plenty of practice, having buried two husbands and one son. Who am I to judge?

The rest of us (hubby, kids, my sister) all prefer what we did when my parents died. We had an immediate cremation, but we had a memorial service at the funeral parlor (you have to pay them for the cremation anyway, the hour’s rental of a room doesn’t add much) at which we had picture(s), and people could gather and say kind things about the departed and to each other.

To each his own.

Oh, and the previous posters are correct that all you really need to do is show up and say something like “I’m so sorry about your loss.” Or recall some pleasant incident or admirable characteristic. “We certainly enjoyed those camping trips we used to take.” “I remember how kind she was to little Johnny when he had his tonsils out.” Or whatever. These things really do help a mourning person to deal with the situation, to know they are not alone, and so on. What’s the alternative, after all? Tell the appropriate person, “Yeah, burn him up, do what you want with the ashes,” then go home and watch t.v. or read a book as if nothing happened? I mean, it’s not like they were a goldfish or something.

Perhaps I can shed some light on this, Kymodoce.

My mother was in a serious car accident July 27. She lingered in ICU for 32 days, and passed away last Saturday morning, August 28.
My mother had specified that she didn’t want any services or a funeral of any kind. But my younger brother wanted to hold a “memorial service” for her. The service was on Tuesday, in a church that my mother hadn’t attended for many years. The chapel was full to overflowing with people.

I am an agnostic myself. Did I care that these people were Baptist, Catholic or something else? No. It only meant something that they were there. I wasn’t alone in my grief and it was nice to have so many shoulders to cry on. I like to think that my Mom would have approved.

You did the right thing by attending, IMHO.

Both when my father and when my mother died, it did my heart good that each invitee cared, and made it clear by coming.

At my funeral, I want someone to rig my body to pop up out of the coffin during the Eulogy, turn my corpse’s face towards the crowd, and, with secretly implanted animitronic lips, say in a creepy robot voice “Welcome to cheeseville, population YOU! BWA HA HA HA HA!!”

Hopefully I’ll meet someone who would do this for me before I die.

I’d say so long as you didn’t wear a giant flashing “YOUR GOD DOES NOT EXIST!!!11” sign or make other similarly loud and obnoxious protests, they won’t care much. IMHO. YMMV. Etc.

I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had to attend many funerals so far in my life.

But when I was a senior in high school, my band teacher died from leukemia. He’d been my teacher for three and a half years. If you’ve ever been involved in band, you’ll know that the bond that forms between the members is unlike that of any other class. Part of it just comes from spending so much time together, and part of it comes out of making music together. Especially when you get the same people coming back every year. And he was our director.

We knew that he was very seriously ill, but foreknowledge didn’t matter when some of us learned over lunch period that he had died. We walked along the corridors of the school when the next period began, poking our heads into every classroom and pulling out the band kids. If any other teachers minded, they didn’t show it. The lot of us trooped down to the band room and mourned together.

That’s what funerals are for. To share grief, to be with the other people who cared about this person. I don’t think religion has anything to do with it. Our director was Jewish, but my hometown is pretty whitebread and I am pretty sure most of the people crying that day were at least nominally Christian. It didn’t come up in our discussions.

Of course, if you don’t really know the person, funerals can be terribly uncomfortable. That would be awful.

We didn’t have an open casket at my dad’s funeral; he didn’t look like himself (even beyond the eight-weeks-of-deteriorating-with-cancer part), and it would have been really creepy. I think open casket is really only appropriate if the undertaker has done a VERY good job.

We had a visitation at the funeral home for anybody; basically, the family stood around and said hi to anyone who came in (acquaintances near and far on the order of his dentist, one of my high school teachers, my brother’s childhood friend’s dad, etc.)

The funeral ended up being tons and tons of people from his work (the Mother Corp. bussed them in from Toronto, I shit you not - these were the same people who devoted 25 minutes of the 30-minute 6 o’clock news to his obit, which probably not even the Queen will get), as well as pretty much everyone he considered a friend. It was a Christian service, but we had people of many different faiths who attended, which nowadays I think is the norm for any of the really big Rites de Passage (the other one would be marriage). Even as I was going through my own mourning and stress and thinking “if I have to shake one more hand I’m gonna scream,” I really did value everyone’s gesture in coming to the funeral.

Finally, we had a committal at the cemetery chapel that was just for the family, and about a month later, a burial of his ashes that ended up being just Mom, me, Theo, and his brother and sister.

FWIW, I think the etiquette would be the same for attending any service of a religion you don’t profess. Stand and sit (but don’t kneel, if applicable) when everyone else does, keep your yap shut, and inconspicuously omit to practise any sacraments you don’t feel like.

I would say if you didn’t know the person well, you can’t be expected to suffer through the funeral. If there’s a visitation, you can attend that (it’s usually just get in, pay your respects to the family, sign the book, and get out) or send a letter of condolence.

Conversely, if you DID know the person well, you need a pretty good excuse (better than “I don’t feel like it”) not to honour their memory with your presence. I know I’m gonna be pretty pissed off if certain people don’t show at mine.


My uncle died suddenly and at home. My aunt found him, and because no one knew how long he had been dead his organs could not be used, but things like ligaments and corneas were fair game. I don’t know exactly what happened or how it happened, but the funeral home said that the people who took out his corneas “didn’t set him upright long enough”. Also, his glasses got lost during the melee. The guy lying in the coffin had horrifically swollen eyes (how can one’s eyes swell after death?) and no glasses, and looked NOTHING like Mel.

On the other hand, my grandmother spent 19 days in ICU before she finally kicked off and looked fucking STUNNING in the casket. I don’t know if it was because I had spent the last three weeks looking at her hooked up to machines or if it was because the hair ‘n’ makeup lady did an excellent job, but gramma was beautiful.

And someone cleaned out grampa’s fingernails when he died. That was just unnatural.

None of which has anything to do with the OP, to whom I say: Religion has nothing to do with paying one’s respects. You go to a viewing, wake, funeral, or memorial service because you feel that is the best way to say you loved Al*, and you’re showing the dead guy’s wife/kids/parents/whatevers that Al* was important to you.

I am not a fan of wakes and funerals and all that rot. I was impressed as hell, however, that 1000 people showed up for the wakes and funerals for my grandparents. It made me proud to know that so many people from so many age groups showed up to say “hi” to their family members.