Who should attend?
People attend funerals to mark the death of the person and to comfort the bereaved. The informal expression ‘a good send off ‘ may sound slightly disrespectful but in attending a funeral that is the aim.
In rural areas many funerals are still held in large parish churches and parishioners will attend, not just family and close friends. In the country, memorial services are still relatively uncommon, other than for dignitaries or office holders such as lord-lieutenants. Funerals in cities or where the person has less connection with the area where they died are often far smaller.
Letting the Family Know
All funerals are considered public events and there is no question of invitations. It is up to an individual to decide whether or not to attend but it can be helpful to let the family know. Close friends and family who are in touch with the bereaved should let them know if they are able to come. If telephoning seems awkward, a quick letter or email saying how sorry you are and that of course you will be coming is appropriate. It may be followed by a full handwritten condolence letter after the funeral, which can include an element of thanks and praise for a lovely service and very kind hospitality afterwards.
‘Private’ and ‘Public’ Funerals
The family’s wishes are paramount and the words ‘private funeral’ or ‘family funeral’ in a death notice mean that the funeral will be small and it would not be correct to go. If the time and place are published, then it is a signal that the family does wish people to come and it is correct to make every effort to do so, as a good turn-out is a great comfort. Lives are often quite compartmentalised and people move around and lose track of one another, so the fact that you knew the person but not the family or vice versa should not inhibit you. If in doubt, go, as your presence will undoubtedly be a great support. It is unacceptable to question someone’s reasons for attending.
Those who feel awkward about attending may choose to go to the service but perhaps not to any lunch or tea afterwards. It is polite, however, to shake the hands of family members on leaving the church and to add a brief word or two of sympathy. The words chosen are less important than your manner and the very fact you are present. Those attending a funeral may also be asked to fill in a card left in the pew or sign a book.
For practical reasons a husband or wife may well attend the funeral alone. An individual may wish to write either on the card or in the book that he is representing another person, who is unable to be there, or possibly an organisation, but should not embellish this with additional phrases or sentiments. These can be expressed separately in a letter if desired.
Allowing children to come to funerals of close relations is now considered advisable for them, as opposed to shrouding the event in mystery. It may not always be practical to attend with babies or small children but, if they are in the congregation, common sense should apply. If you have a small baby, then sit at the end of an aisle or near the back. Children other than family or godchildren usually only come if there was a special connection or request. In the case of the death of, say, a school child, then the whole school or whole class may come, as may an organisation such as Scouts or the Pony Club. They may also come to support a school friend who has lost a parent or sibling, but less often a grandparent or uncle or aunt, unless that person was involved in their own lives.
Children are expected to behave well and be quiet. It is a good thing to explain to smaller children what will happen and if the funeral is taking place in a church and children are not used to attending, take them to a service the previous Sunday.