Funeral etiquette: Do’s and dont’s for the not so bereaved

Published: January 22, 2011
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Don't go to a funeral and asked the bereaved "what happened".

I lost my mother on January 12, 2011. I was at the airport, waiting to board my plane to London but the flight had been delayed due to heavy fog.

Just as the call for boarding came, my brother called me and broke the news that she was critical. I forgot everything and grabbed the first taxi to the hospital. I had talked to my mother just two hours before, and she had been home, getting ready for her regular checkup. She sounded fine. Upon reaching the hospital, she died suddenly due to heart failure.

To say the event was shocking would be an understatement. Since I am the eldest and the only girl in the family, I had to come home and prepare the house for the janaza. Needless to say, it was a tough and painful day, but I learned from the whole ordeal that some people do not think before they act in a sensitive situation like this one and the appropriate etiquette needs to be highlighted.

  • Do not ask the immediate family members “what happened”. If every single guest comes and asks the person, causing them to relive the whole traumatic scene by narrating it, this becomes difficult. Please be a little considerate and ask someone from the extended family about such details.
  • Do offer prayers and support. I appreciated all my friends and family members who were there to offer genuine support at a time when one feels all may be lost. If you are not in the city or cannot make it, your messages or calls can make a huge difference. Do not underestimate the value of kind words.
  • Do not ask the grieving family about the will. My mother has just died when an aunty sat next to me and after offering her condolences, asked me if my mother had told me about her assets and how to distribute them. I was too stunned to realise it at the time, but a few days later my best friend who had been sitting next to me pointed out how weird the woman’s question was, especially since she wasn’t even closely related. Asking about someone’s will is not only extremely rude, it is downright disrespectful.  A person’s worth is more than their material assets and honestly, it is not anyone’s business.
  • Do help out. One can help with domestic and funeral arrangements, such as preparation of food, distributing copies of the Holy Quran and rosaries for prayers etc.
  • Do not be a drama queen and talk about what a “tragic loss” this is. Every Pakistani has a distant relative, the fat aunty who you have never seen but are somehow related to, who comes and howls and screams and squeezes the life out of you. One may think they are actually genuine, except once the drama is done, they sit down and start a gossip session amongst themselves. The exaggerated grief of this relative will have a lasting impact on those who are actually bereaved. The grieving family knows the importance of the individual they have lost – there is no need to pour salt in our wounds.
  • Do pray for the deceased’s soul. That is why funerals are so important. Read a fatiha and recite the Holy Quran.
  • Do not socialise. Do not hang around the family’s house to catch up with other relatives. Leave the immediate family with their loved ones, so they can recover from the shock.

Amna Khalid

Amna Khalid

An economics major from LUMS, with a MSc in financial economics from Cardiff University. Khalid currently works in London. She blogs at surreallist.blogspot.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Helena

    I am very sorry for your loss. This advice is spot on. When my father passed away my house was full of relatives and random well wishers who seemed to demand that I sit and cry with them for thirty minutes.It is hard to know what to say at times like these – I think it is just best to say I’m there fo you…Gossiping aunties are the worst! I can’t believe someone had the nerve to ask about the will.Recommend

  • Jun

    Sorry for the loss but you forgot the most important point .Do not wait in the funeral house for food to be served .I know many people visiting funeral house are most interested in eating food twice at least up to three days after the funeral .Recommend

  • Sarah Naveed

    Inna lilahe wa inna ilayhee ar rajioon…may Allah forgive all of ur mother’s sins and grant her Jannat al Firdaus, and give u and the rest of ur family patience and guidance.Recommend

  • Faiza Rahman

    May Allah give you strength Amna! That post was quite needed.Recommend

  • Amna Khalid

    @Helena and @Jun: Thank you both for the condolences.

    I appreciate Express Tribune providing me with a platform to spread my message to a wide audience. The article is edited to fit the newspaper’s criteria and as a writer I totally respect that. However the full article I wrote, which has more advice on mourning Etiquette can be found on this link:
    http://surreallist.blogspot.com/2011/01/etiquettes-of-funeral.html

    God bless.Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    May you have the enough courage to pass through this hard time.

    Amna always remember, death takes away the person but not the relation. You are always going to have her with you.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    My thoughts for your mother. I lost my grandmother last month too…Recommend

  • Atif

    Inna lillahe Wa Inna Ilayhee Ar Rajiun.Recommend

  • Spam Robot

    Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhee rajioon. May Allah be pleased with her. Recommend

  • Shamaila

    I can truly understand how you feel and what you r going through…my prayers are with u n ur family. May Allah rest ur mom’s soul in peace.Recommend

  • http://amnamela.wordpress.com/ Amna Mela

    Thank you for writing this! I know how you feel because I had to deal with ridiculous, hateful people when my grandmother died and then when my mamu passed away.

    My mamus daughters were constantly harassed by guests who kept yelling at them for more naan.

    And I know exactly what you mean about the drama queen aunties who pretend to care and then go sit with other guests to gossip about your family- including the ones who JUST DIED. Bi

    And it’s so offensive when they come, sip their tea, don’t even pray and just chat with each other as if it’s just a normal day and then they leave. It’s like half the people just come for the free food and entertainment. It’s a funeral…vultures!

    I guess in one way it’s a good thing because it tells you who you should avoid for life on account of their inconsiderate behavior.

    I’m really sorry about what happened to your mother. iA God will give your family the strength to make it through. Recommend

  • http://Lahore talha

    really worth ready article, if people can understand it, i wish that they should follow and inform others obout its importance.

    May God rest her soul in peace and give you strength to overocme this grief. Recommend

  • A. Ahmed

    @Amna Khalid

    I read your previous article about your ordeal during the treatment of your mother. Very sorry for your loss. May Allah forgive her and give her eternal peace and may He give you and your family peace and endurance. I must say that you are very lucky that Allah gave you a chance to be with your mother in her sickness and to attend her funeral. Many of those who are settled abroad do not get this chance. Your article was spot on. I lost my new born son in April 2010 and some people (both relatives and friends) actually whined, complained and literally fought with me that they were not informed about the last minute funeral. I almost complained to some of them for expecting me to behave all active, normal and agile at such a situation but the complaints never stopped.

    The most important thing we should remember at someone’s passing away is that the immediate family or close relatives/friends may also be in a ‘shocked’ or ‘devastated beyond consolation’ state during the first few hours/days. They need the best of our attitude, most primarily our patience, our warmth, our very kind, generous and unconditional support.

    By the way, the list can go on. I can recall a soyem of a next door neighbor cum friend, a young fella who died in the prime of his youth… where I was serving food after the fatiha and an elderly lady kept asking me “Beta biryani mein gosht nazar nahi aaraha…zara sahi se mix karke lao …”Recommend

  • Farheen

    Amna how very brave of you to write about this. I cannot agree with you more, especially with the over dramatic aunty that screams like a banshee. I was watching Oprah once and they were discussing exactly this topic how to help people when they are grieving and a psychologist said EXACTLY what you did; kind words and show of support is important and also people in grief become dysfunctional in their life so it would be a real help to them if you could cook for them look after their children or other responsibilities during the mourning period. I hope you have such people around you at this time.

    May Allah Bless your mother with Jannah and give all those who loved her the strength to move on.Recommend

  • fayaz ali noonari

    MAY Allah give u the power to face this difficult life..
    highlighting this kind of problem is realy need of the hour..Recommend

  • Amna Randhawa

    Dear Amna baitay,
    As Faiza said, this was a much needed post in our part of the world, where people are illiterate when it comes to such etiquettes. You have been a very strong and loving daughter and a very brave one too. May Allah reward you for all your efforts and good intentions, aameen. Even though am far and wasnt there, every single time you come to my mind, a prayer automatically gets recited for auntie…. You already did, so continue to be an exemplary daughter and a person and make all the mothers worldwide and khalas (aunties like myself) be proud of you all the time.
    All my love and prayers,
    LKmamaRecommend

  • Eeman

    May her soul rest in peace. Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/265/haris-masood-zubairi/ Haris Masood Zuberi

    Amna, Good write-up. May Allah bless your mother in the eternal life and may her love always guide you all towards prosperity. Recommend

  • http://stay-blessed.blogspot.com/ Asma

    Inna Lilahe Wa Inna Ilayhee Rajioon…..
    Yes it happens at the place of funeral when somebody comes for condolence, and it’s also always irritate when people come to see sick, idly sit there…and the family forget their patient and get busy into serving them….. :/Recommend

  • Wasim Ali Butt

    Very Well Written. It must be the true spirit.Recommend

  • I. Zubeir

    Living in a foreign land and having lost my mother over 16 years ago I know how our closely knit community is there to comfort the bereaved and this is how it went.
    I can relate to all the stupid interrogation you mention people should refrain from and then how some gather in groups becoming involved into discussions of social nature out of place.
    May her soul rest in peace, may Allah SWT bless her with high ranks in Jannah and the survivors with Sabr-e-Jamil ameen.Recommend

  • amna

    i am really sorry for your loss i am sure u must be having a hard time but i hope u pull urself together soon..and may Allah grant your mother jannah and forgive her sins..
    n i really appreciate ur effort to highlight the etiquettes of funeral because some people really need to learn what to say, what to do and how to talk in such situations especially with the loved ones..i hope people who need to get to read ur article!Recommend

  • parvez

    Sorry for your loss, please accept my condolence. This write up was so needed, thank you.Recommend

  • umair

    sorry to hear abt ur loss, may ALLAH rest her soul in peace, ameen,,,Recommend

  • http://na prasad

    Amna – there were tears as I read the article.

    Will keep your dos and donts in mind. Recommend

  • Sharjeel Jawaid

    My sincere condolences.

    Having returned home after a long stay abroad, I have noticed that [most unfortunately] funerals are being treated as jolly social events! And this comes from the so called educated and well off class.Recommend

  • Scherry

    Amna, brave girl, your advice is spot on.

    May I also add:
    Do not try to solicit someone’s hand in marriage on their parents funeral or in the weeks after. , Also, do not ask people about their life plan/shaadi prospects on their loved ones funeral Recommend

  • Sahr

    A/s, i had a horrible experience myslf…i lost my 3yr old son in 2009 march and a close relative of mine who claimed she prayed 4 his health ws @ d funeral..n she ws laughing so loud dat i cud hear her voice outsyd whr ma darling son ws laid to tk him 4 d burial…n till date dat women does not accept dat she laughed. M sry 2 hear ab ur mom…may her soul RIPRecommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/ow.radio Omar Wynne

    It makes me angry about how people expect to be looked after especially when it comes to food. Don’t they realize that they are at a funeral?

    I am truly very sorry for your loss. May she rest in peace. Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    I’m so very sorry for your loss, may your mother rest in peace. I still remember when my uncle passed away unexpectedly when I was in my first year, a mami had come to our house, and she asked me what I was studying. When I told her I’d gone from computer science to arts, she shook her head and said, “kitni afsos ke baat hoti hai jab tum jaisi aqalmand bachiyan arts mein jati hein” and all I could think was, really? That’s the saddest part right now, the man I didn’t talk to for years, not even before his death is gone and you find my choice of the liberal arts sad? People just don’t have manners here, plain and simple. That they harassed you when it was your own mother they passed away just proves that. Recommend

  • Usman Hyder

    Ms. Khalid,

    Firstly, my deepest condolences to you and your family. May Allah grant your mother eternal peace and happiness in the Hereafter. (Ameen) And thankyou so much for highlighting these essential pointers which I hope people follow in the future. I must admit that a few months back when i had gone to attend a friends’ brother’s funeral, one of the first questions i asked him was regarding how he had passed away. I didn’t realise my foolishness till some time later when my friend pointed it out to me, and honestly, it is something i deeply regret now. I hope this article does bring self-realisation to everyone!

    I also happened to lose a friend in the plane crash of July last year. It was a real shame to see how some people actually waited longer only to eat before they left. people should definitely learn to be more respectful at the time of anyone’s death, regardless of how close they were to the deceased!Recommend

  • rehan

    Amna,may Allah give you and your dear ones patience and strength to bear the loss of the best thing in your life..your Mother.May God also give her peace in her grave and the next world too and forgive her shortcomings.And Amna let this sad event humble you and us all and let us sincerely forgive all the ‘gossipers’,’dramatists’ etc who showed up at your Ammi’s funeral and who will show up at ours too.We all have our weaknesses.Allah aap ko sabr ata karey.Ameen.Recommend

  • fahad baloch

    May ur mother’s soul rest in peace. AmeenRecommend

  • http://habloid.wordpress.com Habiba Younis

    @Amna, I read ur previous post, feeling very sorry for ur loss. May Allah bless ur mom with eternal peace and give u courage n strength in this tough phase. Ur loss is too great and yes the insensitive attitude of such people must be cutting for sure but do remember that there still are many among ur relatives/family/friends/well wishers who sincerely feel ur grief and pray for u n ur mother. Very thoughtful of u to highlight this particular issue, I hope we all learn to be better human beings who care for others’ feelings. Stay blessed!Recommend

  • http://surreallist.blogspot.com/ Amna Khalid

    @Helena; @Sarah Naveed; @Faiza Rahman; @The Only Normal Person Here.;
    @Saad Durrani; @Atif; @Spam Robot; @Shamaila; @Amna Mela; @talha; @A. Ahmed;
    @Farheen; @fayaz ali noonari; @Amna Randhawa; @Eeman; @Haris Masood Zuberi; @Asma; @Wasim Ali Butt; @I. Zubeir; @amna; @parvez; @umair; @prasad;
    @Sharjeel Jawaid; @Scherry; @Sahr; @Omar Wynne; @Ghausia; @Usman Hyder; @rehan; @fahad baloch; @Habiba Younis:

    Dear All,

    Thank you very much for your condolence messages and prayers for mom. I am sad to read that a lot of you had to face similar situations at funerals of loved ones, and one can only hope that the attitude of these few people due to sheer ignorance changes for the better. These were some aspects I felt I needed to highlight, but like Habiba Younis pointed out, so many more people attend funerals to show their genuine support, offer prayers and pay their respect to the individual who is no longer physically with us. Majority of our society consists of very caring and empathic people, who share the grief of even strangers, as is quite apparent from all of your posts. Your empathy is commendable. And for the rest, like rehan pointed out, we should learn from such events how short our lives really are and just forgive them and in my case, pray what my mom would have prayed in such a situation: ‘Allah un ko naiki ke hidayat dein’. (May Allah show them the right path). Ameen.

    Thank you again and God Bless.
    Amna Khalid.Recommend

  • http://mehsanullah.blogspot.com/ Ehsan

    These words are not just advice or just a feeling, these are words that are heart beat of anyone who has lost some one very close to him/her. I would say that you are a brave person as in time of recovery you were patient and realized so many things,learned and shared experience in a more creative way.

    May you and your family get blessing from Allah subhanatallah , Please keep sharing your words of wisdom and patience so that we may learn from them.

    This should be taught in SCHOOL for at least FIVE years. Social training is missing in our community and your kind of person who has written a revolution.

    One thing I would like to point out, some time due to AGE or factors like social back ground people do stupid things on funerals, both parties should be patient.Recommend

  • Noor

    Inna Lilahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raajeioun. May Allah grant your mother a great place in Jannah & may Allah bless you & your family. Unfortuantely, I have also had an experience where the behaviour of some people at the funeral was disrespectful but thank you for sharing. Take care and thanks once again. Recommend

  • http://pk.linkedin.com/in/babarjaved Babar Khan Javed

    Death is the next great journeyRecommend

  • http://islamabad Maryam

    sorry for ur loss…
    may God forgive her sins and give her a better place in Janaah
    and May God give u and ur family strength n patience to bear this loss..Recommend

  • Farida

    I can imagine how difficult it must be for you.May God bless you and your family during this time and always.Recommend

  • Abul’Ala Umair

    Inna lilahe wa inna ilayhee ar rajioon… May Allah bless your mother with Jannah!!!!Recommend

  • Mila

    I really like your posting, although sorry to hear it came out of your loss and bad experience. I do agree with most of your tips. about asking extended family instead of immediate family about what happened to the deceased…sometimes this too can be a problem. In our culture everyone wants to give their two cents and exaggerate stories. When my aunt died so many rumours and then again when an uncle died the same thing. This is why I prefer people ask me directly so I can tell the true version.
    I think another tip can be that people must respect the wishes of immediate family and not make their own demands. I had relatives who came just becuase they wanted to bathe my aunt and get the blessings of Allah for doing so, I guess that is some kind of way of getting swaab or something. Anyway, they were never close to my aunt and never helped her when she was sick, so only her daughters bathed her. We did not want every aunty in the town touching my aunt’s dead body. Others were upset that we did not let them participate in the bathing and this just created more stress for immediate family who were already griving and stressed with funeral arrangements.
    Also, people should not give their commentary on the death. We had so many people blame the daughters of my aunt for her death saying that they did not take care of her properly when she was ill. They were not even there to see, they never offered help when she was sick, but when she died they all started gossiping. The daughters loved their mother dearly, they were all very young when she died, they need moral support and encouragement which no one gave. I was so sad about this and just shocked at people’s beahviour.
    In terms of one’s friends who lose their family, the friends should call or come right away. I had a friend who did not call me for two months even though he knew. He said he didnt want to interrupt whatever I was going through. This told me that he was not a real friend to be there to support me but just there when I was in a fun and happy mood.Recommend

  • saqib

    Inna-lillahe wa inna ilahe rajee oon,

    Sister, May Allah rest her soul in peace and patience to you!Recommend

  • Maria

    Well written post and advice we all need to follow.Recommend

  • Omar

    this article needs to be on the front page of all news papers so that people stop this drama act at funerals of wailing and making a scene when they have no genuine respect for the decseased or their family…
    there needs to be an addition of another point as well: Ladies dont dress up as if ur going to a wedding…the colorful clothes and the excessive gold is not the attire to be worn to a funeral!Recommend

  • Khadija Sharief

    I am so sorry for your loss. I know how it feels since just last month I lost my dada.Unfortunately people in our society need to be educated on these simple yet important things.Recommend

  • Imran khan

    Inna lillahe Wa Inna Ilayhee Ar Rajiun…Recommend

  • stranger

    im sorry amna. please be strong…. you are a brave girl…im proud of you. :) prayers for you, your family and mom. i hope your dad is holding up fine….. lots of warm wishes and love. Recommend

  • Nadeem Shehzad

    everything is belong to ALLAH. inallillah e wa inah ellaihay rajioon…
    ALLAH HAR CHEEZ PAR QADIR HAYRecommend

  • Hira

    I read your whole story with heavy heart! and i don’t have words to describe my feelings. I am extremely sad :(Recommend