Posted by Kathryn Edwards
Delving again into Emily Post’s funeral etiquette produces another fascinating blast from the past: the bereaved need to decide whether to hold the funeral in church or at the house.
Emily suggests that a church funeral can be more trying, in that the family have to leave the seclusion of home and face a congregation. ‘Many people prefer a house funeral—it is simpler, more private, and obviates the necessity for those in sorrow to face people. The nearest relatives may stay apart in an adjoining room or even upon the upper floor, where they can hear the service but remain in unseen seclusion.’ (And as for guests: ‘Ladies keep their wraps on. Gentlemen wear their overcoats or carry them on their arms and hold their hats in their hands.’) On the other hand, the church funeral has its advantages: ‘many who find solemnity only in a church service with the added beauty of choir and organ, prefer to take their heartrending farewell in the House of God.’
Emily seems to have an ear for the transcendent through the blessing of music, and the instruments matter: ‘it is almost impossible to introduce orchestral music that does not sound either dangerously suggestive of the gaiety of entertainment or else thin and flat.’ In a domestic setting ‘a quartet or choral singing is beautiful and appropriate, if available, otherwise there is usually no music at a house funeral.’
This proposed choice between church and house funerals is predicated on readers’ having a reception room big enough to accommodate the desired number of mourners (not to mention the coffin on a stand, the floral tributes, and the quartet or choir). Nowadays, given most people’s much smaller houses, this idea may seem both appealing – how stress-free to be ‘at home’! – and yet unachievable. Could it be that we are missing out by limiting our choice to church-or-crem without thinking of alternatives?
A while ago I was at a very moving funeral for an older man that took place first of all in the drawing-room of a private house, and afterwards – for intimate family only – at the crem, in a move designed not to intimidate his young children. But the fact was that we all benefited from a pleasant, friendly, demotic environment. The room was generally used for workshops and yoga classes, and so was well-equipped with dozens of folding chairs, and looked out through french windows onto a lovely flower-filled garden.
This choice came about as a result of an enlightened funeral director’s enquiries. And yet it can be difficult and daunting to look into creative possibilities while tangled up in the specific busyness and sorrows of a death.
How can we expand the roster of spacious and uplifting funeral venues, so that we can feel ‘at home’ and in beauty as we engage in this solemnity?
Find Emily Post’s Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home here