Funerals can be the most difficult of times for the closest family members of the deceased. It has become a custom to try to minimize that inevitable feeling of sadness by comforting the family.
For this purpose, many things can be brought to the grieving family, but also to the funeral, as a means of comforting the saddened and saying the final goodbye to the departed.
The question remains, what exactly do you bring to a funeral and what’s the exact purpose behind it?
Food Is Often Brought to Receptions
This custom crosses borders and is seen all over the world. After the passing of a loved one, it is often found polite to bring over some food. The purpose of this is to help out the grieving family.
After such a personal and tragic event, the ones closest to the deceased will feel overwhelmed and they won’t feel in the mood for cooking. Even if they did, they’ll likely be busy with organizing the funeral and processing their grief.
The exact food you should bring depends on the location – some places around the world have traditional funeral food. For example, the American Midwest often sees casseroles as funeral food, while the Irish Wake Cake and cabbage rolls are popular in Estonia and East Europe.
Although some people believe that the food brought to the family shouldn’t be too joyful (like an ice cream cake or other food that’s traditionally celebratory), this entirely depends on your personal relationship with the family and how strict they are about such conventions.
There should never be too much food that can go bad quickly (such as chicken or fish). Funeral food is, ironically, rarely eaten at funerals and it should be capable of staying in the fridge for a week.
Lastly, remember that there is never an excess of food at funerals, especially if the grieving family is planning to serve it during the reception.
Flowers and Wreaths
In most religious and non-religious burial proceedings, flowers are welcome (although there are exceptions, which we’ll get to later). Thousands of years ago, flowers were used to mask the odor of the deceased.
Nowadays, there are numerous purposes for flowers. Funeral goers will leave their flowers at the grave or at the religious institution (in many religions, there’s a ceremony after the funeral). They’re sometimes left at the family home or at the funeral home, while in some traditions, flowers are dropped into the grave.
It should be noted that the latter should only be done if it’s organized by the family – flowers (usually roses) are given to most funeral attendees (especially close family) to throw into the grave. If that isn’t a custom at the funeral you’re attending, it might be rude if you threw flowers into the grave on your own accord.
In case you can’t make it to the funeral, it’s a strong sign of respect to send flowers to the family, usually with a card to express your condolences.
Wreaths are also very common, especially in Europe. Large wreaths with sashes are often brought to funerals, with a final goodbye message written on the sash.
There’s no point in saying what are traditional funeral flowers as they’re different from place to place, but in Western societies, tulips, gladiolas, golden lilies, and roses are the most common species.
Remember how we said that not all funerals need flowers? Jewish funerals are the most well-known example. Funeral proceedings aren’t as open with Jewish people as they are with other religions as mourning is considered an intimate affair.
A funeral, according to the Jewish, is no place for colorful flowers as they only get in the way of proper mourning.
This is a loosely-defined term, but most cultures allow memorabilia to be buried with the deceased. This is especially common in the case of disappearances when the person is declared dead, although there is no body.
A casket can be filled with memorabilia from all people from the person’s life, and that is buried instead of the body.
Some social conventions have different rules. This doesn’t only relate to shared memories and inside traditions but to official traditions from the person’s life.
For example, when a person from the military dies, it’s often customary for all military men and women at the funeral to take their unit’s badges off of their berets or uniforms (shoulder straps or the name tag are sometimes taken off, as well).
They’re then either put in the casket or stabbed (quite literally) onto the top of the casket and buried with the deceased.
A piece of memorabilia can be anything that you find noteworthy about your memories with the deceased. A movie stub, a photograph, a CD, or anything else that connects you to them.
Give a Donation
The family can start struggling financially after the death of their beloved. This isn’t surprising at all, given that funerals alone can cost more than $6,000.
If it won’t put you under financial stress and the family won’t consider it offensive, you could ask to give a donation and help them out.
The other option is donating to charities and organizations that were supported by the deceased. We often see that a person leaves their estate (or part of their estate) to an organization, and you could donate to this same organization in the name of the deceased.
What (or Who) Not to Bring to a Funeral?
Although most things are accepted as long as they’re brought in good faith, there’s a list of things that you should avoid bringing to a funeral. Funerals are, after all, formal proceedings with a grieving family in the center of them, and you should always ask yourself if something you’re bringing will cause stress.
Although many people don’t like to hear this – there are places where children simply don’t belong. A funeral is such a place. In this case, we’re only talking about small children that are still learning to behave.
It’s terrible for all parties involved – the child doesn’t understand what’s happening and they get bored looking for something to do. The parents have to constantly shush them and beg them to keep a low profile, while the grieving family keeps looking for the person causing the commotion.
The situation is even worse with toddlers and babies as they often cry for little or no provocation. Children shouldn’t be completely shielded from the concept of death, but if your children are very young and they still can’t contain themselves (as most children can’t), then maybe it’d be best to leave them at home.
If you do bring children and they’re not content, you should take them out of the funeral home until they’re ready to go back in.
If possible, don’t bring your phone with you. Most people nowadays are comfortable enough with technology to remember to turn the ringer off when it’s appropriate, but phones still regularly ring in unacceptable situations.
The same applies to your smartwatch, if you have one, as they’re known for having notifications just as loud as smartphones.
Another reason some people should leave their phones at home is that they’ll keep using them all the time. Needless to say, checking social media during a funeral is incredibly disrespectful, no matter how long the funeral takes.
Food and flowers aren’t seen as gifts but as signs of comfort and respect. Gifts usually aren’t welcome at funerals, especially expensive ones. An expensive gift could draw the family’s attention away from the funeral.
If you want to do something nice for the family, help them with the organization of the funeral, but gifts aren’t really acceptable at funerals.
FAQs About What to Bring to a Funeral
What Food to Bring to a Memorial Service?
Food that won’t go stale quickly! A lot of people will bring food and since the family can’t eat it all at once, it needs to stay in the fridge for a while. The food also shouldn’t be celebratory (cakes, for example, are not that appropriate).
What Flowers to Bring to a Funeral?
Different cultures have different customs regarding flowers, so there’s no set rule about this. Tulips, roses, lilies, and chrysanthemums are common in many societies. If you can’t make it to the funeral, sending flowers to the family is a nice way of paying your respects.
Should I Bring a Gift to a Memorial Service?
No – gifts usually aren’t welcome at memorial services as you’re not celebrating anything, and they’ll only distract the grieving family.
Final Thoughts on What to Bring to a Funeral
Funerals are very formal proceedings, but you can never go wrong with flowers and food. Donations made in the name of the deceased and memorabilia left with the family or the deceased are also acceptable in many cultures.
You also have to remember that some things aren’t acceptable at funerals, such as electronic devices and presents.