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I'm currently at the third month of my internship, and one of the associates died of a heart attack last week at work.

He had been working here for more than 25 years, so everyone is really shocked and sad.

Of course I am too, but I'm not comfortable with the idea of going to the funeral home alone. He has a big family and I don't know anyone. I barely know him. We said good morning maybe 10 times that's all.

Tomorrow is the funeral and the office will be closed. In the email they said that they are leaving the decision to go or not to each individual.

Should I go? I just feel it's weird to go to a funeral for someone you barely know, especially if you don't know the family. It sounds fake.

What's the etiquette for those situations?

I'm used to going to the funeral home when it's someone I know who lost someone. But in this situation, I don't know the family and the person who died.


For those who will live the same situation:

Don't even think of not going. You should go to the funeral. I really regret my decision cause now it's quite awkward at work. Most of them don't talk to me anymore and I'm not invited to go out for lunch. When they say that they are leaving the decision to go or not to each individual, it's a trap...

In my case, they said that to be polite cause the atmosphere at work is really not the same as before.

Next time I will hesitate about this, I will just stop thinking and go.

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Very very culturally dependent. If you're in Ireland, then of course you'd go to any funeral you're remotely connected with. Go to your workmate's grandmother's funeral. In Britain, probably not, unless the whole office is going. (One of the many cultural differences between such close neighbours.) –  TRiG Nov 19 '12 at 23:44
    
Interesting thank you, I will have to do a little research about Canada –  Marc Nov 20 '12 at 3:19
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Years ago, I didn't go to the funeral of my boss's son even though most of the company did. I regretted it afterwards when I remembered that funerals are for the living, not the dead. –  Burhan Ali Nov 24 '12 at 15:01
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Thanks for posting back after you made your choice - although it hurts to see you chose not to go, and the results are as expected... –  Konerak Nov 27 '12 at 19:20
    
@Konerak I posted the question too late. I read almost all the answers after. If I had asked the question before, I would have gone with no doubt. –  Marc Nov 27 '12 at 19:25
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7 Answers

up vote 33 down vote accepted

People attend funerals for many reasons. A minority of people attend as part of a grieving process for themselves alone. You don't need to go to the funeral to deal with your loss of a coworker, but the thing is there are a number of other reasons to go that you should seriously consider.

I can't explain why, but I can assure you from experience: the bereaved family is cheered up when coworkers, old friends, neighbours, and such come to funerals and memorial services. "Look, a dozen of Dad's old students are here." "I can't believe how many people from the old neighbourhood came." "It seems like the whole office showed up." Even if you don't talk to the family, just being there will help them. It reminds everyone that the person who has died was important to other people too.

Also, listening to the speeches and the small talk will give you some context so that you know more about this associate. Without it, you might not understand why others are upset (or not) in the months to come.

And finally, I strongly recommend taking the chance to attend a funeral when you are not sad, so that you can learn how they work. This may help you in the future if you are genuinely bereaved. It can be a very confusing time, and only afterwards will you understand a lot of social conventions that are followed without much explanation.

Go. Talk to coworkers so that you will not be there alone. (Arrange a time to meet or share a ride.) Shake hands with the family and say "I'm sorry for your loss." If you can, say "I only knew him a month but he was obviously a great guy." If you have a one sentence story, you can tell it ("Your dad was super nice to me my first day and showed me where the lunchroom was" or "He was so proud of his beautiful dog" or "he got me interested in baseball") but don't feel you have to. Listen and observe, to learn both how funerals work, what this associate was like, and what your coworkers value. Then hope you don't have to do that again for a long time.

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+1 The family definitely is boosted when there is a wide show of support from those their loved one touched. –  Chad Nov 16 '12 at 14:35
    
I feel bad now. Next time I will go and I think they are all upset cause I said good morning to 4 persons and nobody replied... Thank you for your good answer. I will remember that –  Marc Nov 19 '12 at 14:06
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Don't feel bad. The person who said it was a personal decision whether to go or not should have given you better direction. And if anyone is upset now it is probably not at you specifically but just that they miss their colleague. –  Kate Gregory Nov 19 '12 at 14:11
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I heard this story on NPR a number of years ago. It may help you. Always Go to the Funeral

"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

A funeral is not totally about the dead person. It is also about the folks who still live. What did that person mean to each of us, and things like that.

I just feel it's weird to go to a funeral for someone you barely know, especially if you don't know the family.

I think it is quite possible for you to shake their hands, look them in the eye and say "I only knew [name of dead person] for a short while. I liked him, and I will miss him. I'm sorry for your loss."

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@kevincline - The quote was just added... –  Chad Nov 16 '12 at 18:10
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Almost this exact thing happened to me during one of my internships almost a decade ago. I worked for a state district office building and the general office manager had died. I worked pretty closely with him as I was gathering requirements.

I went to his funeral to give my condolences to his family, sign the book and then I left. I wore a black suit and tie.

I was raised in a very traditional household and was taught that sometimes we just need to be formal about certain things, even if doing that thing will be uncomfortable or unpleasant.

I was taught to always make an appearance at a funeral for friends, family, coworkers, and sometimes the friends of friends because it means a lot to show up and give support for people. I was taught to always wear a suit and tie as well.

Perhaps I am old fashioned, but this is my opinion.

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In these cases you follow the lead of the rest of the company if it is a small company or the department if it a bigger company. Also respect the wishes of the family. The decision also depends on the distance to travel. For an out of town funeral then fewer people are expected to attend.

If they are shutting down the work group then they expect everybody to attend. For some companies they have a bereavement charge code, but that is usually reserved for use if a close family member dies.

For an event like the viewing, you don't have to spend a long time there. Just sign the book, talk to a key family member (mother/spouse/children) or two. Don't look like you are rushing through, act respectful, but if you don't know them very well then you only need to spend about 15 minutes at the viewing. If you run into co-workers, you will have to acknowledge them, talk to them and spend a little more time.

For the funeral/graveside service that will take a few hours. Again act respectful.

If the work group is contributing money for flowers or to make a donation to a charity then contribute as much as you feel comfortable with donating.

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Agreed. The fact that they're closing the office indicates they're expecting employees to pay their respects. –  Dan Neely Nov 16 '12 at 15:55
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When I was young, I didn't think attending this sort of thing was important. I found out very differently when my beloved died 4 years ago. It means more than you can imagine that somone's co-workers attend a funeral for that person or when a local family member of a co-worker dies.

Not to attend is to show disrespect. In this particular case, not to attend means to your other co-workers that you do not care about them. It is important enough to the company to close the office, that should tell you how important it is. Is this the message you want to give people? You are not attending for the family but to support your co-workers in their grief. It will not be forgotten that you attended and supported them even though you didn't really know the person. You will gain respect from going; you will lose respect by not going.

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This is a sad situation. But if you do not feel the need to grieve or share with your coworkers and the family it is understandable. I doubt anyone will be there taking roll. As noted it's up to each individual as to how they deal with this.

If you would like to go but just feel uncomfortable going alone, I would suggest you mention to the group that you would like to go but feel uncomfortable going alone. It is quite likely someone else feels the same and would be happy to meet up and carpool with you to the services.

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Thank you for your answer. well yesterday they asked me if I wanted to go with them and the first thing who went thru my mind was "I was thinking going tomorrow" So this morning I heard them saying that I was going today with others in a car pool. So I was ready to go but they left without me... I feel stupid. Sounds like I made it complicated for no reason –  Marc Nov 15 '12 at 20:53
    
Also, my boss told me. See you tomorrow there. I didn't reply to not lie. –  Marc Nov 15 '12 at 20:55
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@Marc - Well sounds like you are expected now. –  Chad Nov 15 '12 at 20:57
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Have a talk with your manager about that you feel indecisive and uncomfortable about what to do next since you are new, and see what he/she thinks you should do. They realize that you are new. See if they expect you to tow the line, or to just send a card stating your sorrow for the bereaving spouse.

This isn't always a quick and easy answer, but good luck.

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