DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my boss’s brother died suddenly and tragically, I, along with other employees and co-workers, went to calling hours.
The next day, the brother’s funeral was at my church, so I went to it. I was surprised that I was the only one from our workplace to do so. I thought I was showing concern and support for my boss.
But the funeral mass was a difficult one, with sad tales of struggle and pain, and many, many tears. I didn’t know if I really belonged there, or if I was intruding on private family matters. I wondered the same thing about the calling hours, with such an intimate thing as my boss’s dearly loved brother’s body, and all the happy family photos all around.
When my co-worker and I first arrived at the calling hours, there was our boss. We both stood there awkwardly for a moment, then gave him a hug. It was fine, but afterward I was thinking that wasn’t really appropriate of us, was it? Please help, so I’ll know what to do next time something like this comes up.
GENTLE READER: The variety of funeral rites does tend to sow etiquette confusion among mourners. And the situation is made worse, in your example, by the blurring between a person’s personal and professional life.
The rules are different at state funerals than at family ones. Some religious institutions expect community participation. Some families prefer more private rites. For whatever reason, your co-workers believed that the calling hours were for professional colleagues to show their respect, while the funeral itself was reserved for friends and family. This understanding does not put you in the wrong for also attending the funeral: In that case, you attended as a member of the congregation, a social relationship distinct from the professional one.
While the hug would, Miss Manners assumes, have been inappropriate if no one had died, expressions of sympathy and support offered in moments of personal crisis need not shatter normally more circumspect professional relationships.
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