Celebration of Life / Funeral Service Protocol?

Updated on January 28, 2012
T.L. asks from San Pedro, CA
20 answers

Sadly, one of my old friends from high school was murdered. This weekend I will be attending a "Celebration of Life" gathering for her.
Her parents have requested that no one say how sorry they are that she died, and they want people to share stories of her that are happy. I get that.
But the family has also requested that no one wear black or white? Black I understand, but anyone have a clue why no white?
And that pretty much cuts out the dresses I have, and dressy pants/jackets, because I am a stay at home mom and don't have a lot of nice clothes. Do you think it's okay to wear a nice pair of jeans and sweater since I am guessing this is not a very formal thing?

Also, I think it is traditional to bring a card and write a check to help the family cover funeral expenses right? But not totally sure, especially when it didn't say anything in the obituary.

What IS socially correct / traditional to do for funerals / memorial services / celebration of life?

Thank you.

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So What Happened?

Appreciate the responses. Since I felt kind of awkward in the clothing issue, I found a dress in my closet, that although it isn't exactly bright and has "some" black in it, but it's mostly gray with some blues, and at least looks lively.
I am guessing from other's responses that the not wearing white thing might have something to do with her religious affiliation or lack of if that was the case :( Mom is Catholic, but not sure where my friend was at. She was not someone I kept in touch with recently.
As far as money gift, I'm just going to see if anything is mentioned at the celebration. She was not married, and the family is from a wealthy area, so rather than offend them, I'll wait and see. At the very least I'm going to send a card to the parent's home AFTER the service with a picture I have of their daughter from when we played soccer together in high school.
And of course I will be praying for God's healing comfort for her family.

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answers from Portland on

You've received some good answers. I want to add that whether or not you are expected to give them money varies. I would expect that it's not expected in California. It's done more in the east, especially the south east from what I've read.

Did the obituary mention flowers? It's usual to send flowers but not to give money in my experience. Frequently families will say instead of flowers contribute to such and such a charity or to a bank acct. The mortuary should know. Call them and ask if the family made any requests.

What is socially correct depends on the family, traditions in their religion or in the community. I suggest, that you don't need to concerned about them when you're not an immediate member of their community. The focus is celebrating the loved one's life. Wear colors, even if it's jeans and a sweater because that is what the family has requested. Most celebrations are informal.

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answers from Austin on

I agree that you can wear black pants and a really colorful top.. maybe even a bright scarf.

If money is traditional for you, then do give money in a card.

I am sorry for you all of you. What a terrible thing.

Maybe write down some different memories and then while you are there think of the one you want to share, but give the family the list of memories you thought of. They will love it.

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answers from San Antonio on

I am sorry about your friend! I understand the families wishing to make this a celebration. My sister wanted the same thing. Wear something brightly colored. The brighter the better. They want this to be a happy event and bright colors are happy.
IT IS Appropriate to give the family cash or checks. When my husband died I had alot of people send me money.
I understand the family wanting to keep it positive, but it is still going to painful and people are gonna cry. Just try to be as positive as possible and tell the best story you can about your friends life.
Good luck!!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

In our area it's not uncommon to arrive with some cash in an envelope for the family.
Quite common actually.
The funeral homes even provide little envelopes for those who come unprepared.

Funeral expenses are not just limited to the cost of the funeral home, the casket, the flowers, etc. It's about travel, food for guests, etc. Unexpected expenses for the family, so some cash in a card would NEVER be considered inappropriate.

As for what to wear, I get the "no black" (symbolic of grief) -- maybe adding the "no white" is a way to ensure joyful, "happy" dress and color which fits better with the celebration of a life, perhaps?

T L., go with a spirit of thankfulness, love and gratitude that you knew your friend and were part of each others lives and NOTHING you wear could ever be considered "wrong".

So sorry about your friend. How tragic. :(

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answers from Redding on

You don't need to be "formally" dressed, but you shoud respect the families wishes when it comes to colors.
You can look nice and presentable without worrying about wearing a formal dress, etc.

Usually, it's not expected to give money in order to help pay for the funeral. Some might find that weird. Many, many people are greatful for memorial contributions made to a favorite charity in the deceases person's name. Unless you have been close with the family in recent history, I don't know that "money for the service" is all that traditional.
I had a wonderful friend who passed away many years ago from cancer. I was extremely close to her family. She had SEVEN children. I made a donation to Hospice and sent her mother a check to help with some things that the kids might need. It was her choice to put it in the bank, a scholarship fund, buy them clothes....

Everything is different in different cultures, but be sure to respect the family's wishes. If there is an obituary, which you can usually find online, it mentions where memorial contributions can be sent IF the family requests it.
If not....
Just a nice card and sentiments is appropriate.

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend in such a tragic way.
Respect the wishes of the family.

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answers from Honolulu on

When my Dad died several years ago... we had a celebration of life service, for him too.
In Hawaii... people wear Aloha print shirts, and dresses. Not only the traditional "black" or dark colors.
Things here are as colorful as the rainbow, at some funeral services.
It is the norm, here.
And in fact, MANY do wear, very casual outfits... whatever they can afford and no one looks at them weirdly.
Some even come in surf shorts and shirts.
And it is accepted. At least at the funerals I have been to, too.

White, for some cultures, is the color of death.
Which is contrary to a celebration of life, service.

And yes, bring a card and monetary gift.
That is the norm. Here, too and per our cultures here in Hawaii.

Just dress neatly. And you should be fine.

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answers from Jacksonville on

In some Christian denominations it is not uncommon to wear white for a funeral. The casket is typically covered with a white pall. It is symbolic of the person having died in the faith and being safe in their salvation.
If the family of your friend does not attend church, or maybe did at one time and no longer do, or know that their child was an atheist or something, then perhaps that might be why they asked for no white? Purely a guess on my part.

ETA: Hmm. googled it. In some Asian cultures white is the color of death. So I'm guessing your friend's family is aware of this cultural practice and doesn't want anything reflecting "death" at the gathering.

Very sorry for the loss of your friend.

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answers from Appleton on

Wear whatever you have it is more important that be there than what you wear.
If you remember her favorite color or your school colors and have them wear that.
Go through yearbooks and find something to share. A funny story about your high school days or how you met or how much you enjoyed knowing her. How her friendship made high school bearable.
Funerals are expensive my Mom's cost over $13,000--if you can help it will be appreciated but not necessary.

I am so sorry for your loss--hug her parents once for yourself and once for me.

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answers from San Diego on

Hello, Two year ago next month, I lost my precious Aunt who was like a mother to me. One month later, I lost my precious husband of 43 years. It was a double blow. I honestly can say that it doesn't matter what you wear to the service. I remember the people being there and at the wake afterwards, but I honestly do not remember what anyone was wearing. Your presence is the most important thing.
K. K.

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answers from Cincinnati on

I went to a celebration of life for a dear family friend in august. It was an outdoor picnic. I blended right in wearing white capris, blue colorful top and pumps. I think as long as ur not in all white it would be ok. Color it up a bit. And sad truth is, dying is expensive. Im sure a monetary gift would be much appreciated.

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answers from Washington DC on

oh, i'm SO sorry. what a terrible thing.
white is the color of mourning in some cultures. in ours it's probably just the family not wanting to get bombarded with 'she's an angel now!' imagery.
since color is clearly on the family's mind, i'd go with something bright and vibrant.
you're lovely to want to help out with expenses. without knowing what's common in your area, it's hard to say. maybe take a card with a check tucked into your purse and see if there's some indication at the service as to whether it would be welcome. if there's nothing to make it clear, it's probably not wanted.
may your friend's crossing be gentle, and her reunion joyous.

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answers from Kansas City on

My condolences on the loss of your friend. You should wear whatever color you have that adheres to what they've requested so nice jeans and a sweater should be fine. You don't have to give money as they may have had life insurance. Since they don' want anything sad said or worn I wouldn't do a sympathy card either. Maybe a very pretty blank card where you've written your fondest memories of your friend and a picture of the two of you if you have any. Best Wishes.

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answers from Boston on

How awful, what sadness for you and for her family.
If I were you I would search for pictures of you and her having fun. Anything from the past that the parents may not have seen. You could make it into a little booklet, perhaps ask other school friends to do this with you. One of my college friends died of cancer and we all brought photos and I was surprised to see how many photos there were of me that i had never seen.
Since everything is digital now you could email everyone and offer to put together this album if others can scan (or take a new copy of an old photo with a digital camera) and send you the files. Also anecdotes about a memory, like the time we did xxxxx, whatever it is that you recall about her.
This is the kind of happy thing that parents can look at again over the years when their grief overwhelms them.

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answers from Washington DC on

T L:

I've never heard of bringing money to help cover funeral expenses.

My dad wants a celebration of life as well. No tears - unless you are laughing so hard you are crying.

My Godfather wanted a celebration of life as well - people wore all different things and shared stories...there was a lot of laughing there.

Yes, jeans is acceptable! However, if you want to "dress it up" and only have white - put a colorful scarf with it - add color - jazz it up. Be comfortable. If your relationship was fun - wear something that reminds you of her - like if you went horseback riding (just as an example) wear jeans and a cowboy hat and then tell stories of your riding adventures.

Just CELEBRATE her life. Laugh. Share her memories with others...

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answers from Boston on

So sorry about your friend. I would dress according to where the celebration of life is being held. If it's in a church, for example, then I wouldn't wear jeans unless I was positive that everyone in that congregation wears them. If it's at their home, you have more flexibility. However, I would think black pants with a colorful sweater or scarf or some big colorful jewelry would cover you. They just don't want all black.

I've never heard of bringing money or checks. I agree with a previous post that it depends on the family situation as well as the regional, religious, and cultural traditions. You don't want to insult them by assuming they have invited people just to collect cash, but you don't want to leave them strapped if that is their situation.

Flowers can be wasteful in some people's minds, and they remind people of funerals, which this family doesn't want. Also, it can be difficult when all the guests leave and the flowers start to die - reminds the family of death. You might consider (by yourself or with a group of high school friends) planting a tree or installing a park bench (both with explanatory plaques) in the town - in front of the high school or the library or a park/nature area, or anything else that relates to your friends interests. People like that a tree lives on and on, and they like that a bench is useful for years to come. Others establish a scholarship at the high school in the friend's name. It can be general, or in a specific area that interested your friend (athletics, music, etc.).

Finally, I know a woman who has a shop that sells stained glass lamps in so many price ranges. She writes a short poem based on info you give her, and frames it. It can be displayed next to the lamp. The idea is that every time the family lights the lamp, the light of the person's spirit fills the room. They are often displayed at funeral homes instead of flowers. She ships anywhere. I think this might be a franchise and perhaps you can find one near you. If not, and if this interests you, I can give you the info. I've been in her shop and have read many of the poems she's written - they are brief and not sad. It strikes me as a nice alternative to typical funeral gestures, and it lasts.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

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answers from Bellingham on

I have never heard of funeral attendants giving cheques or money for the cost of the funeral. I organised a funeral last year and no one offered money.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

If they have specifically asked you to not wear black or white then why in the world would you even consider it?

Surely you have some brown pants or a skirt then top it off with a cream colored top or some shade of beige or white. What about some Khaki's, there has to be something in your closet that is not either white or black.

If this were my friend and I wanted to attend I would look through my closet and find something bright and cheerful. If you don't have anything perhaps you can pop into a resale shop and get a pair of pants for $5-$10 that are a neutral color you can wear again, such as brown or navy.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

White is a mourning color in some cultures, so that's most likely the reason they said no white.

People sometimes give money to help out the family if they're in a position and of a mind to do so, but not by bringing a card with a check in it to the service. Put that in the mail.

I have worn jeans and a nice top to funerals and memorial services.

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answers from Houston on

In the African American culture we give money in a sympathy card or a plate of food to the family home in the week between the announcement and the service. The money is to help the family (or a particular member of the family--your friend) purchase hose, get hair done, pedicure, etc. needed.



answers from Los Angeles on

fun colors! the brighter the better. No one is going to care if you wear jeans.

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