Question QUESTION: At my father-in-law's funeral my husband of 25 years and I sat in the front row at the funeral home service with his mother, whom we both support and take care of. His brother arrived with his pregnant girlfriend and one of her kids. We are in our 40s/50s, not young, family members felt she was out of place to squeeze into the front row with her child too. The brother and his friend never showed respect to his parents and only showed up for money or when she kicked him out and said to come back only when he got money from her. Rather than cause a scene we squeezed together. My mother-in-law is dying and we don't want to go through the same squeeze. How do we handle this?
ANSWER: Dear Lois:
During the stressful time of a funeral, it is difficult to have family contention. That is the reason there are etiquette rules for funerals. The secret to having the right outcome when the time comes for another family funeral is conversation now. You husband and his brother need to talk about the appropriateness of non-relatives (his girlfriend) being in the family row. It is funeral etiquette that non-relatives sit behind the family. Your brother-in-law will have the right by etiquette standards to sit with his brother and you in the first row but his girlfriend and her children should be gracious to do the right thing and sit behind you. It would look better if your brother-in-law sits with her and her family but that will be up to him. If he questions why you would sit in the first row and not her, tell her that in the eyes of society, a husband and wife are looked upon as one unit not to be divided. Society still doesn't have the same standard for live-in honeys. If your brother wants to sit in a front row with his girlfriend, he can sit on the other side of the aisle (there is usually an aisle with a section on either side in a funeral home and in a place of worship. He won't crowd your family in that case he can maintain his expectation to be in the first row.
It is your husband's place to talk with his brother and explain the appropriate behavior when the time comes. Make certain that he does so with kindness and a nod to the proper etiquette and how it looks to violate that to the others in attendance.
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QUESTION: You say it is my husband's place to talk with his brother. As they haven't been on good terms since their father passed, would it be appropriate that we ask the funeral director to guide him/her to the other side?
Answer Dear Lois:
If it would be more comfortable to have the Funeral Director share the proper etiquette for the occasion, then that would be equally appropriate. Have a private meeting with him/her when making the initial arrangements and discreetly remind the day of. If your husband and his brother were on OK terms, the responsibility for the discussion would be his. Ultimately, the bottom line of etiquette is making the involved parties comfortable and any way you can make that happen then that is the best way to do it.
Proper manners with friends,family,colleagues,neighbors and everyone else you know.
I have been an etiquette expert teaching and consulting on the subject worldwide since 1983. I started and serve as the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and am considered a leader in the field of etiquette and protocol training and execution. I edited "Etiquette for Dummies" and have recently written "Lett's Talk - Everyday Etiquette Dilemmas and What to Do about Them". My book, "That's So Annoying:An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" was published in 2009 and is available wherever books are sold.
I taught the Business Protocol class to Master's level students at the George Washington University, Washington, DC for seven years
I served as Chief of Protocol for MCI Telecommunications for three years.
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I have a Master's degree in hospitality law and undergrad degrees in Restaurant & Hotel Management and Public Relations/Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University.
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