should a boss attend the funeral for an employee’s family member?

A reader writes:

I am the senior associate director in a medium department, less than 20 staff. I’m the second-in-command under the director, but none of the staff report directly to me. I have a question about a scenario that is likely to happen soon, and I want to react appropriately.

If a staff member has a death in their immediate family, would it be appropriate for me to attend the funeral service or the visitation? Past offices have generally sent flowers, but I had one boss who showed up when my father died years ago and the support really meant a lot to me. My spouse feels that my reaction was the exception, not the norm, and most people would feel *off* if a boss (not even their direct boss) showed up during such a personal time. Would appreciate your thoughts on this!

Oh, such a good question.

I think it could go either way. Lots of people would feel tremendously touched by their boss showing up at such a time, and others might prefer privacy.

It could even vary within the same person. I just tried to picture how I would have felt if my boss had shown up to my father’s funeral, and had two different reactions: If she’d shown up to the large, public memorial service, I would have been grateful and have felt supported. But I wouldn’t have wanted her to show up to the smaller, family service or to the house after either service; intellectually, I would have appreciated that it was a kind gesture, but emotionally I would have wanted privacy. (On the other hand, I’m on the high end of the “wants privacy” spectrum in life in general.)

Ultimately, I think it comes down to the relationship. If you know the person well enough to know they’d appreciate seeing you there, go ahead. But if you don’t know them well enough to be sure, I’d err on the side of sending a personal note/flowers/a plant/food/etc. instead. Certainly others might feel differently though, so I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts in the comments.

Also, keep in mind that as the person’s boss, you’re uniquely positioned to provide a kind of support that no one else in their life is: You’re able to ensure that they have time off, space from work obligations, and no need to worry about work stresses during this period. In a lot of ways, that’s the most valuable, supportive thing you can offer since you’re the only one who can — so I’d make a point of focusing your efforts there in particular.

{ 318 comments… read them below }

  1. AngtheSA*

    I wouldn’t want my boss to show up at my family member funeral. I don’t really like funerals in the first place, but I would appreciate flowers sent. That is what my other company did. The only time my bosses went to funerals was when an actually employee passed away.

    1. Hooptie*

      We give our employees the opportunity for flowers, or to have 50 trees planted in memoriam by the National Arbor Day Foundation. You’d be surprised at how many pick the trees!

      1. a big fish in a small pond*

        I love this idea! We are going to start doing this immediately! Thank you for sharing –

  2. Jamie*

    This is very office/person specific. The husband of our receptionist committed suicide earlier this year and I think the majority of our 100 person office showed up to the wake. In my previous job the most I ever saw done was a card that got passed around. I very much agree with Alison’s last paragraph.

    1. HumbleOnion*

      I agree that it’s situation & office specific. At a former job, a woman lost a baby during childbirth. It was terrible, and most people on the staff (me, my boss, her boss, her coworkers) went to the wake. The one significant absence was the director, who was her boss’s boss. The wake was in the same city where we worked, just a few miles from the office. There was no reason she couldn’t go. She just didn’t. It really changed people’s opinions of her.

      1. Oryx*

        There was no reason she couldn’t go that you are aware of. There are lots of very legitimate reasons why a woman (or a man) may not want to attend the wake of lost child, but they are also reasons that they don’t make public to most people.

        1. the gold digger*

          Nobody wants to attend the funeral for a dead child. Nobody. But unless there is something going on during that time that absolutely cannot be changed, you put your own feelings aside and you go. (At least in the context that HumbleOnion described.)

          A co-worker’s two year old child (who had been born with severe birth defects) died. It was standing room only at the funeral with many of us there from work.

          1. the gold digger*

            And am seeing that there is a lot of discussion of funeral vs wake vs visitation vs shiva.

            I will enlarge my point. Nobody wants to attend anything – funeral, wake, shiva – to do with a dead child. But you do it anyhow.

            1. Angela*

              I am very strongly with you on this one and I am miserable at funerals. I have an incredibly hard time getting through them, but I do it because I know how much it means to have a packed funeral for your loved one.

              1. Pixel*

                This. As much as I’d rather not attend funerals, the immediate family’s grief trumps my discomfort.

          2. N.J.*

            The thing is though, we can see even from the OP’s question here and Alison’s response that different people have very different views on support vs. privacy. It’s quite possible that the higher level boss who didn’t go falls on the “give everyone space and privacy” end of the spectrum. Or she doesn’t deal with death well. Or she lost a child of her own at some point. Or she had never interacted with Humble Onion’s coworker and thought it would be worth to attend. She deserves the benefit of the doubt.

            1. Michaela T*

              I agree with this. Personally, I would be LESS likely to go to a funeral for a coworker in such painful circumstances, because in their place I would prefer space and privacy.

              1. N.J.*

                Exactly. I myself would go if I knew the person really well but otherwise would assume they wanted privacy.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Agreed. A former coworker’s adult child (twenties) died of a cardiomyopathy. We all went to the viewing to support her. But I would have understood if someone just couldn’t deal, provided they expressed condolences in a sincere way, and I think she would have too.

          3. Oryx*

            Not everyone can so easily put their own feelings aside. Especially if perhaps they themselves have lost a child so, yeah, I’m just going to keep giving someone the benefit of the doubt with regards to this sort of thing.

            1. MsCHX*

              I also can’t say you “go no matter what”. A friend lost her son at about 10 weeks old to SIDS and my own son was about 8 weeks old and I suffered from PPD. I showed up to her house later in support but could not bear going to the funeral. I just couldn’t.

          4. AnitaJ*

            I respectfully disagree. Some people cannot just “put their feelings aside” when it comes to issues that involve death and children. If I’ve tragically lost a child and am working on recovering from my grief, another funeral would be extraordinarily painful and detrimental to my health and well-being. Send a note expressing condolences? Absolutely. Send flowers, ask the person out for lunch? Any of these kind gestures would be great. But if you’re emotionally unable to attend the funeral, that should really be respected. Brushing aside other’s deep-seated emotions is callous and unacceptable.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I have to agree with you AnitaJ. I used to think of myself as strong, I would tell myself, “onward, onward” and push myself through emotionally tough stuff.

              After my husband passed, I had to go to a double funeral. I was surprised by feeling a bit strange/dizzy when I left the double funeral. A pastor pointed out to me that when widows resume going to funerals the first funeral they go to is not a double funeral with a two mile procession.

              And that was when I learned, at some point in life many of us just cannot go to a funeral for varied reasons. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball or several, and we feel less than our usual selves. We really don’t talk about with the grieving person because it sounds like “my grief is bigger than your grief” and that is not what it is at all. It’s more like,”my heart is even more broken after finding out about your loss.”

              Yes, it’s true, there are cold-hearted people out there. But not everyone who doesn’t show at a funeral is cold-hearted. I have found it helpful to decide that the right people show up, the ones who will say the most meaningful things and contribute the most at that moment. Others, who don’t show up might contribute/say something meaningful later on.

          5. Nameless*

            Actually, no. If going to a funeral for someone’s lost child plunges you into your own personal hell, for reasons your coworkers may not know, you do not have to go to the funeral, and anyone who tries to make you feel bad about that is an ass.

          6. Dot Warner*

            There’s a big difference, though, between a coworker you see every day and someone two levels up who you may rarely interact with. Sure, it would’ve been nice of her to send a card or flowers, but if she and the grieving mother were effectively strangers, I can’t fault her for feeling unwelcome at the funeral.

            1. Lissa*

              Yeah, this is such a minefield. I would never expect not going to the funeral if the mother was somebody I didn’t know well would forever change people’s opinion of me. Like . . . it just would not occur to me that this is a bad/selfish thing to not do. I am one who would prefer my coworkers not go to a relative’s funeral — I would never consider them bad for doing it, and if it was someone I considered a friend I would feel differently. so to me knowing I had made people think seriously less of me because I hadn’t realized the custom was different here would be . . . rough.

          7. Rebooting*

            I have to disagree. There are some circumstances in which it would be a terrible idea for me to attend a funeral, because thanks to my own issues, I’d have to be dosed up to my eyeballs on sedatives to avoid having hysterics. Nobody needs their coworker or friend having a breakdown at a funeral for their loved one, so because I’m aware that I’m easily triggered and that causing a scene will only make things worse for the bereaved, I don’t go. I offer my support in other ways.

      2. animaniactoo*

        You don’t know there was no reason she couldn’t go. There might have been something super-emotional for her about it that she felt she couldn’t handle, and didn’t want to talk about. There might have been something else she had to deal with that she likewise didn’t want to talk about (“my grandfather is touching the aides at his nursing home inappropriately and I have to go convince them to please not kick him out and find a way to deal with this”).

        Please give her the benefit of the doubt.

      3. General Ginger*

        There could be a reason she wasn’t able to go, though. For example, I don’t do well at funerals (up to and including anxiety attack levels of “don’t do well) and the last thing I want is to make anything at a funeral about me. I feel a coworker would be better served by me doing something else thoughtful or helpful, rather than by me showing up and potentially panicking at what’s already a difficult occasion for them.

        1. Editor*

          There may be many reasons a director might not attend the funeral or other event, but if the director had sent a note and card to the family, then that might well have offset their absence. Never underestimate the power of a personal note after a death.

        2. Bess Marvin*

          I agree with this 100%. I don’t do well at funerals — as in become a sobbing mess, even at the funerals of people I don’t know well — so I prefer to send a card/flowers/food and in a job context, I hold down the office, which frees up others who want to attend.

      4. Kate*

        I hope you won’t think too badly of her. She probably followed the “Golden Rule”. I know that I would hate to have anyone from work show up at one of my family member’s funerals. My grief would be too personal for me to be comfortable with my coworkers seeing, I would be a mess, even more with the closer I was to the person who died.

        I bet that your director feels the same way and didn’t attend out of respect for what she thought her employee might be feeling. That’s the only problem with the Golden Rule, it doesn’t really work if someone has preferences and you aren’t in a position to ask about them, so you just have to guess.

        1. Lissa*

          Yes! This is what I was trying to say above but I like the way you phrased it. “Treat others as you want to be treated” can lead to others thinking you’re selfish or intrusive or any number of other things, especially when you consider different cultural backgrounds or even family expectation/culture which can vary super widely.

      5. Shazbot*

        It would be more honest to say that she didn’t attend for reasons you are not aware of, and people CHOSE to change their opinion of her.

      6. Kathy*

        I really like my coworkers; but if something happened to my spouse or child; they are the last people I would want to see at a wake/funeral. It doesn’t get any more personal than a death in the family and I want to be with my loved ones and not have to deal with co-workers.

        It would only be appropriate if the people socialized outside the office and/or the co-worker met the person who is deceased.

        I agree with Allison; knowing that you have time off and not have to worry about things back in the office are the greatest things you can do for someone.

        1. Hrovitnir*

          Yes, I also fall on the “even less likely to go if it’s extra tragic”. However if I knew it would be appreciated and my whole office was going I would.

          I am far on the “don’t talk to me” end of dealing with grief, but lots of people really appreciate it, so in the case of the OP I guess I’d fall down on trying to feel out the vibe from my employee to make my decision.

      7. Lookbothways*

        As someone mentioned below, there are legitimate reasons someone may not attend the funeral and not want to make their reasons public. Judging them simply because they were not there, is unfair, short sighted and hurtful. In social settings, as well as when one studies to be a first responder, medical worker etc; we are taught to keep assess the environment for threats because we’ll be of no use to others if we ourselves are injured. But no one ever tells us to guard our mental health. One such situation is knowing that attending a funeral would open up old wounds that might send someone into a deep depression. It is a wise person who would put their need to keep mentally strong above the need to be at the funeral of a child thinking they are supporting the family when the family probably doesn’t even know they are there.

        1. Lookbothways*

          ” In social settings, as well as when one studies to be a first responder, medical worker etc; we are taught to keep assess the environment for threats because we’ll be of no use to others if we ourselves are injured.”

          Should read : “In social settings, as well as when one studies to be a first responder, medical worker etc, we are taught to keep safe and assess…”

  3. Cali Cali*

    I just wanted to say that this was both a very useful and intuitive answer to this question. Thanks for an awesome blog, Alison!

  4. Loopy*

    I would also consider that the person might not want to feel the need to put on a somewhat professional face for a boss. If I was crying and emotional, I’d be very uncomfortable having a boss seeing me that way and it might linger.

    When I had to take bereavement my company sent a lovely bunch of flowers with an appropriate note and I was very touched. I don’t think anyone would expect a boss to show up in person to any funeral events, so flowers seem safest.

    1. AP*

      My sister’s husband recently had a loss in the family, and I noticed at the funeral that my sister’s company sent a beautiful flower arrangement from the organization. I thought it was so kind of them to care what is going on in her life, especially since it was her husband that was directly effected. She loves where she works and always speaks really highly of the way they treat their employees, and I thought this really highlighted the sort of culture they have.

      1. HoVertical*

        ^ This. My Mom passed away earlier this year, and my oldest sibling’s work sent both a lovely flower arrangement to the funeral home, and a nice card to the family.

      2. Chocolate Coffeepot*

        Yes to this! When my father passed away, my mother requested donations to a (non-controversial) nonprofit that my father had supported, in lieu of flowers. My company sent a donation to it in his memory, which really touched my family.

    2. INTP*

      Yes, that was my thought exactly. I want to feel free to lose it emotionally. Even if a coworker or boss wouldn’t (consciously) judge that, I would not feel free to do it around coworkers, and if I did anyways, I would feel extremely weird when returning to work. It wouldn’t feel comforting to me, it would feel intrusive, like I’m being denied the opportunity to go through this personal experience without my professional face on. The idea of coworkers at a funeral of someone I am emotional about losing puts me off so much that I would probably decline to provide details for the funeral to avoid it happening if it were “done” in my office.

    3. OP*

      That’s exactly what my spouse’s argument was- if someone is grief-stricken they wouldn’t want work colleagues to see them like that, no matter how justified it would be.

  5. Judy*

    I’ve never gone to the funeral of someone I didn’t know personally.

    I have gone to the visitation when a parent, spouse, or child of a co-worker has died. Several times a groups of co-workers have driven their separate vehicles to the visitation and entered the funeral home together, then continued home at the end of a workday.

    1. I make the computers go.*

      I find it interesting that at your work people go to the visitation. Where I live, the visitation is much more intimate. If I were going to attend to show support, rather than to grieve myself, I would go to the funeral. However I have a feeling that this really varies by location/culture.

      1. Sunflower*

        I was about to comment this. I was asking myself this question a little bit ago(except it wasn’t a workplace situation) and google tells me that it depends on region/culture. Where I’m from(Northeast US), the visitation is more casual and where you go to show support and funeral is for the grieving and those who were close. It’s the opposite in a lot of other places! So I would go to whichever one is the less intimate in your region.

          1. Christine*

            When my stepfather passed. We had a family visitation that was extremely private. I’m having trouble recalling if it was before or after the funeral. I’m wanting to say after, but my memory is a bit fuzzy.

            I depends on your relationship with your boss. My boss in Florida, I would be there as a show of support. With my current one I would send fresh fruit, etc.

            1. SharonR*

              When my Father’s body arrived back to the funeral home my family went for the viewing. Here this is very private. At some stage the extended family leave and allows the immediate family some alone time. My mother, siblings and I were all gathered around the coffin making inappropriate jokes(we grieve weirdly, don’t judge :p) when a random person wondered in. Some of the extended family had tried to stop her but she was adamant that we would want to see her.
              None of us even knew her name. My mother wasn’t sure but thought she might have been a customer in our families shop.
              There are two morals to this story. One, don’t gatecrash the private bits
              Two, I have a lot to say about funerals – this is the first post I’ve commented on and this is my third comment.

        1. Amber T*

          Is visitation another term for the wake?

          I’m also from the northeast US and ditto to Sunflower. The wake is where everyone who had some sort of connection to the deceased (including friends/acquaintances of family members) comes to offer support, while the funeral is for the mourners.

          Not only does it depend on the work place, but on the individual as well. A few years ago (before my time with my company), when the second in command’s father passed away, the head of the company closed the office for half a day and rented cars (personal expense) to take everyone to the funeral. When another coworker’s husband passed away last year, we were all encouraged to figure out our schedules and stagger attendance to the wake. And another said absolutely nothing to anyone when his father passed, just his immediate supervisor as to why he’d be out. None of us knew anything until weeks later when somehow it slipped.

          1. Tempest*

            I’m from the east coast of Canada and the wake was when everyone who wanted to say good bye or support a bereaved family member would sort of file past the family and offer ‘sorry for your loss’ or something to that effect, kneel with the deceased to say a prayer or final thought and then leave again. For the visitor it was like a 10 minute proposition. For the family, trying to recall my grandfather’s and I was only 9 at the time, there were two sessions, afternoon and early evening, and each was about 2 hours long. The funeral was in a church (we’re catholic so obviously other backgrounds may differ) and only the family and people who knew the deceased quite well would come. The wake would feature attendance from friends and aquantances of all the family not just the deceased. Wakes were typically on a weekday and the funeral would be days afterward.

            Here in the UK where I now live, I attended one memorial and the cerimony at the crematorium was for everyone who wanted to say good bye and the wake happened afterward in a local pub, where food and drink was provided and everyone had a talk about the deceased and shared memories. It clearly varies the world over and from religion to religion.

            My experience is very much that the wake/visitation is about offering condolences to the family and the funeral is about saying good bye to the deceased. If the visitation is like the ones I’ve experienced, you’ll shake hands with the family, offer your kind words and leave again. There is no need to spend ages interacting with the person if you don’t know them well.

            When I worked in fast food years ago the owner’s son died tragically. I really didn’t want to attend the visitation but he was a kind employer to us and it was one of those things you do for the person who’s grieving even though you don’t really want to, and I promise you he was touched to see his staff there. He initiated a hug otherwise I would have just shaken his hand and in the end I was glad I’d forced myself to go and offer condolences as it was more about him and his loss than my discomfort.

            Ultimately though the boss will have to use their judgement. If you think it would weird this person out to see you there, don’t go. If you think it might touch them their office cared enough to say sorry for your loss, go and say sorry for your loss. You don’t have to stop and carry on a long conversation if you feel it wouldn’t be well recieved. Just in, handshake, out.

          2. MillersSpring*

            In Texas, usually the evening before a funeral, the funeral home will hold “visitation” or “family night” for two or three hours. The time is often listed in the obituary. Casket can be open or closed. The family is usually offered the opportunity to have a private viewing before or instead of the visitation/family night. These events are often attended by friends who cannot attend the funeral and/or by friends who wish to speak personally to the family to express condolences.

            During the funeral and graveside serviceservice/burial, the family is not conversing with guests. A meal is often served following the funeral, either at a private home or at the church reception hall. These have varying degrees of privacy. Invitations can be issued with the funeral details to close friends and family, by word of mouth or even by the officiant at the funeral.

            I never heard the word wake growing up except in movies and TV. It seems to be synonymous with viewing.

          3. Alleyne*

            Where I grew up, we refer to this as “calling hours” because you literally go and call on the grieving parties. They were usually held from like 1-4 and then again from 6-9 so people could go before or after work. You may or may not attend a funeral, depending on what time it is, how private it is, etc.

          4. Artemesia*

            I did my career in the south and here the visitation is the day before usually and is when you actually get to offer your condolences to the family; it is commonly a big thing like a wake with refreshments and the family receiving visitors. So this is the thing to go to if you are only going to one.

        2. TheCupcakeCounter*

          That is exactly how I see the two events as well. I always think that the visitation is more to give support to the family members and the funeral is for those who are grieving.

        3. T*

          Australian not-particularly-religious-family here – so interesting to hear about all the different ways these things are done.

          For all the deaths I’ve had anything to do with, it’s been basically like this:

          – funeral service is open to the public/put in the newspaper/on Facebook etc. Mostly at a funeral home but can also be at a church. About 50% of the time some coworkers come to this, though that can vary on the vibe of that person (when my father-in-law died, they shut down the factory floor for the afternoon but he was very very well liked and spent pretty much all his time at work). Often people get there a bit early and mill around outside to say hello to each other, though typically the close family are not part of the scrum for long.

          – at the end of the funeral service, the officiant announces the location of the wake and gives an invitation on behalf of the family to go along for refreshments (can be at the funeral home or at the RSL or bowling club etc). People who just got time off work to go to the service may leave at this point.

          – the wake is public and coworkers can come along to this too, though typically don’t stay too long. The very close family will stay for a couple of hours then head home to be together and maybe go out to dinner together later. The medium level family/friends will often stay until the venue closes/kicks them out, then they head off to various pubs or other places in social groups. They may meet up with some of the close family later at this point.

          I don’t really know how the particularly religious of us do things though – i dont really know a huge number of religious people.

      2. Brett*

        I’ve always heard it as wake or viewing is when the body of the deceased is present and can be public or private.

        Visitations are for visiting the family and are much more public. The body is never present at a visitation. You can have private visitations as well (generally after the funeral service and at the house instead of the funeral home).

        Funeral is the actual memorial service, and there might be both a public service and a private family service.

      3. Phyllis B*

        I will go to visitations, but don’t go to funerals if I don’t know the person who passed. I realize that in the moment, most people don’t remember who came (or didn’t) but when they go back and look at the guest register and see the name of a co-worker or friend, it will mean something to them. The important thing is to acknowledge it. If this is a co-worker that you know really well but don’t know the person who passed away, offer to do something to help. And not that, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” No one takes you up on that. Think of something. Offer to stay at the house during the funeral to greet callers and take in food offerings. (I live in the South. Folks bring food.) Offer to pick up the kids from school or transport them to an activity. Pick up incoming family members at the airport. These are just examples. If it’s someone you don’t know well, maybe a card, or just express your condolences.

    2. Rachel*

      That’s pretty much how it’s done here, too. The funeral is generally for family and close friends. The wake/shiva is for people to show support for the mourners. (Not to mention that much of the time, the funeral is held during the day, while the wake or shiva happens in the evening.)

      I should point out that sitting shiva takes place at a family member’s home. In that case, I think it would really depend on the relationship between the boss and employee. There’s a big difference between my boss coming to a funeral home/synagogue versus my boss coming to my house!

      1. Pixel*

        In my experience, Shiva is a time when professional and personal boundaries become blurry (full disclosure – I only attended Shiva in Israel, never in Canada). The home becomes an open house with an ongoing buffet and someone who is not from the inner circle of mourners in charge of bringing food, clearing the dishes, sweeping the floor and answering the door. You co-workers will be visiting as well as neighbours, distant family, and your kids’ friends’ parents. It’s a rough week all around.

    3. Dynamic Beige*

      I think there’s a difference between visitation, funeral services and graveside (? not sure what that’s called) services. I would also say a wake is somewhat different but this could be a regional thing or something I just thought up on my own over the years. I guess it would also depend on religion, but I’ve never been to a Jewish funeral (for example), can’t really comment on that, except that I know it all happens really fast. So what follows is my rule of thumb.

      Visitations are for support. Maybe you didn’t know the deceased, but your friend/coworker is the one you know but not perhaps that well. Or maybe you do know the deceased but are not familiar with their family, that would be a better time to introduce yourself than at the funeral. When the father of a friend of mine passed, I went to the visitation for him. I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to go to the funeral, but I wanted him to know I was thinking of him. They are also held (usually) in the evenings or on weekends (at least that was the case with the two family members that I had to plan funerals for) so that people who may not be able to get time off work can come by and pay their respects/show their support. I remember being kind of upset at one of my mother’s coworkers who came by and must have been Catholic because she was praying or something over the casket — which was closed. I knew my mother was not in there (it was cancer and she did not want an open casket, so I guess they just put an empty one in, at least at the funeral home we were at) and I kind of felt like we weren’t being honest with this coworker since she wasn’t really praying over my mother. Silly, I know, but the emotions do kind of run wild at times like that.

      Funeral services are for when you know the deceased/deceased’s family and cared for them. It’s hard enough, IME, getting through a visitation or two, but at the funeral, there is just too much going on to really absorb. I wouldn’t want a bunch of random coworkers I’m only barely acquainted with there.

      Graveside, it’s your family member, someone really important to you or someone who has requested you be there. There’s usually not much space so it’s not a good idea to just tag along. Not to mention the procession to the cemetery with the signs and police escort (if it’s a really long procession).

      After both funerals, we had a reception with light refreshments. Some people stayed for that, others did not. I think that’s more of a politeness “we’ve all been through this and now let’s fortify ourselves before we head home” and for sharing stories, offering support. Hell, it was at one of those that I learned a family secret I literally had no idea about. Also, at my mother’s some random old guy showed up because he had recognised her maiden name in the obituaries, he had lived near my grandmother’s farm back in the Old Country and wanted to see who it was. I don’t think he was at the funeral, I can’t remember. But I do remember how weird it was for this rando to just show up like that.

      A wake, well maybe I’ve seen too many movies and TV shows, but isn’t that where people send off the deceased with a lot of adult beverages? Along with telling stories and reminiscences that is. I’ve never been to one and sort of thought it was kind of an Irish/Gaelic kind of custom, to get rip-roaring drunk on a night before the funeral and just let all those emotions out.

      Having said all that (and apologies if you’re still reading), if I were in the boss’ place, and the employee was out on bereavement leave so I couldn’t speak with them personally, I would go to the visitation. If I could speak to them personally in the office, I might not go, it would depend on our relationship. Visitation is essentially a receiving line, from what I’ve experienced on both sides of it. You come in, express your condolences, sign the book (or not), look at the displays that have been put together (photo boards, videos) if you wish, offer prayers or thoughts over the casket/deceased if you desire, and you quietly leave — odds are, no one is going to notice because there will have been other people who came in after you. There are often cards there so you can make a donation in the name of the deceased to a specific charity and I think in many cases that might be just as appreciated as flowers, or more so.

      1. Pixel*

        Jewish funerals are raw and emotional. You were correct – it all happens very fast, the only exception is made for immediate family who are travelling from far away. There is no casket, dress is very casual, and where I’m from there is a short ceremony at the entrance to the cemetery, followed by a processional to the gravesite, a prayer, then the burial and a recessional after which the immediate family goes home to sit Shiva. Funeral attendants may follow them, or go home and come back another day. Shiva is when you can actually talk to the family, offer them sincere condolences and not be part of the general blur of “sorry for your loss” at the actual funeral.

        1. Susanne*

          The Jewish funerals I’ve been to aren’t really all that different from non-J ones, except they happen quickly, caskets are closed, and you follow the custom of shoveling dirt on top of the casket after it’s lowered. Most Jews I know don’t follow any of the traditional practices for sitting shiva (tear in clothing, mirrors covered, etc.) and it’s really indistinguishable from a visitation except it’s in the home. I don’t see why it’s more “raw and emotional” than anything else – grief is universal.

          1. Susanne*

            Oh – and dress has absolutely always been more formal and funeral-appropriate – dark suits for men, black or dark dresses for women, etc. – same thing you’d wear to a non-J funeral. I don’t know where you get casual dress from. I’ve never seen that at a Jewish funeral and I’ve easily been to a dozen or so. (A branch of my family is Jewish.)

  6. sjw*

    I say go if you can. In my capacity of HR director I have attended dozens of funerals for employee family members over the years (I’ve been doing the HR gig for nearly 30 years now). Employees have always indicated that this meant a great deal to them to see support from their workplace. When my own father died 7 years ago, numerous colleagues either came to the visitation, or to the funeral, and I was moved beyond measure.

    Obviously, I think this can vary a great deal based on the tenor of the types of relationships people generally have in your organization. And for small family services, obviously, respect their clear message for privacy.

  7. SomebodyElse*

    Yes to visitation/wake, no to funeral service. Visitation is pretty much just going through the line, signing the guest book, and leaving a card/flowers if they weren’t able to be sent ahead. Depending on culture, it might be considered insulting if no one from the company showed up (I’m thinking if the deceased is spouse, child, etc. rather than great-uncle twice removed), but if the employee doesn’t provide info on the wake, don’t push. Funeral service is much too personal, unless the boss also knew the deceased, so would pretty much always be a no.

    1. Tomato Frog*

      Ha, I just said the opposite below. Just goes to show how many variables there are. I would rather my boss be in the back pew (or whatever), give me quick condolences, and leave, then be at the wake and visitation where I will be awkwardly aware of social obligation towards them. But I can easily see it going the other way, too, and I suppose this is sort of what visitations are for.

    2. Susan*

      I agree. At the visitation, you can make a brief appearance and leave, so you can show your support without being too intrusive. I have been to the visitation of a few coworkers’ family members, and the boss usually shows up. My understanding has always been that the visitation is about the family, while the funeral service is about the deceased, so if I don’t personally know the deceased, I don’t go to the funeral.

    3. Episkey*

      This is my opinion as well — I feel like that’s what the visitation/wake is for — for people to come and express their sympathy/condolences even if they didn’t know the person who passed very well. But I would never to go the funeral of someone unless they were family or I was extremely close to them or someone in their family. When a colleague’s mom passed away, I made an appearance at the wake but I would never presume to intrude on the actual funeral.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        Interesting! Thank you for sharing this perspective. I never thought of it this way before, and now I see why some people would go to the wake, and not the funeral.

      2. MillersSpring*

        I’ve been to many funerals where I sat near the back and maybe gave a quiet nod to the friend or coworker who was grieving. In many circles and situations, it’s a show of support.

    4. Emmie*

      My rule of thumb in this situation is: I’d probably not go to the first or last day of showing, or the funeral. I’d go half way through the visitation on the middle day saving the first and last hours for family. I have stayed only very briefly (20 minutes) to say hello and a quick condolences to my coworker or friend with absolutely no expectations of introductions to others. And I’d gracefully and quietly leave without a goodbye. That’s worked for me in the past. I look forward to hearing what the OP decides.

      1. Emmie*

        I realize that other religions or circumstances may not have visitations. I haven’t been able to attend any memorial events for other reasons, but I have reached out to my closest friends of other religions to ask what was appropriate in those circumstances.

  8. Christy*

    I’m from a culture (Baltimore Catholic) where you go to funerals. Like, if you know someone who had a love one die, you go to the visitation, without question. The funeral itself too, usually. I certainly feel this way for friend relationships.

    For workplace relationships, I think the visitation is required (at least, for me). When my friend’s mom’s mom died, my friend’s dad’s coworkers all showed up at the visitation. So if I had a local boss (I haven’t until about a week ago), I’d expect her to go to the visitation. The funeral, probably not, but the visitation, certainly. If she came to the funeral as well, I’d find it kind but unnecessary.

    (When I say visitation, I mean the public, go to a funeral home and stand around chatting near a bunch of family pictures. I can’t speak to other grief traditions.)

    1. Busytrap*

      I agree with this. Family and close friends go to the actual burial/church service (if there is one); coworkers and friends go to the visitation. My mother’s coworkers and boss went to my grandfather’s funeral, and it was across town. So did the owner of the gym my parents go to, my dad’s barber, my sister’s teacher, and my parents’ neighbors. Mid-Atlantic as well, if geography helps at all.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just as a general note, be aware that not all religions do visitations/wakes; many just do the funeral. (As a Jew, we generally don’t have visitations.)

      1. KatieKate*

        But we do have a Shiva!

        By me it’s usually “funeral if you’re close/if you can, Shiva 100% you should go.” And if for some reason you can’t make the Shiva, you send food.

        1. LBK*

          Is Shiva actually the way it’s been depicted on TV, ie the mourners sit for days while people come by with food and condolences?

          1. Bananistan*

            Traditionally, yes. In modern/less religious times, people often do shorter shivas, and usually designate a specific time when guests are welcome.

          2. HannahS*

            Traditionally, the immediate family “sits shiva” for seven days after the death, and yeah, people come by with food and condolences. If the family are religious, there are usually also short prayer services being led in the home. The purpose is to let the family mourn for seven days, without having to think about anything else. In my community, people often don’t make it to the funeral (because Jewish funerals happen very quickly after the death, the notice is super short) but if you live within driving distance, it’s expected that you’ll visit during the shiva.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This is interesting to me. When I was young I could not see the point. As the years rolled by I started to wonder if sitting shiva caused people to be healthier in the long run because they a) took time to grieve and b) grieved with others.
              How various traditions protect the well-being of the individuals of the group can be very insightful.

              1. ECHM*

                @Not So NewReader: Interesting comment. When my dad died a couple of years ago (granted, it was not unexpected) our family never really talked about it. I am pretty sure it would have been healthier for me if we had. We also didn’t have a funeral because Mom believed people should have shown up to spend time with him when he was alive, and because they didn’t, she didn’t want them coming to a funeral and saying what a great person he was. This really upset me (since I believe funerals are for the living) but I didn’t get a vote.

            1. LBK*

              Ooh, I did not know that movie revolved around a shiva! My frame of reference is from Weeds and Grey’s Anatomy.

                1. EW*

                  I would also recommend any book written by Jonathan Tropper who wrote the book This Is Where I Leave You that the movie is based on. My favourite is How To Talk to a Widower

      2. paul*

        Is that religious or cultural? My family’s a smattering of non-religious and a variety of mainstream Protestant sects, but wake/not wake seems to vary geographically. The portion back east doesn’t do them, most of us out in the west tend to, regardless of religious bent.

  9. paul*

    Very specific; I’ve seen my dad (C level in the oil industry) have to make that call a few times over the years and it always comes down to what his read is on that particular person preferring one or the other. That said, avoid any wake or similar thing, just stick with the public service.

    1. kac*

      Interesting! I came here to say just the opposite. In my experience (mostly Catholic services, New England) the wake is the most appropriate place to show your support for someone you may not actually know that well: acquaintances, work colleagues, bosses, etc. Meanwhile, the funeral service itself, while public, is still more private and personal in nature, and more appropriate for those who were close to the deceased or to a loved one of the deceased.

      My advice to the LW would be: Definitely go to the wake, and decide on the service based on your read on this particular person.

      The fact that paul & I have such different advice, suggests that there is no official “right” answer here, and you should feel comfortable following your own instinct on the situation.

        1. Sophie Winston*

          Also New England.

          I’ve only seen wakes for Catholics, and they were the place and time for folks who didn’t know the deceased well. Catholic funerals have always seemed fairly public to me as well, often including a few “church ladies” who attend all the funerals at their parish. However only family and close friends continue to the cemetery and reception.

          Other denominations I would not attend unless I knew the deceased well or there was a clear notice that the public was welcome.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I think of funeral services as religious services. And if the religion doesn’t mean that much to you, you don’t go.

            My own experience as also been that visitations are where there is more interaction w/ the family members. At the funerals I’ve been to, the family arrives and is sequestered, and enters the church service close to when it begins and leaves immediately after. They aren’t really that aware of who specifically is there (a few faces, yes; and aware of how MANY people are there, yes).

            At the visitation, they have time to see exactly who is there.
            So my vote would be: Show up for the visitation/wake, but don’t stay so long that it becomes awkward. And try to make it possible for lots of people to be at the funeral if they want to go.

          2. Tempest*

            East coast of Canada Catholic here, and very much wake is for everyone to say sorry for your loss to the family and funeral is more for family and friends to attend. It’s a whole mass afterall so it’s not a quick in and out kind of deal like the wake.

            1. Chinook*

              Ditto here from a self-described church lady (who, if she attends a stranger’s funeral, it is probably because she was helping put together the catered meal for after). A funeral mass or service (there is a difference) is a religious service where the deceased is not the centre of attention. It is about praying for their soul to get into Heaven faster (because if you went in the other direction, no amount of prayer will help you at that point but we want to assume everyone lived a good enough life to eventually make it into Heaven). The centre of the mass is Jesus but all the prayers are for the soul of the deceased and their family.

              Any talk about the deceased should be after the service (and the priest has left) or the night before if their is a prayer service (which acts like a visitation only with a rosary being said at the same time). Eulogies and story telling are not part of our religious tradition, which is why wakes are part of cultural tradition – we pray for their souls and then spend much time, food and probably alcohol reminiscing about the deceased.

              I think coworkers showing up to a funeral mass would be quite meaningful because they are present to show support but not required to interact with the family during the service or even after, thus giving them privacy and not making it awkward.

      1. LBK*

        Also New England here and I would’ve said the same thing – the visitation (are they not called wakes anymore? or is that term only used by certain religions?) is for the general public, the funeral is only for those who are closer.

        1. kac*

          I think “wake” is a religious term, where “visitation” is more generic. (I.e. A wake is one type of visitation.)

          1. Sophie Winston*

            My understanding, and this could be an old wives tale, was that the term wake came from when medical knowledge was limited and folks would literally be sitting with the deceased for an extended period to make sure they didn’t wake up. EG, are they in a coma or really dead.

            1. Natalie*

              Nah, that’s a myth. They were originally prayer vigils that went overnight, and the word wake is being used in a more archaic sense as “vigil” rather than “not sleeping”.

            2. Chinook*

              I always understood a wake to be more lively and involving alcohol and food (what you can imagine with the phrase “Irish wake” – they aren’t a stereotype) whereas a visitation as more somber and involving prayers and quite conversations. I have seen Irish Catholic funerals that have a visitation the night before, the funeral and then a wake (complete with a band) the night of.

        2. LBK*

          Also, a related anecdote: while we were waiting for my dad’s wake to start, one of my siblings mentioned how weird it was to have the dead body just sitting there in the room with us. My mom decided to use that moment to tell us that she’d had my dad cremated, and in fact he was not in the room – the casket was empty, just there as a prop for people to pray over. We all started hysterically laughing right as the first mourners started arriving and had to put on straight faces and pretend to be somber.

      2. Lemon Zinger*

        I am Catholic too, and grew up in the west. At my church, wakes were only for immediate family. I volunteered at my church and attended several wakes/funerals, and all the wakes were very small and intimate. I felt out-of-place, and I wasn’t even there for the deceased!

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          I grew up in California, and this was always my experience: if there was a visitation/wake, it was only for immediate family, but everyone went to the funeral. Only some of the funerals I went to were Catholic, but this pretty much held true for all religions among my peer group.

          Now I live in New England, and it is totally opposite: everyone goes to the wake, but only really close friends or family go to the funeral. (That said, I’ve only been to Catholic funerals here, so it may be different for other religions). It’s a total 180 from what I learned growing up, so I’m still not used to it.

      3. Kate*

        As a northern (almost to Canda!) New Yorker raised Methodist, I can agree. The funeral for us is only for the people closest to the deceased, friends, family, etc. The wake is for people who want to support the mourners.

      4. paul*

        Texas/NM here; we’ve got some few Eastern folk in our family and they don’t do wakes at all.

        We tend to do fajitas or brisket, get drunk, and tell embarrassing stories, but they’re very much family/close friends; I’d be mortified if a colleague or supervisor saw what we get up to at those.

        1. LQ*

          So glad I’m not the only one. We have more casseroles than fajitas, but basically this after all the formal services (most have included wakes/funerals/etc). A colleague or supervisor would never be invited or included in that though. (Midwest, hence casseroles.)

    2. N.J.*

      Just adding myself to the list of wake vs. funeral regional variations. Catholic background from the North in my family and Bible Belt southern/Appalachian where I grew up. Rust Belt industrial mid-Atlantic too. In all of these contexts, the wake or visitation has been specifically for folks to drop by and offer condolences, bring flowers and speak with the family. The religious services (funeral, memorial service etc.) have been more closed off/personal. People have certainly been welcome to come to the funeral in these instances, but the wake was the socially sanctioned opportunity to express your support to the family, as it usually took place at the funeral home with the body of the deceased prepared for viewing and all main family members in attendance with people dropping in and out. It’s interesting how this differs from region to region.

  10. Tomato Frog*

    If you go, go to the service and not the visitation, I think — i.e. when you can silently express support, without putting anyone in the awkward position of feeling they have to interact with you.

    There’s such a wide variety of reactions and so many variables this is probably not much use, but: when I was at my grandfather’s funeral this year, the people whose attendance I appreciated and found comforting were people who knew him. People showing up who never met him or barely knew him, while a nice gesture, made absolutely no emotional difference to me.

    1. LBK*

      I’m confused…don’t your first and second paragraphs contradict? You said she should go to the funeral, not the wake, but then you said for your own situation you found it meaningless for people who didn’t know the deceased to come to the funeral. Am I misunderstanding something?

      1. fposte*

        This was my read–Tomato Frog, please correct me if I’m wrong:

        Choose attendance to minimize the expectation of interaction with work people
        TF didn’t actually care if work people even came to the funeral [but at least she didn’t have to chat with them at the visitation]

        1. Tomato Frog*

          Basically this, except I’m not recommending attendance of any event — just that if they do attend, I think they should minimize expected interaction.

      2. Tomato Frog*

        I think the only bit you’re missing is that I said if the LW decides to go, I think she should just go to the funeral. By which I mean, if, based on the individual calculus of the situation, the LW decides personally attending the event is advisable, I think it’s kinder just to attend the funeral. That’s separate from whether or not I would want my boss to attend a family funeral, which is what the second paragraph is about. The first paragraph is conditional advice; the second paragraph is just my personal preference — one more data point in the LW’s decision-making.

  11. FDCA in Canada*

    I imagine this is the kind of thing that varies so widely that it’s almost impossible to generalize. Funeral customs and grieving are so personal and so, so, so dependent on culture/region/religion/a million other variables. I can see it going either way and still being perfectly fine. Before my dad’s retirement he was a high-level officer in his enormous company, and attended the funerals of some direct family members of employees he worked closely with; for others the company sent flowers or a plant or a donation to a charity as per the family’s request.

    I think the boss’s reaction towards work is more important, really. My crazy former boss was not a paragon of light in this matter–an employee’s father passed away after a long illness and not only did we have to practically force him to send flowers, he phoned the employee the morning of the funeral and asked how long she was going to be out. No bereavement time, and her paid vacation time hadn’t kicked in yet, so she took only a day or two unpaid and returned to work while balancing tying up her father’s affairs. Awful. On the contrary: a friend of a friend had her infant child pass away shortly after birth in an expected, but tragic event. Both her boss and her husband’s boss, along with several coworkers and teachers at their older children’s school, attended the memorial service and gave the family plenty of time and space to grieve. They said the community support was much appreciated. So while the actual physical presence of the boss or manager at the funeral can vary and still be supportive, I really do think the company’s response as a whole to a death will leave a more lasting impact.

    1. TootsNYC*

      yes! My mom died about 4 months after I’d started a new job. My boss came and said, “Take all the time that you need.”

      Nobody from work could come to the funeral or visitation, but it meant so much to just be able to go when I needed to, without counting days.

      And another thing that mattered a lot was the random note and expression of condolence. I came back to a sympathy note on my chair from someone I didn’t know terribly well yet. It meant a lot.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Only say “Take all the time you need” if you really mean it.

        If you only mean “take a week”, then say that exactly.

        It’s good to remember that a grieving person can get a foggy brain. Speak clearly. Say what you mean to the extent that you mean it. Use an explanatory tone. “Usually folks get 3 days here, but I can authorize up to 5 days in some instances. I am putting you in for 5 days.” This works especially well if you feel bad about not offering enough because at least the employee has a clear understanding of what you can do. It saves a lot of awkwardness/misunderstanding.

        At one funeral a lawyer-friend, said “Let me know if I can be of any help.” I did not know if he was talking as a lawyer or as a friend. I did not call him, not because I disliked him, but because I was not clear on the extent of the offer. I felt awkward, so I just avoided the whole question.

  12. Hi.*

    When my grandfather died, my brother’s entire team showed up for the wake. It was so moving to see their support for him – our whole family was so touched and it made us all so happy to see how loved and respected my brother is at his job. We both were very close to our grandfather and his coworkers had known him long enough to know that he was devastated and he’d be grateful for the support. My coworkers covered my projects and gave me cards and flowers which was more along the lines of what I wanted/needed at the time. You really have to know the person to make that kind of decision, it really can vary from person to person.

    1. TootsNYC*

      This is an important point: When you’re the boss in the OP’s situation, you have several audiences.

      The most important audience is the employee, but you also have the employees’ family and friends (well, maybe they’re a tool to reach the audience of the employee). The fact that you show up reassures them that their family member (the employee) is valued and cared for. That’s healing.

      The other audience is your other employees–they are watching to see how you treat the bereaved employee.

      1. OP*

        Good point, on your second audience- and why I liked Alison’s last paragraph about all the ways to be supportive at work, funeral/visitation aside. Reading comments where bosses asked employees to come back in that day or give exactly when they’d be back-ouch!!!

  13. Claire (Scotland)*

    When my father died a few years ago, my boss and some other people from work came to the funeral. While I appreciate that they meant well, I found it incredibly stressful having them there. It added a lot of extra anxiety to a time that was already very difficult. I was uncomfortable with them seeing me so distressed, I felt I had to “perform” being more OK than I really was, and it made me feel more anxious about returning to work that I would have been otherwise. I would have much preferred that they send a card and/or flowers instead.

    1. Michaela T*

      I’m with you. When my grandfather died last year my manager actually asked me how I would like her to handle it with the team and I asked her not to say anything until I was out for bereavement. They did end up getting me a card and a plant, which was lovely, but I was spared having to be professional during such a hard time. I’ve a pretty privater person, though.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        I love that your manager ASKED what you wanted, instead of making assumptions. That’s very professional and polite of her.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      Ouch, I feel for you. I am in the same boat! I’m a very polished, professional person at work, and I would never be comfortable interacting with my boss/team members in a setting like this.

      I’m of the opinion that when an employee’s relative dies, offer quiet sympathy and support, but do not pry. This also includes sending a mass email informing the company “John’s father passed away, so let’s all show him sympathy by attending the funeral/pitching in cash/buying flowers.” Attending the funeral would feel like prying to me, especially if you never met the deceased!

    3. LBK*

      I think this totally depends on the relationship you have with your coworkers and manager. My last team, it would have been a definite no aside from maybe one or two people I was closer with – we had a much more strictly-professional kind of relationship where I would have been uncomfortable with them seeing that facade down.

      My current team, I would be very surprised to *not* see all of them there, including my boss and boss’s boss.

      1. Claire (Scotland)*

        I simply cannot imagine a professional relationship where I would want to see them there. I think it may be very much about the sort of person you are, too.

        1. LBK*

          Fair enough – I think my view is that having a professional relationship with someone doesn’t mean forgetting that they’re human. It shouldn’t be shocking to see someone you work with display emotions. I can understand not wanting to get emotional in the office (as we’ve discussed many times on various “crying at work” threads) but someone who thinks less of you as a professional after seeing you cry at a family member’s funeral is, frankly, a huge asshole.

          1. Claire (Scotland)*

            It wasn’t that I thought they’d think less of me. I didn’t think badly of them or expect them to react badly. It’s that I was deeply uncomfortable, anxious and self-conscious at being that vulnerable in front of people anyway, and when it was people I have to be professional around normally I found it extra-hard.

            I liked these people, and I had a good, friendly relationship at work with them. But it was a professional relationship, and I prefer to maintain those boundaries for my own mental health and comfort. And having them show up, unexpectedly, added a huge amount of stress to the day. To the point where I had to take the anti-anxiety medication the doctor had given me “just in case” for the first time, and ended up feeling even worse as a result.

  14. NW Mossy*

    It’s worth having a rough guide for how your office in general responds to an employee’s bereavement. It doesn’t need to be super-formal, but in these situations, people are often a bit paralyzed by how to respond correctly, particularly if the death was unexpected. It really helps to have a document that lists the basic stuff that everyone forgets about because these situations (thankfully) don’t arise that often – where you order flowers from, how you handle cards/notes of condolence, who’s on point to share info about the service and/or collect charitable contributions (if applicable), etc. We’re often good at remembering the truly work-based stuff (such as who can cover for the bereaved), but it’s the social graces around loss that we forget in this environment.

    My unit realized the importance of this when our admin lost her mom last year. She’s normally the one who would handle all of this stuff, but she was obviously out of the office quite a bit right before her mom passed and no one wanted to intrude on her to say “So, how do we do this?” It was particularly tough because we did miss the mark on a couple of things, and our admin’s one who prides herself on fairness in these situations so she noticed and it stung.

  15. Brogrammer*

    My answer is, it depends on the boss and the specific event. My current boss showing up to the visitation or wake would be touching because he and I have a good rapport. Anyone else in the company who is senior to me but not him showing up would be awkward.

  16. Cambridge Comma*

    An awful boss I had in the past turned up unannounced to the funeral of the father of my former colleague (now close friend). She said that she appreciated the gesture to a certain extent (although privately I have suspicions that he went to check that she hadn’t made the whole thing up; he was that kind of person (he tried to sack her for being pregnant shortly after)) but felt awful at seeing him there because she completely went to pieces.
    She wishes that he would have asked (by text or e-mail) whether she would like him to come. Then she could have appreciated the gesture while not having to experience it.
    I think that the support that Alison mentions in terms of time off is so much more important, and she’s right that you should concentrate on that.

  17. Tennessee INFP*

    I would never felt like my boss was violating my privacy if they came to the funeral or visitation. I would feel honored and supported by the gesture.

    I tend to want to err on the side of going the extra mile to show love and support whenever you get the chance. Flowers and cards are nice, but to actually take the time out of your day to go and be there in person, to me, is especially touching.

    1. Emma*

      But some of us wouldn’t consider a personal visit to a funeral/visitation love and support. Some of us would consider that intrusive or overbearing, and would find the flowers and card route much more supportive – to me that’d let me know that you cared but were respectful of my boundaries and giving me space to grieve.

    2. Anion*

      I completely agree. I’m actually touched that the LW here is thinking about this and feels she would like to offer support and show the employee that she’s valued and cared about, and that her loss matters to people above her in the work chain (so to speak).

      It might be weird if the boss came to the visitation (if there is one, I’ve never been to one of those or known someone who had one, and I’ve been to four funerals of people I cared about [although in one case it was a good friend’s mom and I’d never met her) and stayed for the whole time or came back to the house after or whatever, but to have them show up would be really touching, and would make me feel valued.

      (But then, when our second daughter was born, my husband’s boss came to visit me in the hospital and brought his [adult] daughter with him, too, and I’m still touched by that, though I know a lot of people would think it’s weird. It was a really small company, though, and we’d had the boss over for dinner a couple of times in the three years Hubs had been there at that point.)

  18. JessaB*

    And I think there’s a huge difference in showing up to the funeral vs showing up to a wake, making a Shiva call etc. Also if you’re sending something make sure you check the customs of what you’re sending. Don’t send flowers to most Jewish funerals and make sure if you’re sending food they can eat it. Whether that means it needs to be Kosher, Halal, vegan, etc. If you don’t know the person well enough to know what kind of food is okay, don’t send any.

    1. Editor*

      And… don’t send lasagna. Because we got very, very tired of lasagna, and none of it was as good as the family recipe. We froze several and still had too much in the refrigerator.

      After that experience, I think I would give grocery store gift cards or cash and encourage the bereaved to order party trays or get frozen foods to their taste. Even hand-selecting cheese and fresh fruit, which I would prefer, can result in waste when you don’t know what the family eats on a day-to-day basis.

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Haha I learned after my father-in-law passed that it’s best to have one of those online meal sign-ups. That way you can see what other people are bringing. We got sandwich platters for DAYS and were so sick of sandwiches! After about 5 days of sandwiches, someone brought Mexican food and we almost cried with happiness lol.

      2. LBK*

        Oh god, the never-ending river of death lasagnas. If we had been plunged into a nuclear apocalypse right after my dad’s funeral, we probably could have subsisted on our cache of frozen lasagna for a good 6 months.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      The father of a girlfriend of mine passed away, and one of his work colleagues sent a ham to their Kosher home. The gesture was appreciated, but of course they had to turn away the ham. So I would say that it’s more about not letting the food to go to waste than offending anyone, just because I know very few people who would be ungracious about a gesture at such a time.

      But yes. Keeping traditions in mind is SO important. The father of a former colleague passed away, and I was really unnerved by how many of my co-workers had absolutely no idea what to do for a funeral, and how many made assumptions based on their own religious practices. It made me feel like I’ve been to an extraordinary number of funerals in my time, but I honestly don’t think that’s the case.

      1. Bob Barker*

        Ha, my people do eat pork, but despite old saws about “funeral meats,” I am finding the idea of receiving a ham after a bereavement pretty funny. It’s just not something my people do (we provide food rather than receive it), although obviously I can see the good intentions there.

        My thing has been recognizing what the tradition invoked is, and then recognizing how far from that the individuals are likely to stray. On googling, one can easily find oneself finding only the most formal and most traditional parts of the tradition, and then have to filter that through an assessment of how closely the bereaved really hew to tradition. (I haven’t been to a “Hawaiian shirts only” funeral yet, but I did attend a very nice memorial service which doubled as a dixieland band concert.)

  19. Sunflower*

    Totally agree with Allison that it’s fine to show up to the larger viewing but I would not stay for the mass or service. My friend’s father passed away after a long illness and his boss came to the viewing. Stopped in and said hi and just reassured him that he should take as much time off as he needed. He wasn’t especially close with his boss and he had only been there for 2 years but I think it meant a lot to him.

    Keep in mind that during this viewing, he’s going to be meeting/talking with a lot of people that he probably doesn’t know. The viewing is much more of a remembrance ceremony with joking around and story telling and from the viewings I’ve been too, it tends to be more laughter than tears. The funeral seems to be the sad, more emotional part of it. This is by no means a blanket statement but just something I’ve observed.

    1. Rater Z*

      This is what I found when my father died, back in 1961. We had the viewing in three parts — Sat. afternoon, Sat. evening, and Sunday afternoon. The funeral was Monday noon, and after that, we had the problem of figuring out how to dispose of everything since none of us kids lived nearby and our mother had been gone for 15 years. During the viewing, for me, it was a matter of talking with a lot of people I hadn’t seen in years, so catching up with what they were doing and talking over old memories was great.

      Nobody from work was there — they were 250 miles away and had their own problems I didn’t know about until I got back there. My dad died on Wed., then on Friday night, the father-in-law of one of those I worked with was murdered where he lived in Europe. So, he and his wife were on a flight headed across the Atlantic on the weekend and the ones left were overwhelmed by the workload the two of us left behind. Yet, when I checked in to let them know what was happening with me, nothing was said.

      Six months later, my shift supervisor died suddenly from cancer she didn’t know she had. I was at the viewing and I think several I worked with were there as well. I had a good talk with her husband whom I might have met once in the two years I had worked with Barb. The rough part there was my uncle in Ohio died a day or so later and there was no way I could make it there because of work. The supervisor and I (between us) were probably doing half the bills the six people at night were doing in total. There was just no way to go and keep the freight the company was handling delivered. I still feel bad about that 25 years later.

  20. j*

    In my experience, it wouldn’t be unusual for bosses or coworkers to attend the wake/visitation, but not the actual funeral. With wakes I’ve been to, just about everyone you know stops by (whether or not they knew the deceased). It’s just a sign of respect, to show that person that they’re in your thoughts. But I’ve really only been to Catholic wake/funerals in the Midwest. I imagine that these things vary a lot by region, religion, and culture.

  21. CDM*

    The rule I’ve always gone by is the visitation is for those who know the family, the funeral for those who know the deceased.

    I don’t think bosses or co-workers can go wrong attending a visitation, or a funeral that is large and public. I wouldn’t go to a funeral that is on a small scale without knowing the deceased personally.

    When my son died, my mother’s boss and several co-workers drove five+ hours each way to attend his large, public funeral. 12 years later, it still amazes me that they made such an effort out of respect and caring for my mother, and by extension, for my son and for us. I can’t even count the number of co-workers and bosses from OldJob and from DH’s job who came.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh, I could feel the tears coming up as I read your story. Yep that would do it for me, what a show of support for your mom and, in turn, you. I am sorry for your loss.

  22. Claudia M.*

    I lost my dad last year, and my immediate boss was crazy supportive. I appreciated her coming to the memorial. But my boss and I were very close, and I’m lucky to have that kind of supportive working environment. If any of my other bosses had come (multiple level management) I would have felt a little awkward.

    At the end of the day, seeing people appreciate the wonderful person my dad was mattered most. Whether my boss showed was irrelevant at the time. And still is. I was too distraught to even care or think straight at the time and it was only months later that I even thought to thank her for the support.

    The OP: Take a look at your working relationship and make the best judgment. Or straight up ask the person if they would want you there – if you have that kind of relationship. This will vary greatly depending on the individual, and grief makes you a funny person who makes odd decisions for awhile…

    1. kac*

      I would be really touched if my boss came, but I wouldn’t be upset if she didn’t. However, I would be really uncomfortable fielding questions about “what I wanted her to do.”

      I have a hard time letting people do things for me (I’m much more comfortable doing things for other people, instead.), and when grieving deciding what I want to eat is hard enough. That kind of a question would feel like a huge burden.

    2. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Agreed, my boss and I are fairly close. She and another coworker (with whom I was close friends with outside of work) came to my father-in-law’s funeral. It wouldn’t have hurt my feelings if she hadn’t come because she did acknowledge my loss by making sure my work was covered and making sure nobody bothered me about work-related things while I was out. But it was nice to see her at the service, which was large and public.

      My father-in-law died by suicide and my boss had also lost a cousin the same way, so I think that made a difference. Even though she had never met my father-in-law (and had only met my husband briefly), I think she wanted to show support as a fellow survivor.

    3. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys*

      +1 on asking what they want/need.

      I’ve only had to deal with employee deaths, but have asked the family what they wanted as employees wanted to contribute in some way. Some ask for donations to favorite charities, others have left it up to the individuals.

  23. Collie*

    My brother died over the summer (it was unexpected and he was in his early 20s, so it was a big deal) and my dad’s boss (and a couple coworkers/ex-coworkers) showed up for the wake and the funeral (which were held on the same day), but did not stay for the burial/mercy meal. The company, his department, and individuals also sent cards and gave to the fund set up for my brother’s kids in lieu of flowers (might’ve also sent food? Frankly, that time was confusing and such so I don’t remember all of the specifics). When Grandma passed in October (Dad’s mom), the boss and coworkers showed for the wake, but not the funeral.

    From this, I kind of got the sense that it depended on the severity of the impact of the death as to what was appropriate. I think sending cards/flowers would have been appropriate for Grandma as well, but appearing for the wake was a nice gesture, especially since my family was hit so hard this year (these two deaths were just two of the many things that happened…I can’t wait for 2017, but I’m digressing). Obviously, people will react differently, but I’d say most people think it’s nice that a boss/coworker shows even just briefly and to offer condolences. The family will probably be distracted enough with grief that they wouldn’t notice if you didn’t go but would be pleasantly surprised if you did.

    And, further context — my dad and his boss aren’t that close, from what I understand. He’s worked there for 11 years now but does not have an overall favorable opinion of his boss.

    My coworkers did not come (I had to fly home, so, uh, I never would have expected them to, anyway) but I did get several cards/a group card/contribution to the fund as well.

    1. kac*

      (I know this isn’t the point of your post, but: I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a sh*t year, and especially to hear about your brother. Just wanted to send a little solidarity and love to you through the internet. <3)

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      Oh man, you’ve had an especially rough year. I am so sorry for your loss. Here’s hoping 2017 is an improvement!

    3. Collie*

      Thanks all. It’s been relevant a few times on AAM and I always feel bad bringing it up (“ugh, her again? she wants MORE pitiy?”), but it’s truly my intent just to use this awful year to other’s benefit as much as possible. But I do appreciate your sympathies. Here’s to a better 2017!

      1. fposte*

        But it’s a loss that deserves notice, Collie, which is kind of what we’re talking about here. We would hardly be thinking that you were seeking pity to mention such losses, I promise.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        (As someone who mentions my own losses and frequently posts about the grieving process….) I think your stories are good for the discussion here. Not only is it healthy for you to share what you see/learn, it helps others to learn also. OP is not the only one who can get benefit from what you are saying, we all can.

        If you watch, the people who comment about attention seeking or pity seeking, probably have not had much experience OR they have had experiences but never learned about the grieving process. A good response is to just move along and find other people. There are plenty of people who get it, find those folks.

        And you are 100% correct, we need to use our grief to help other people. It helps us to sort our own grief.

        I am sorry for your losses. I hope the new year brings you many heart warming moments.

  24. DCGirl*

    I know links are problematic here, but if you get a chance Google an essay on National Public Radio (NPR)’s “This I Believe” series titled “Always Go to the Funeral”. It’s how I try to live my life.

    1. kac*

      Just read that essay at your recommendation. Wow, really moving piece of writing and beautiful words to live by.

    2. Colorado*

      I just went and read this and without knowing, I’ve tried to live my life this way too. I don’t think there could ever be a case of “too many” people showing up for a funeral. I think if you’re questioning whether to go or don’t go – always err on the side of go.

      1. Anion*

        Agreed, and that’s a good way to put it, I think: if you’re not sure, then go. It’s better to go, even if it means people feel slightly intruded upon, than it is to not go and have them feeling like you don’t care about them or their loss.

        When a good friend’s mom died years ago (we were all only twenty-one/two at the time), my boyfriend–who was even closer to the Friend than I was–didn’t go to the funeral. I did, and I never fully forgave him for that; it was one of the things that (indirectly) led to our break-up several months later, actually, because I just couldn’t get over the fact that he put his personal feelings of “It’s depressing and I’m uncomfortable with the idea of death” over the feelings of one of his best friends who’d just suffered a tremendous loss.

    3. AnonAnalyst*

      I stumbled across this a few months ago when I was trying to figure out if it would be appropriate to go to a funeral for someone I didn’t really know directly but who had been a close friend of a loved one and it really resonated with me. I think it was actually the last article or advice I read on the subject before making the decision to go (it still felt awkward being there, but in hindsight I think it was the right move).

  25. Jessesgirl72*

    I would say yes to the visitation, and no to the funeral. There are a lot of people not close to the deceased at visitations/wakes/calling hours. The actual funerals I have gone to have had a lot fewer people there, and a boss’s presence could be more noticeable and potentially intrusive.

    I also think this should be something you do only if you really want to. What is really awkward is when someone attends who is clearly only doing it out of obligation.

  26. Oryx*

    This is so dependent on region and office culture, I think. Here, the visitation is understood to be more open while the funeral service is intimate. So I would say yes to the first but no to the second.

  27. EddieSherbert*

    I really like Alison’s advice! I’d also like to add my voice to the groups saying (unless you’re a coworker and a close friend), maybe just go to the wake or visitation. In my experience, that was the time that a lot of people roll through to show their support, and the actual funeral is more private.

    Even if I preferred privacy or felt weird about, I would understand and appreciate the gesture of coworkers showing up to the wake/visitation. I’d probably have a more negative reaction to them showing up at the funeral.

  28. Jake*

    I work really really really hard to keep my emotions in check at work. It is a daily struggle. Having my boss witness me breakdown at my wife’s funeral is not what I want. Intellectually I’d appreciate the gesture, but in reality, it’d be horrible.

  29. Just Julie*

    I was 10 when my grandmother died. I remember my uncle receiving a call from his boss at the WAKE with questions about work. Cell phones were not common at that point so I was fascinated that he had one. He stayed just long enough in the position to find a new position.

    I don’t think it necessarily matters if you show up for the funeral or not, but give the time off to grieve.

    Also if you have the power to change HR policies, make it so they have an adequate time off to attend the funeral. my previous company gave 3 days which is fine if you are not having to make funeral arrangements or live close by. However, most of my vacation days went one year to attend other grandmothers funeral across country.

  30. Rachel*

    Just as a useful cultural note: in Jewish traditions, I would have no expectation of people making it to the funeral, because we do it as fast as humanly possible. Truly. My brother didn’t make it to my grandmother’s funeral, because it’s more important to bury someone than to wait for relatives.

    But if a Jewish employee is mourning, then making a shiva call is very appropriate, because that’s an opportunity for the whole community to be there for the people in mourning. I make a shiva call any time a person I know is mourning even if I never met the person who died, because the point is to comfort the mourner. If I have any connection to a person who is mourning, then it’s good for me to make a shiva call, even if it’s only for ten minutes.

    There are many easy to find guides to shiva etiquette – for those who have never made a shiva call, I strongly recommend Googling first, so that you know what to expect. No flowers. Don’t ring the doorbell – the door will be over. The mourner will not greet you. Etc.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Although make sure they are actually sitting shiva first — not all Jews do :)

      (We didn’t, and it would have been quite alarming to have my boss just walk in the door one day.)

      1. Rachel*

        Jewish funeral homes around here (Chicago area) will include that info in the obit on their websites – though not in the newspaper obit.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, it’s definitely appropriate to wear black to a Jewish funeral! You don’t have to, but it wouldn’t be inappropriate. (Any subdued color is fine.)

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I still find that weird, saying you shouldn’t wear black. I wear black all the time anyway. I usually show up to a shiva house in my work clothes. Maybe they said it because it was warm out? I have no idea!

          2. HannahS*

            Huh, that still strikes me as odd. Like, I would wear casual but sombre clothing if I was paying a shiva call. I wouldn’t WEAR black the week if I was sitting shiva, simply because I don’t have a week’s worth of black clothes. I definitely wouldn’t take it as a rule that you should instead wear cheerful clothes to a shiva!

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        An echo, but yeah– who told you that? That would be a new one to me! No matter what, you shouldn’t have been told that you “messed up”, because in the grand scheme of things, you didn’t– even if this is a rule in some Jewish traditions. Like my friend’s father’s colleague who sent the ham.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          The ham is so funny. It would have been appreciated by my family of non-observant Jews.

          Speaking of which, I once sent flowers to a Jewish relative’s funeral. It didn’t even occur to me not to do it—I learned all of my funeral etiquette from the Catholic side of the family, so sending flowers is second nature to me. Whoops.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        That is odd, I was told not to wear black to a Christian funeral because it looks like you are putting on a show. (I am Protestant now.) So when I was not certain I’d wear navy blue, with almost no accessories.
        I think the truth is that very few people care.
        I remember an aunt talking about her husband’s coworker coming to her husband’s funeral. He found out late in the day and he came directly from work. His clothes were covered with concrete, paint and dirt. He apologized and explained. She said she never would have noticed his clothes if he had said nothing.

  31. WS*

    I had a grandfather unexpectedly die this past March. My manager was very understanding and gave me time off to try to get up to see him- as in, I called her Thursday night to ask for Friday off since he was 5 hours away and I didn’t want my mom to make that drive alone. (Good decision too- we got the call that he had passed while I was driving.) My manager then gave me a week off after his death, which was such a relief since it meant I didn’t have to drive back down to work only to drive 5 hours back for the funeral a few days later, sent flowers from the office, and extended the offer to have the management team come to the wake.

    I really appreciated that my boss *asked* if I wanted her and the other managers to stop by the wake. Obviously in my case it didn’t make sense for them to drive 5 hours up there (they didn’t know everything was that far away when they asked) but I appreciated that it was clear that I was free to tell her that I preferred not have coworkers/managers there and I knew she would respect that decision. I don’t know if this would work in all offices or with all managers, but I really appreciated it in my case.

    (I would definitely say at least send cards or flowers though, and be as generous as possible with leave. Because my manager was so generous in giving me a week off I could be there for my mom and grandmother more than most other relatives were, and that was very appreciated by the whole family.)

    1. TootsNYC*

      The other thing that question did was to send the message that she WOULD go, that she would indeed bestir herself simply to offer you a gesture of support at tough time.

      Sometimes that’s enough.

  32. Seal*

    My boss and coworker came to my father’s visitation, which was much appreciated; the funeral itself was listed as private in the obituary. However, the norm for the library system we worked for was to send out a message of a family member’s passing to the all staff listserv. My boss, for reasons known only to him, chose not to do that because he “didn’t think it was his place”. As a result, none of my colleagues in other departments knew why I was out for much of that week, and none of them offered their condolences. Ten years later, that still hurts.

  33. I make the computers go.*

    It’s all about the I have worked under my boss for eleven years. I have gone to him sobbing about work related stress on two occasions, he’s always had my back. If I have an immediate family member die and he doesn’t come to the big public service, I’m going to be offended. On the other hand, if something had happened during the first three years I worked for him, I would have found it extremely odd that he showed up. Flowers would always be appreciated.

    I’m seeing a lot of different descriptions visitation vs funeral, and I think Allison did a good job describing them as public service and family service. Some places the visitation is more public and other places the funeral is more public.

  34. irritable vowel*

    This question made me realize that I live in a place where most people in my profession and in my friend circle come from somewhere else. (The one exception being my own partner, who grew up here.) So this would almost never be an issue because my staff would be travelling somewhere else to attend their family member’s funeral; it would only be if their partner or child died that the funeral would be local. So, as a manager, I see my role as being as flexible as possible in allowing them time off to travel, etc. Our organization’s admin office would take care of sending flowers on behalf of the organization.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Don’t overlook the personal expression of sympathy–a handwritten letter, a short conversation/statement to them.

  35. Faith2014*

    Does ‘visitation’ mean ‘wake’? If so, I would go. I went to a wake with 2 employees for their boss (I’m a consultant). I worked with her employees mainly, but she was the one who would make final approvals so I did talk to her a fair amount. We stayed about 15 minutes.

    I heard that she was happy that the 3 of us came as a show of respect and concern. I’m Catholic, and have even given mass cards to colleagues (with the comment – verbal or written – that while they may or may not be Catholic, can it ever hurt to have people praying for the deceased and their family). I gave one to a slightly atheistic Jew for his brother’s death (he was my team lead) and he was not offended. Is it risky? Perhaps – I explain that it’s part of my faith tradition. I think non-Catholics take it as a token of care.

    What I’ve found is that SO MANY PEOPLE are uncomfortable with death and the grieving process that some people will stay away. Others don’t know what to say. So I go, stay briefly, give a simple greeting, give a card, and leave. Being unobtrusive is critical in terms of employment situations – don’t talk too much, sit up in front, take up a lot of time, etc. It’s a gesture when it’s work related, but I think it’s an important one.

  36. Liz2*

    As someone in an alternative life- I will throw in that not everyone is “out” at work about everything in their lives and having co workers show up at the worst time and somewhat force some aspects of their lives out is a nightmare for many people. If you didn’t know the person the funeral is for personally, just check first on what the employee wants.

    1. irritable vowel*

      Yes – I thought about this as well. Obviously if a manager attended a funeral/wake and ended up learning more about the employee’s life than she was making public knowledge at work, the manager should be discreet about that. But even where everything is out in the open, the manager is potentially going to be seeing the employee’s family and friends at their absolute worst–and it can be hard to completely dismiss that impression afterwards, even if it’s not indicative of how the employee’s family normally is. Lots of people wouldn’t want that to seep into their work life, and maybe especially not at their manager’s level. So, I agree that it would be completely appropriate to say to the employee something like, “I want to support you in a way that you’re comfortable with. If you’d be open to me attending your dad’s funeral, I can do that. But if you’d rather keep work and personal life separate, that’s totally fine, too.”

    2. Bob Barker*

      Or you can do what I did, and just not tell anyone at work about it at all. (The memorial was on a Saturday; I flew down and back same day for it.) That’s kind of a drastic solution, stressful in its own way, but when your workplace or boss has boundary issues, it’s a solution that has some appeal.

  37. Rusty Shackelford*

    In my area, from least to most familial/intimate, it would be funeral service > visitation > graveside service. As a coworker, I would never go to the last two unless I knew the bereaved or deceased very well. And personally, since I’m also on the “prefers privacy” end of the spectrum, I would never be hurt if my boss or coworkers didn’t attend a family funeral (in fact, I’d be downright offended if some of them came). But as others have said, this varies greatly, and you just have to try to have a feel for what the bereaved would want.

  38. Billy*

    Wow, I had no idea death was handled so differently in different parts of the US. In my region, visitation time is for the family and close friends to exchange intimate memories of the deceased, and the funeral is a much more public scripted event open to whoever shows up.

  39. Aaron*

    My two cents: I lost my mom a few years ago, and I can tell you that it was incredibly meaningful and surprising when my whole department (it was a small one – team of 5 or so, and we were all quite close) showed up to the public memorial service. In particular, my boss and her boss were so caring and sensitive. It left a real impact on me, and I’ll never forget what they did for me.

    Alison’s last comment is exactly on point, too. They were awesome about accommodating me as I needed, though I’m the type that wanted to be in work because doing something I enjoyed kept me busy and not thinking about my loss. But it was great knowing that I had whatever flexibility I needed.

  40. BabyShark*

    This is fascinating to me and maybe just because of the culture of my firm but I guess I’ve experienced it on both ends. My father passed a few months after I started my job and I would have been mortified if my boss showed up to the funeral (it was out of town) but that’s mostly because I was a sobbing mess and only 25. I know if it had been local I would have likely had a few coworkers and probably my bosses there because that’s the southern family culture we have here.

    A few months ago, the mother of one of my legal assistants passed after a very long illness and it was not unexpected. The legal assistant is in her late sixties and the funeral was much more of a celebration but as soon as I heard the news, my initial thought was “of course I’m going to that.” It honestly never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t and I was the only attorney from the firm who could make it so I’m glad I was there. The LA was incredibly appreciative that I came.

  41. Boo*

    Personally I would really rather not have to go through an emotionally draining day with people from work around to see me, however well they meant it. That being said I do recognise that this will vary from office and individual.

    What I would say is equally if not more important is how you treat your employee before, during and after this difficult time. Make sure they aren’t worrying about work or when they have to return to work on top of funeral arrangements and everything else and ensure that their work is delegated appropriately so they’re not hit in the face with it on their first day back. Allow them whatever reasonable time they need to sort things out and to grieve; dragging them back early or straight after the allotted compassionate leave will result in a very unhappy and unproductive employee. Basically be kind, be thoughtful. Send flowers and a card, and ensure before you send it that nobody has accidentally and absent mindedly written “happy birthday” or just their name. Be mindful that they won’t be back to 100% for a while after returning to work. Offer support, send them links to your EAP if you have one or counselling etc. Oh and be prepared for them to need sick leave when they return – I’ve noticed bereavement tends to knock one’s immune system for six. I caught everything under the sun for about 6 months after losing my dad.

    I lost my dad a few years ago and nearly lost my mum shortly after. My boss at the time was on the surface quite understanding, then on the same day I told her my mum had the all clear, she blasted me for poor performance which seemed to come out of the blue given that she was aware of what I was dealing with. I had a friend in the same company who lost both his parents in the same year, and was told that he’d used the maximum compassionate leave when his first parent passed away and because it was in the same 12 month period he wasn’t allowed any more time off. Fortunately he worked in a satellite office with a more understanding boss who told him to take whatever time he needed and simply informed HR when they rang to check on him that he was in but not at his desk. Don’t be like them. It’s not the kind of thing you can easily forgive or forget as an employee or a person.

  42. Minnesota*

    Since my parents have both died I have a different perspective on this. I go to a lot more funerals (or visititations). And I send a lot more cards/memorials when I can’t go. In my experience, people really appreciate your presence and your effort. You don’t need to spend a lot of time, but I am a big proponent of going when possible.

  43. Nameless*

    I work in the same industry that my father was in before he retired, and this reminds me that if he has a funeral (he says he doesn’t really want one but that his survivors can do whatever makes them happy), it will be full of my coworkers, which will make the whole thing a little more awful than it has to be.

  44. Artemesia*

    I remember going to the visitation with two of my other female colleagues when the Admin for our department lost her father. It was obvious that she was both deeply touched and proud to be able to show off that the important people she worked with thought enough of her to attend. It was clearly the right thing to do. On another occasion, my boss went to the funeral of his own admin’s mother and he told me that he was the only other person there besides two of her relatives and she was so grateful and touched.

    I don’t think you can go wrong by attending a public event like a funeral for a subordinate and it will make a powerful impression. After seeing how important it was to our admin that we attended, I was sorry that that had not always been my policy.

    1. Liz2*

      You can go wrong by mixing work and personal life without checking first. Very wrong. Just because someone on their end died doesn’t mean they want that wall between work and personal to come down. As I mentioned in another post, maybe they are in the closet about their partner, or maybe having multiple partners, or some other personal part of their lives they have intentionally kept separate from work for whatever reason which would be naturally apparent at a personal event.

      I am sure a LOT of people would love and appreciate their work life showing definitive physical support. But a lot wouldn’t and it would be very wrong to presume on their behalf rather than just checking first.

  45. LawCat*

    I would not like it at all if a boss showed up, even bosses who have been great and I had a great relationship with. It’s too personal to me and I would feel my family’s privacy was invaded. A card and flowers would be appreciated though.

    And on the last paragraph: 1000%, and A+

    I was not close to my FIL, who passed last year, and I only needed a day to help my MIL with sorting through some things (my spouse took off a few extra days). When I alerted my boss that I needed a day, she was adamant that I take as much time as needed to help my family and not to worry about anything with work. I could have taken a couple weeks off and it would have been totally okay. That meant a lot!

  46. Julia*

    When one of my relatives died, my company made a donation to one of the charities listed in the obituary (as an “in lieu of flowers” thing). I found it very touching, and thought it was a great, low-key method of acknowledgment.

    As, as a Catholic from New England, my POV is that the wake is the more open, social event, but generally only family and close friends go to the funeral. YMMV.

    1. Annie Moose*

      As a Protestant from Michigan, that’s been my experience as well! The visitation is what you go to when you just want to drop in and check on the family, pay your respects, etc. A lot more casual. The funeral is what you go to if you seriously knew the person or if you’re very close to their family, it’s a lot more… emotionally intense, I guess you could say?

      But from reading the responses in this thread, it’s clear it varies a great deal more than I expected! After seeing the variation, I have to agree with those who’ve suggested asking the employee themselves, if you’re not sure. And flowers/card/food/etc. would pretty much always be appropriate (but not flowers it’s a Jewish funeral, as previously mentioned), regardless of whether or not you attend in person.

      1. TootsNYC*

        The other thing with the visitations I’ve gone to is that the emotions don’t run as high; there are usually lots of people in the room, and so there’s a greater likelihood that the employee will be composed.

        I’d also say–don’t stay terribly long, esp. if it’s small.

      2. An Emily*

        As a Protestant in Michigan, I think exactly the opposite! I grew up with the understanding that you ALWAYS go to the funeral & I’m honestly still a little bit hurt that my best friend at the time didn’t come to my father’s funeral when he passed.

      3. Chinook*

        “But from reading the responses in this thread, it’s clear it varies a great deal more than I expected! After seeing the variation, I have to agree with those who’ve suggested asking the employee themselves, if you’re not sure. ”

        Even within the same religious community, I have learned it can vary greatly. My church ladies group has a set standard of what we offer to do when a group member or a member of their family dies. We have learned to ask rather than assume because we have had people different things.

  47. animaniactoo*

    The way I’ve seen this handled the best is when the message comes from HR about what the grieving person wants. Either they’re open to people coming and here’s the funeral/wake/etc. info, or they would prefer privacy please, and if anyone would like to send flowers, here’s the funeral/wake/etc. info.

    I think the best thing you can do in this situation is talk to the employee’s manager about finding out their preferences so that you can figure out the right path, and making it standard for HR to check in with the employee/manager if it happens without the forewarning that you have this time.

    1. Transformer*

      Yes. Its weird to me that this question is left up to one to guess the appropriate response based on a relationship. I think having one person ask the employee’s preferences will remove the stress by communicating to everyone else.

  48. Kirsten*

    When my grandma died, three people from management at my dad’s company drove four hours each way to rural Nebraska to be at the funeral, and then left immediately after to go back (after briefly offering condolences). I know this is not the norm and that it varies by person, but my dad was incredibly touched by it. I think the way that they did it was also part of why it went over so well- they didn’t make a big scene, but stood respectfully off to the side and didn’t interrupt any family time. I think it also helped that the company isn’t super hierarchical and my dad has been in middle management type roles at times too. While I understand that not all people would appreciate it, in our situation we found it incredibly thoughtful and it is one of my more salient memories from the day because it made such a good impression.

    1. TootsNYC*

      My mom said this as well–when her father died, she was SO bolstered by realizing that the funeral was packed with people who would have had to take time off from work/farming and travel to be there.

      She didn’t interact with them much, but they were THERE. And it comforted her.

      (I don’t remember if there was a visitation.)

  49. Chickie Manages It All*

    When my former father-in-law died a few years back, I noted that one gentleman who arrived at the funeral home. He greeted my former mother-in-law, held her hand for a moment as he talked with her, peeked in the casket, and was out the door. All done in literally three minutes.

    Turns out he was someone who worked with my MIL before she retired. He didn’t want to intrude, he just wanted to offer his condolences and support.

    It was perfect.

    1. OhNo*

      I think that is key, whichever version of the mourning tradition you go to (there seems to be some debate over which is more public, funerals or visitations or wakes). Make it fast, and make it all about the person who is actively grieving. Obviously this will vary a bit based on the person, but a brief, heartfelt comment will be sufficient for most people. Cards and/or flowers usually go okay, too.

      This is a slightly different situation, but I have a great deal of respect for the coworkers of my mother that showed up at her funeral a few years ago – they kept to themselves and didn’t try to insinuate themselves into the family groups/conversations, but when it came time for them to pay their respects they all had very kind (and very brief) things to say to my brother and I. They also didn’t hang around after the service, but just very quietly left after they’d expressed their sympathies. It was very well done, and that’s the model I’m planning to follow if I ever need to go to the funeral/visitation of a coworker or a coworker’s family member.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I like it when people who make a short visit take the time to sign the guest book. It helps me remember in years to come.

  50. laceymay*

    I’d lean toward going unless there’s some kind of acrimony/poor relationship between yourself and the employee concerned (and as managers that does happen!). I live in rural Ireland and until I moved here I would very much not have gone to the wake/funeral unless I actually knew the person who had died. Now whenever an employee’s relative passes my absence from the wake/funeral would be conspicuous and noted. I don’t know if it’s the same for small-town America but the geography does matter too (I’m from a big city in Ireland where it wouldn’t be as customary to attend funerals of this type).

    The only time I’ve ever heard of an employee not appreciating the gesture was when they had a poor relationship with the boss concerned and their presence added to the difficulties of an already horrible day.

  51. Kittymommy*

    A friend of mine had a similar question on his Facebook a few weeks back. Over whelming the consensus was if it is a public funeral (ie not a private, family only event) if you are wondering if your should go, you should go. Over buried every single onen of my immediate family, just third and fourth cousins are left. None I’d the cheetahs were family only and I remember every one who showed up. I may not have been close to them or they were work only people, but I remember and it meant a lot then and it means a lot now. I’m not a very emotional person and I’m pretty private person as well, but even now, quite a few years since the last one died, it still impacts me.

  52. stk*

    I’d suggest trying to ask/work out what the staff member would want. I think in some ways this would be easier as a manager: if someone is already asking them about their leave needs, for instance, “What would you like me to tell the rest of the department about the service?” or “Please let me know if you’d like me to attend the service” or something similar should be fairly easy to include in the conversation.

  53. TV Researcher*

    My mom passed away about three weeks after I left a job to go to grad school. They knew she had been sick, because she’d been in and out of the hospital for most of the prior year.

    I was very pleasantly surprised when many of my former co-workers and my immediate boss showed up at the funeral, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when my boss’ boss and her boss showed up at the shivah call. It really meant a lot to me that they showed, as they didn’t have to (especially since I wasn’t even working there when my mom did pass).

  54. TotesMaGoats*

    I agree that it entirely depends on the person and if you can find out their preference then do that.

    IME, I appreciated that my staff came to the service we had for my premature daughter but that my bosses only sent flowers. But it was all the VPs at my university so it was a big deal that they sent something.

    One of my staff had her father pass and I absolutely went to the funeral. But I knew her so it was appreciated.

    I went but it felt weird to thefuneral of a colleague who died suddenly. He was my level and my department but I didn’t know him well. I went to support his staff who were a wreck. (I held their hands thru the service.) our university packed out the church to attend as he had worked there for a while.

  55. LQ*

    When my grandfather passed we had a party. (A giant, loud, heck of a party party.) Some people who weren’t close to the family were kind of upset about it and a few expressed frustration that we didn’t have a wake, visitation, funeral, or graveside service. Everyone was welcome, we put it in the papers etc.

    Immediate family who could, had all spent the prior week sitting with him as he died, grieving and fighting. And we knew he was crystal clear that he wanted a party not the wake and funeral.

    Don’t tell people who are grieving that they are doing it wrong. Even if it isn’t your tradition.
    (Sorry for this, I just have seen a lot of people commenting about different kinds of services and hadn’t seen something like this represented yet.)

    1. KR*

      I didn’t realize until now that people call the after-funeral get together a reception and have in the past referred to it as the “funeral after-party” because I didn’t know what to call it (not out loud to everyone but to a trusted relative in a big family who I was sure would know what I meant). I kind of like after-party though.

      1. LQ*

        I think there is sometimes something after the reception that I’ve only ever been to when it was very close family/friends and it was usually part house cleaning, part sitting on the floor with beloved things telling stories and crying, part thank you note writing. That’s what I’d call the after-party, usually way too much food, sometimes lots of booze. (Now I’m worried that my families are the only ones that do that…)

        The reception I would think of as the food at the church after the ceremony.

        There are lots of moving parts to lots of different kinds of grief ceremonies.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        We call it a reception and sometimes it gets very loud with lots of joking. We blame our heritage for this loudness. A person of a different heritage was totally shocked by our boldness, this person said they do the exact opposite, everyone is extremely somber and rolling on the floor in tears is acceptable.

        Eh, grief dresses up in all kinds of different costumes.

  56. coffepwnd*

    Second-In-Command Boss:

    1 . If you have to ask us, you probably shouldn’t go to this employees’ family members funeral.

    2. 99% of their family are going to wonder why the heck you are there unless you are REALLY close to this employee and have quite a bit of insight into their personal life (personal interests, education, work interests, romantic life, home life, family life, emotional support).

    Basically, are you like their 2nd dad/grandpa or are you someone this person really looks up to as a professional role model?

    3. AND are you 100% sure this person doesn’t just kiss your ass because you’re the #2 boss? Most people are psychopaths when it comes to work relationships. Love them in public, hate them in private, ya know?

    1. OP*

      Well, let’s see-

      1. Like every other user of the site, I asked to get Alison’s opinion and hear from the group, since I thought it would be totally appropriate and my spouse disagreed. We don’t have an HR department and it hasn’t come up before in this office.

      2. Going through the comments, it seems like many people do appreciate the support of their boss and colleagues. Guess that’s a pretty large 1%.

      3. I don’t care if the employee loves me or hates me- they had a death. in. their. family. I want to do whatever I can to support them in whatever way they need or want.

      1. Anion*

        OP, I disagree strongly with coffepwnd here, and I’m glad you’ve seen/are seeing the many comments saying how touched they’d be. Personally, I’m touched that you have even had the thought and are concerned enough about it to ask; to me (and I hope I don’t sound patronizing or anything) it shows that you’re a good person and probably a good manager as well.

        Go to whichever is the more public service. If the employee appears to be doing okay, go up, take her hand, and tell her how sorry you are for her loss. If she seems surprised or uncomfortable to see you, tell her that unfortunately you can’t stay long (thus informing her, basically, that she needn’t worry you’ll be there watching her grieve), but you wanted to let her know that you’re thinking of her and her family, and that if there’s anything you can do to let you know.

        If she doesn’t appear to be doing okay, like if she’s a crying mess, try to stay out of her line of sight until she’s gotten herself together a bit and then go over and do the sorry-for-your-loss bit, with the “I can’t stay long” line. If that doesn’t happen and she continues to be a mess, you might want to just sign the guestbook and go.

        As soon as possible, you/her direct boss/both should decide what you’re giving her as far as PTO or TO. Put it in writing, and email it or have someone give it to her–don’t take it to the funeral, of course. That way she knows upfront/asap how much time she can take or whatever other arrangements the company is making, and it’s written down so she doesn’t have to trust her likely overtaxed memory.

        And I’m not a fan of flowers, personally, and think they’re a pain to deal with. When someone with whom I have a close personal-business relationship (I’m worried about “outing” him or myself here, and if I described the exact nature of the relationship it would be rather easy to figure it out) lost his boss, who was the owner of the company–they’d basically been in a business partnership for over twenty years, and it was a very sudden and unexpected loss–a couple of his other personal-business associates and I got together and sent over a luxury muffin/snacks basket. We figured they’d have enough flowers. :-) When he called me a week or so later, he told me the basket was the best thing they’d been sent; since he, the third partner, and the office assistant were all having a hard time remembering to eat and/or finding the time to go out and get something in the midst of all the personal stress, sadness, and extra work, it was a great relief to them to have something ready-to-eat that wasn’t messy and catered to pretty much every taste (and wasn’t the ubiquitous sandwich tray). So if you guys are thinking of sending something, it might be worth looking a little outside the box–all the stories here of freezers full of lasagna and sandwich trays seem to bear that out, too. :-)

        I hope that helps!

      2. Candi*

        This is one of the most awesome LW comments/replies I have yet seen on this site.

        And I just love #3. You are an awesome boss.

    2. fposte*

      I think that’s a pretty narrow view of human relationships, though. Sure, if you hate your boss she may be the last person you want to see at a funeral (or, you know, the first, but as the guest of honor). But a lot of us like our bosses and colleagues, and a lot of us would find it meaningful for them to pay their respects.

    3. LBK*

      Most people are psychopaths when it comes to work relationships.

      Whoa, no, most people do not live in House of Cards. I’m not saying I don’t put on a nice face for some of the people I’m not as fond of in the office, but I definitely do not hate anyone to the point that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate them showing sympathy if I lost a loved one.

      I think you may have just had a bad series of toxic environments, because this doesn’t sound normal at all from my experience.

      1. Faith*

        “but I definitely do not hate anyone to the point that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate them showing sympathy if I lost a loved one.”

        There are some people I would happily knock down if I had to work with them again, but even them showing up briefly to pay respects would make them more likeable in my eyes.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I hope you find a nicer work place. The people that you are meeting sound very harsh/cruel.

      Not everyone is like that. There are sincere people out there.

  57. Jules the First*

    In my opinion, you go to the visitation at the funeral home and sign the condolence book (assuming there is a visitation/condolence book); you go to the funeral only if invited or if the funeral is publicly announced. And this would apply only to mother-father-sibling-child, not grandparents or other more distant bereavements.

  58. James*

    I think it depends a great deal on the relationship between the boss and the employee. If they had a good relationship it would be good to make an appearance if you can (it’s not obligatory as far as I can tell). If you have a bad relationship it can make the situation much, much worse for everyone involved. I’ve been at funerals where former a former boss made an appearance, and we had to very carefully keep them away from various family members to avoid physical violence.

    Emotions run VERY strong at funerals–it’s a sad time to begin with, many people are running on lack of sleep, family gatherings always have a host of complications anyway, and people all greave in different ways. If you think your presence could cause a problem, don’t risk it.

  59. Queen Anon*

    Please don’t do that. Go to the visitation/viewing, but please, please do not interfere with your employee’s grief at the funeral. The two of you are not friends. Just don’t. (I know that’s strong, but I’ve thought about any of my previous or current bosses showing up at my dad’s funeral, even the ones I liked and got along well with, and it just makes me feel nauseated. I’m so glad it was 1000 miles away and the couldn’t have.)

    1. Editor*

      My reaction is so different. My grandmother died when I was in high school. My uncle worked for IBM, and his boss and the boss’s boss showed up for the visitation and funeral. They expressed their condolences and then made themselves useful. They set up and took down chairs, ran errands, and were friendly and unobtrusive. It made a huge, positive impression on me.

      When my husband died unexpectedly after a short hospital stay, we held visitation before the funeral. A few of his co-workers and mine came to visitation but left, and some came to both. It really mattered to me that they came. I was disappointed that my two direct reports did not come and did not email, although they did send flowers.

      I grew up with a tradition of attending funerals or going to visitations if you knew anyone in the family, and I have gone to funerals of people I only knew through work. For some people, the number of people at the funeral is a mark of the value of the person who died. I consider being at the funeral a way of affirming the worth of the person who died, an act of respect to the family, and a recognition of the inevitable cycles of life and my personal faith, (although I am pretty reticent about my religious beliefs in regard to death and don’t use them when expressing condolences). When I can’t be there, I write a note. The notes I received after my husband died were a great consolation–never underestimate the value of a personal anecdote that’s a good memory of the deceased.

      For context, my experience comes from being Protestant and living in suburban and rural New York, Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

      1. Chinook*

        ” They expressed their condolences and then made themselves useful. They set up and took down chairs, ran errands, and were friendly and unobtrusive. It made a huge, positive impression on me.”

        The unobtrusive part is what is important to me. DH’s job has an actual death rate (enough that we have discussed his potential funeral) and the funeral’s are always public (because if they were private, people question what really happened). Besides knowing that I would be devastated by his death, I am also dreading having to deal with his colleagues, coworkers and various bigwigs that you see at these things. Somehow, I don’t think the family gets a whole lot of room for comfort and condolence because it very often becomes about the larger organization and what they do. DH has described attending these funeral ceremonies and the families seem like an after thought (unless they make a good photo op). The idea of his bosses coming in and setting up chairs, ensuring there was enough food and helping with all those small details that go with any group gathering to me would mean so much more than a sea of red serge and brass or endless words of condolences.

  60. TheCupcakeCounter*

    My husband deals with this regularly. He is an operations manager and has 30+ people that report up through him (he is not always their direct supervisor but has final decisions on all employee actions). He will generally go to the visitation for all immediate relatives of his employees as long as it is within a reasonable distance. Rarely does he go to the funeral and never to the luncheon after. His stance is that employees are important to the organization and they should feel supported without feeling intruded upon and the visitation is usually a bit less emotional for the bereaved with the focus as much or more on the family than the deceased.

    1. OP*

      I think this is the stand I’ll make, it seems appropriately balanced between support and not being intrusive. Public visitation- yes, funeral- no. Thank you to everyone for your good comments!!!

  61. rachel*

    I like Allison’s last paragraph and I like the public/ private rule or thumb. If the family is holding a public service or event, then I would go. (Shiva call – yes. Public memorial – yes. Public wake or viewing – yes.) If its a small private service or burial, I would send card/ flowers etc. They will extend an invite or signal to you if they wish you to be there.

  62. chocoholic*

    I feel like if I am questioning whether I should go to something, I usually err on the side of going. Not that I attend many funerals, but for me, the funeral and visitation seem fairly interchangeable and if you can’t make the funeral for whatever reason, you can attend the visitation and pay your respects that way.

  63. Meg Murry*

    In my area calling hours (which I guess is what some people call visitation) tend to be the night before the funeral, and/or immediately before the funeral, and typically wind up with a receiving line type of scenario. Maybe my scenario is colored by family members that mostly work jobs where they have no flexibility to leave mid-day, but the example my parents set was to always go to the evening calling hours, but not go to the funeral except for close family members or close friends.

    As to the OP herself, since she isn’t the direct boss of the grieving employee, the other thing that she could do that would be kind is to offer to the manager to step in to assist while that employee is out, or perhaps to provide coverage so the direct manager or good work friends would be free to attend the visitation or funeral services.

    1. SharonR*

      This reminded me, when my Father died, most of my aunt’s and uncle’s spent lots of time at our house. One wasn’t there at all. It was noticeably weird. Turns out she was in our families shop, cleaning the kitchen and serving customers ( she had worked there previously) . When I thanked her after the fact she told me that since she wasn’t a regular visitor before he died she didn’t felt she would be a bigger support keeping the shop ticking over while we weren’t able to focus on it.
      I cannot say enough how much that meant to us. The small practical stuff really is amazing when you think back.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Now you are making me remember the time at a funeral that some relatives showed up with a bunch of deli platters because they owned a deli. No one had asked them to do it, but it seemed like a really thoughtful gesture. Later they presented the family with a bill for the food.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes! The story got told for decades in my family. (In fact, I’m now making a note to tell it on Thanksgiving so that it gets passed down to my nieces.)

        1. SharonR*

          A bill?!
          Actually, I don’t know why I’m so surprised. My dad’s mother came to my dad’s funeral and asked the funeral director to arrange for some flowers.
          And then told him my Mother would pay for them.
          Families are weird. Sometimes the only way to survive them is to have a good laugh at them!

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I assume that any platters received after that were viewed suspiciously. (Am shaking my head.)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I remember one family member, who could not emotionally handle a funeral, volunteered to sit with the house for the widow while we all went to the funeral. She told me that she felt good knowing someone was in the house while the funeral was going on.

        1. Rater Z*

          That is something which is recommended. Unfortunately, there are criminals who read the obits to see which houses will be empty for them to visit during the funeral.

  64. Michelle*

    I am a very private person. If there was a public memorial/wake/visitation, I would be fine with my boss/coworkers attending that. If I was having a more private funeral, for family and friends, I would not want my boss/coworkers to attend.

  65. Anonon*

    In my experience (Protestant, Southern), the norm is for boss and coworkers to attend the funeral if it’s in town. If there’s a gathering before/after (what a lot of people are calling a wake/visitation; what I’d call a reception) or interment/graveside burial in addition to the funeral, that’s more intimate, and not appropriate for work people to attend unless they’re also personal friends.

    1. Faith*

      Midwest Catholic here – wakes are before the funeral. There can be a reception/lunch after the funeral attended by people who were at the funeral.

      I had no idea how different the wordings/traditions are across the country.

  66. Mrs. Proudie*

    I agree with those that recommend asking directly or asking a trusted co-worker. It depends on your relationship and on the employee’s desire for privacy. When my father died, the only co-workers I wanted at the memorial service were those with whom I was friends outside of work. My boss found out the details and shared them with the entire staff. To make it worse, staff then stood around during the reception talking about work and complaining about our company president. I did not appreciate it, and did not want to share something so personal with everyone I worked with.
    When the mother of one of my employees died, I asked another employee she is close with about going to the calling hours. I was encouraged to go, and she was very touched that I showed up.

  67. Tiny_Tiger*

    If I were the employee in this situation, I wouldn’t really want my boss or really any coworkers (with the exception of maybe 2 people and even then I wouldn’t expect them to be there) to attend a funeral of a family member. I can usually deal with grief pretty well on my own, but I largely need to be left alone to do it. And even more so, I don’t need my boss or my coworkers seeing me as a blubbering mess on any occasion. Only 1 person at work has ever seen me cry and I’d like to keep it that way. So yes, it really does come down to a person-by-person basis and how well you know this employee. When in doubt you can always ask if they’d like the support of their coworkers at the funeral.

  68. Honeybee*

    I think I’m on the medium to high end of “wants privacy in my personal life” from bosses and coworkers I’m not friends with outside of work, and I don’t think I would want my manager to come to a close family member’s funeral. That is my space to grieve in sometimes ugly ways – and with emotions running high, anything is possible. I wouldn’t want the burden of trying to put on my work face while I’m grieving. And I really love my manager – she’s great. I know she’d be supportive and concerned, but I’d want that at the workplace, not necessarily at the funeral.

  69. Anonon*

    And in addition to being the norm/appropriate– In my experience, having boss/colleagues present was a comfort. There was minimal interaction– they sat in the back, shook hands after, and were on their way. It made me feel like they cared about me as a person, and were acknowledging that I had experienced a loss. Of course, the most important thing boss/colleagues can do is allow time off, and ensure the person’s work is taken care of.

  70. ExceptionToTheRule*

    Midwestern protestant viewpoint here: if the time/place of the visitation and/or funeral are listed in the obituary, then it’s generally accepted here that those are then “public” events and you go to whichever of them you can attend. If the grieving family doesn’t want everyone showing up, you put something like “the funeral will be private” or “friends & family only” and they don’t list the information about where/when.

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      Another Midwest Protestant here. Not surprisingly, my experiences have been similar.
      What I have usually seen is one person from the office (whether it be a boss, the person’s closest work friend, or some other designated work representative) comes by the visitation. They come, express their condolences to the bereaved, maybe look at a few of the photos, and leave. They spend less than 10 minutes there total. It’s a nice gesture, but not (to my eyes) obtrusive.
      Also, my office provides comp time if the death is in the employee’s immediate family for other employees to attend either a visitation or a funeral.

      1. The Rat-Catcher*

        We also have an office committee that may not send anything to the funeral itself but will present you with something upon your return to work. (I received a small statue after the death of my father-in-law.)

  71. HannahS*

    If you’re not sure about showing up, you could definitely send a card, and then stop by the person’s desk once they’re back, and offer condolences and support (+whatever, like “we want you to know that if you need flexibility in the next few weeks…), your employee will know that you care about them. I can’t imagine anyone feeling angry that their boss acknowledged their loss and offered support, but didn’t come to the funeral/other event. To me, that makes it a safe option.

  72. No, please*

    My father died suddenly of an aneurysm. I was not upset that none of my coworkers showed up for the funeral. I was slightly offended when I didn’t receive a card, flowers or phone call. No one contacted me after I called in to work and said he was dead and that I would be out for a few days. I had just finalized my divorce and moved for a second time in nine months. About two days later I was called and asked when they could expect me back. No real condolences. But when it was someone’s birthday guess who got to do the shopping? It was a second job so I gave my two weeks notice upon returning.
    I’d say to acknowledge the passing, send a card and be kind.

  73. Wilton Businessman*

    One piece of advice I got from my first mentor was “Always go to the funeral”. Certainly the family may not want you back at the house or other intimate settings. I get that not everybody has a public funeral, and in that case you respect the privacy of the family. But if it’s a public funeral service, I want to show my respects and let the family kn0w that I am there if they need something.

  74. DoDah*

    No way would I want boss or colleagues at a family funeral. Mostly because I have a sense my workaholic boss wouldn’t know how NOT to ask for a project status update or want me to rearrange a meeting or be in some way in service to him.

    When my father died 20 years ago- I was allotted an uber-generous 1/2 day for his funeral. That boss wasn’t a workaholic–just an ass.

    1. nonegiven*

      It kind of chapped me that my niece had to step outside and take a work call during the family meal, after.

  75. KR*

    My boss had someone in his immediate family die recently. He was older and sick and my boss had kept me apprised of the situation as he declined. I didn’t go to the services because he didn’t tell me when they were and I figured he would tell me if he wanted me to go. I did make sure that we passed around a card for him and I texted him when it happened that I was really sorry for what he was going through.

  76. bopper*

    When my Dad passed away, my former boss and someone in our group who lived in the area came to the wake. I really appreciated it. Wakes are good because you don’t have to spend that much time with any one set of people.

  77. nonegiven*

    My FIL’s funeral was at the chapel at the cemetery, my husband’s boss and some coworkers came. I don’t think most knew FIL. There was visiting hours the night before at the funeral home. I don’t know who went to that, I didn’t go.

    For Dad, we had visitation. The funeral home was in a different town than the funeral, but they knew people in that town, the town where the church they attended, the town where they lived, and rural areas all around and other places they’d lived. My parents had friends all over. Some people couldn’t make it to the funeral so they went to the visitation. It was family sitting around and people would come in and sign the book and speak to the people they knew. The funeral home had the flowers around the room and a video of pictures we’d sent them playing.

    The funeral had more people at one time, probably more than came to the visitation. After, the family sat while everyone else filed by the coffin.

    Then they loaded up the family in limos and went to the cemetery which was several miles out in a rural area. Fewer people came to that. There was a tent. After the service a few people filed by the row we were in to speak to us.

    They loaded everyone up again and went back to the church, most people at that were family except the church ladies that made and served the food.

    I don’t really get the whole thing and I questioned just how many different ceremonies there really needed to be. It seemed excessive. Not one person came to any of it that didn’t know my dad personally except the military guys that did the bugle and flag thing at the cemetery.

  78. Bossy Magoo*

    But wait…LW said he/she is *not* the person’s boss: “I’m the second-in-command under the director, but none of the staff report directly to me.” Does that make a difference?

  79. aeldest*

    Clearly there’s no good consensus on this, unfortunately.

    To add my opinion to the list: I am very close with my boss and a couple of my coworkers (I would invite them to my wedding, if that were to happen), but it would be really strange to me if they showed up to the funeral of any of my family members. Like, really really strange. I would hate to feel like I had to be “on”, and I would feel uncomfortable, and I would wish that I could just spend time with my family rather than having to talk to other people. I think of funerals as a very private, friends-and-family only affair–I wouldn’t want anyone there who didn’t know the deceased.

    Just thought I’d add my opinion since most of the people saying NO seem to not have a great relationship with their boss–I do, and I still wouldn’t want her there.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I agree with you! I like and respect my boss, but I am not comfortable sharing details of my private life with her. She would be the LAST person I’d want to see at a funeral for one of my family members. Fortunately my family all live in another state, so it would be very weird if anyone from work showed up at their funerals!

  80. JB*

    I lost my mother earlier this year and dealt with people not taking into account what my family needed & wanted. In a nutshell, I agree with Allison, so if you’re not certain what they want, ask.

    My family is very private and have some complicated issues amongst us, in addition to dealing with how my mother died. Ours and my mother’s wish was not to have anyone who didn’t know at her service. I know people are well intentioned when they want to attend the service, but it’s the last thing we needed.

    My boss did ask what I wanted and I was SO grateful. I am getting the support I actually need (then and now), which is private time to grieve. I had a few other co-workers who pushed almost to the point of bullying about wanting to come to the service. Having to fight them off was a nightmare. It has done damage to our relationships and it’s slow to resolve itself. Granted, some act like 4 year-olds even at their best.

    Since this is still so raw, I am having a difficult time understanding why people feel the need to tell me how to grieve and that they should be free to impose their will on me over it. This is what the funeral situation looked like to me at the time. Person who won’t take no for an answer: “It’s your job to make me feel better that your mother died violently and unexpectedly. I feel bad but don’t know what to do about it, so you have to talk about it constantly, explain it repeatedly, and let me go to her funeral so I will feel like I did something to help you, even if it’s what you specifically said you didn’t want. Even though it hurts you, why are you not doing what I want and being mean to me?” Rant over, head back down, trying to get through the holidays.

  81. Hrovitnir*

    I do think it’s down to the culture of your office and your relationship with your employees. My partner manages a paint factory and he goes to employees family member’s funerals (he also sends flowers, gives them extra bereavement leave if required and has given an employee months of unlimited paid leave when his wife was dying – this was someone who wouldn’t take the piss of course).

    I was surprised at first, but I think it works because they generally trust him as a boss who has their back even if they do whinge sometimes, and many of them have worked with him for decades.

    So that’s a data point.

  82. Lrose*

    It really depends on your relationship whether you go to the funeral, but I would strongly advise you to be really cautious about attending the visitation. When my maternal granny died, we had a small thing at her house before we left, where we put flowers in with her and said a wee goodbye before the actual funeral, and the minister (who knew the family very well) was also there. Somehow, my aunt’s boss got wind of this, and she turned up to my granny’s house and stood in the livingroom while we kissed my granny goodbye. It was a huge imposition, and nobody felt like they could say it was inappropriate because she was my aunt’s boss and because we were already running at such high levels of distress, so we just couldn’t be bothered with more. I know a formal visitation is different, but I found it really changed how we had to act and it was upsetting for us.

  83. Brett*

    Last job was with a police department where families funerals are a big deal.

    When our chief’s mother died, I think around 500 employees showed up for the _service_ and 2,000+ for the visitation. You could generally count on several hundred employees showing up at every visitation though, and the chief or deputy chief went to all of them. (This was extended to current and retired employees and their immediate family including grandparents.)
    The informal rules were that you could attend the visitation or any public viewing. Family (private) viewings an memorial services were by invitation only (though open invitations to the entire department were common for services). One thing that made this very easy with the police department was that personnel would inquire if the employee wanted an announcement or invitation made to the entire department when the employee requested bereavement leave. I’m not sure how many had the announcement sent, but it was certainly not everyone (I did not do it the two times I had family funerals). There was also an option to request that the chief or other chain of command come to the visitation or viewing, if possible, without a department wide invitation.

    Clearly this is all strongly tied to organization culture, but I think the same informal rules could work very well elsewhere too. Public visitations and public viewings should be considered by employee, co-workers, and boss as co-worker/boss okay, particularly with the drop-in nature of those. Family visitations and memorial services (even public ones) should be invitation only, but that is easier if the employees clearly understand that they can invite people.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Really good points here. If the employees know what standard practice is they can say they are opting out if they wish.

    2. doreen*

      My employer does pretty much the same thing- they will send an announcement with the details , or one that says the services are private with an address provided to send a card if you want or no announcement at all. I think everywhere I’ve worked has done the same thing. I’m actually kind of wondering how people how people even know the about wakes/services in cases where the bereaved prefer that co-workers not attend- no one would have known which funeral home/church my father’s wake and funeral were at if I hadn’t told them.

  84. Blossom*

    This is really interesting! In my country (UK), it would be pretty much unheard of to attend any kind of funeral service, memorial or wake for a colleagues’ loved one who you didn’t know. In my experience, a card and some compassionate leave is about it.

    1. Caledonia*

      Yeah. When my mum died, a bunch of my dad’s co-workers came, maybe even his boss, I don’t know having never met them before and obviously, wasn’t up to remember who anyone was.
      I worked in retail at the time and my compassion leave was 5 days. There is no way that it’s enough.

  85. Venus Supreme*

    Within 2016, I’ve unfortunately had to attend many a funeral/viewing and I’ll put in my personal takewaway from my experiences:

    I feel that the viewing is mainly for support of loved ones left behind. My boyfriend’s mom passed away very suddenly and he was the type that he wanted as many people at the viewing as possible. I think, in a way, he wanted to quantify how much support there was. Same thought process was for my friend when his dad died – I met his dad only a handful of times but he and his brother wanted their friends there for support. The actual funeral/burial services, in my opinion, are for the actual loved one who died. That, to me, is incredibly personal (and emotionally charged!) and would be reserved for people with close relationships to the deceased- like when my best friend from high school died.

    So, OP, I think your initial reaction is right. I would attend the viewing to pay your respects to your employee during their time of grief, and leave the funeral services to the loved one and their family.

  86. littlemoose*

    Wow, so many different viewpoints on this. I’ll add my experience. When my father died last year, I had a few coworkers attend the large public visitation, and three others (including one manager) attend the funeral. All who attended were people whom I’d had personal conversations with at work, and most were people with whom I had socialized a few times outside of work (not the manager). I was very touched that they attended and appreciative of their support.

    However, it seems that the custom in our office is to ask what, if any, information be shared about the family member’s death. So sometimes we do a group card and everyone is given the funeral home information, sometimes we are just notified that a coworker will be out due to a death in the family and the arrangements are private. In my case I had told my manager that the information about my dad’s arrangements could be shared, so I knew it was possible that coworkers would attend. But if my work relationships or family relationships were different, I might have opted for something different. So, depending on the structure of your organization and your relationships there, maybe just asking your employees what they would prefer or giving them the opportunity to communicate their preference would be best.

  87. Karyn*

    I was with my ex-fiance’s father when he passed away (me, Ex, and Ex’s mom were standing bedside when he passed). We weren’t due to get married for a year, so technically he wasn’t my father-in-law, but it was as if he had been. HR wasn’t going to allow me to take bereavement for the funeral, even though it was a three-day affair and my ex was devastated and barely keeping it together. My ex-boss overrode her, and gave me the full three days as if we were married – in his words, he wasn’t going to let a piece of paper dictate my relationship to the man whose death I’d witnessed.

    This was a three-day affair – four visiting sessions of two hours each, plus a Catholic mass and burial. The man had a LOT of friends. By day two, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, I’d met dozens (probably hundreds) of people I didn’t know, and hadn’t slept more than a couple hours each night. The final viewing hours were the afternoon of the second day, and the first people in the door were my boss and his boss. I must have been completely delirious, because I distinctly remember making a beeline across the room to my boss and bursting into tears on his shoulder. Thankfully, my boss and I had a very casual and familiar relationship so this wasn’t a big deal to him. I was really, really grateful that he and his boss had taken the time to show up and pay their respects. It meant a lot to me, as did his fighting for my bereavement time.

    As a funny aside, I grew up Catholic before converting, and both bosses were Jews by birth. We were walking toward the front of the room near the casket and my boss leans over to me, obviously nervous, and goes, “Karyn… why is he there… like that?” It took me a minute before I realized that he was referring to the open casket, but trying not to be disrespectful – Jews don’t do the whole open casket thing. It was the first time I had laughed in days.

  88. SharonR*

    Before my Father died I didn’t really understand funerals. Here we have what’s called the Removal in the evening about 2 days after the death. Typically hundreds of local people, work mates, past work mates, friends, the postman, friends of uncles, you name it, come and shake the hands of the bereaved. This is followed the next day by the funeral service and the burial which is usually more private. I used to think it seemed intrusive until my Father’s removal. I had just started a new job (within a month) and my boss and all my new colleagues came. I was amazed at how much I appreciated it. I wouldn’t have been as happy if they came to the burial, but it was a really nice gesture of support to have them take the time out of their evenings to travel 20 or 30 miles just to shake my hand for the 2 seconds it took.

  89. Tavie*

    When my mother died, my boss and teammate in our small, close-knit team, both showed up to her memorial service. It really meant a lot to me.

  90. Caledonia*

    This would be horrifying to me but I’m in the UK.

    I know that when my mum died, a bunch of my dad’s co-workers and maybe even manager came to at least the funeral/celebration of life, really but I don’t remember if they came to the reception part after. Maybe they did but I’d never met them before (or since) and wouldn’t remember them given the circumstances anyway.

  91. Moonsaults*

    I will chime in to add that at my former place of employment, there were about a dozen of us plus the off-site ownership. It was a family owned business for decades and all of us were there for over a decade each at this time. So when our coworker’s mother died, we were all moved to react. None of us went to the funeral (I’m honestly not sure there was one, we didn’t pry). We did however all put together a care package for him.

    The owner went to the hospital to sit with him when we were alerted that she didn’t have much time left. He was incredibly moved by the gesture, he wasn’t expecting it and told me how much it meant to him after the fact.

    However, as mentioned we were a family unit (dysfunction aside at that moment thankfully), I essentially grew up with those guys and therefore we weren’t used to observing any privacy issues in that case.

    Some people are very private individuals whereas others are not. It also depends on the set up, is it announced in the paper about the services? If you have an obituary and it states the hours, then it’s typically an open invitation to anyone who wants to pay their respects to the one who’s passed and their loved ones.

  92. FinallyGotANewCar*

    One of my direct reports lost her mother recently, and when she called to tell me she said they were having a “small private funeral,” I took that to mean that she did not want anyone from work going. We did get her a card, though, and it was greatly appreciated.

  93. Natasha*

    I had several bosses (past and current) as well as many co-workers show up for my brother’s funeral when he died suddenly in an accident at the age of 18. I was extremely touched by everyone’s support, both at the viewing and once I returned to work.

  94. Lorlye*

    This actually just happened to some friends this past week. My friend used to work at a local, large company, while his sister and her husband still do. They lost their father, and the major department head stopped by the funeral home briefly to pay his respects briefly. He didn’t make a big deal about it, just spoke to the family and a few other people he knew there, then left. I don’t know of the company did more than that, but due to its size, I doubt it. It was a small, appreciated gesture that wasn’t dragged out. That can be a good in between- make a short appearance at a public portion of the services.

    1. Salmon Maki*

      This is a timely question for me. A coworker’s spouse died after a prolonged illness recently. Someone shared the visitation and funeral information, but I wasn’t sure if this very private person would want people from work there. I did end up going to the visitation, and after being there, I know it was the right thing to do. However, if I were in a similar situation, I don’t think I would want colleagues present. Such a sensitive issue…

  95. Holly*

    Wow, I’m so surprised by this! I would be horrified if colleagues attended the funeral of a member of my family; I would find it completely intrusive and out of touch. I wonder if there is a generation aspect to it? I’ve found people my age (early 30s) and younger tend to agree with me while older friends and colleagues don’t. (I’m also far away from the US/UK.)

  96. rockytop*

    I have worked for a small family owned business that has branches in two other states for going on 12 years. Last January, when my son died, all of my bosses and many of my co workers showed up for his memorial. It meant the world to me to have them there. We did not have a visitation as his death was a messy one, so we had a direct cremation and a memorial for him.
    If his death had not been so traumatic, we probably would have had a visitation with a funeral the next day. In that case, I would have been fine if they had shown up for the visitation and not the funeral.

  97. Meg*

    I personally can’t think of anyone in my office, let alone my boss, that I would want at a family member’s funeral. If one of my parents or a sibling died, I would be an absolute emotional wreck, and that’s not something I would want anyone in my office to witness.

    That being said, I occasionally get emails about visitations and funeral services for other coworkers, so I know others don’t feel the same way.

  98. any mouse*

    I had a relative who worked for a smallish company and when their adult child died their boss and their department (which was 5 people total) attended the funeral. My relative appreciated them being there.

    When my boss’s mother died I did not go to the funeral but to the visitation. I felt weird about it at first but other collegues were going and my boss thanked me later for being there so I assume she appreciated it.

    I didn’t feel close to my boss and wasn’t going to go but I’m glad I went because it seemed to help her.

  99. Darcy*

    I think it’s very dependent on the relationship. The boss I was reporting to when my dad died was not someone I had a great deal of respect for, and there is no way I would have wanted her at his memorial service. However, the boss I have now is fabulous, and it would be a great show of support if she attended. So I think you really have to judge the relationship, and perhaps if you have the opportunity ask the individual what their preference is. Then make a point to take whatever answer you get matter-of-factly and not personally.

  100. m*

    As someone who works in the funeral industry, there’s no set norm here; it depends entirely on the relationship.

    If, as a boss, you’d like to offer to be there to attend the funeral for one of your employees, the best way to approach it is to initially talk to the employee, offer your condolences, and ask if there is a visitation or service, and if so is it private/for family only, or if you’d be welcome to attend. As long as you frame in a tone that suggests you’re totally okay with the employee preferring you not to be there, you should be fine, and by asking if it’s strictly private/family only, you’re giving the employee an “easy out” if they’d prefer you not to attend.

    In many cases, it’s normal for colleagues to attend just the visitation, whereas the funeral service proper is attended by the family and close friends.

  101. someboss*

    We attend if the funeral is listed in the paper, if not then we assume it’s private and don’t go. It has always been well received.

  102. Angie J.*

    I know this is a little late, but I was curious: Would it be appropriate to just *ask* the bereaved if they would like you to come? Seeing as there’s pretty much no consensus at all in the comments on how people feel about their boss/coworkers going to this service but not that, or not going at all, wouldn’t it be better to just ask the employee if they would be comfortable sharing the service info with the team, or if they’d rather have privacy during this time?

  103. JamToday*

    I had two relatives die unexpectedly several years ago under horrible circumstances, and my boss and one of my coworkers drove three hours to come to the wake. It was one of the kindest things anybody who is not a member of my family has ever done.

  104. A.M.*

    When my husband died, I got the weirdest reaction from my manager: she sort of said, “oh, there was a funeral? I would have liked to come.” I was pretty speechless over, well, the entire meaning behind that.

  105. JessMindy*

    I wasn’t reading AAM before this year, so my apologies for this late post. When my mom passed away, my whole group came to the graveside service. It meant a lot to me that they were all there.

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