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Food "etiquette" after a death

What is the standard, wherever you are, after a death in the family? Does someone bring food to your home, for the family, or is food provided after the service (as in funeral/memorial/burial)? I am on a rant right now because my mother in law passed away and we are having a memorial service at her church on Fri. We have been informed that nothing will be provided, by the church's ladies, because they are having their Turkey Supper that evening. She has been a member of that church since she was born, 86 years ago. I feel like they should at least do something. So far no offers of bringing food over have been given, and now it is up to the family to provide food for the people who attend the gathering, as if we don't have enough to take care of as it is. But maybe I am just being too sensitive. At our church (obviously not the same one) there is a potluck for the family with the ladies bringing comfort foods for the family, and enough for them to take home for the days ahead. But this place put out pimento cheese sandwiches and a couple of bags of chips for my father in law just 3 years back. Have things really changed that much? What are others experiences?

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  1. danhole, people providing food to the bereaved was kind, and neighborly, but those kinds of neighbors no longer exist around here.

    The protocol now is to provide a luncheon for those who attend the service at a local restaurant. The offer to attend the luncheon is sometimes made at the religious edifice, sometimes at the cemetery.

    Condolences on your mother-in-law.

    1. In our area (or at least my current friends and family), the family provides a luncheon after the funeral. Most of the time it's at a small function hall (Elks, etc), or a small restaurant.

      1. Having gone through many, many funerals in my life, here are my thoughts.

        Usually, the day of/day after a death, the family gets inundated with food from family, friends, etc. I think the thought is that the family shouldn't have to cook. Literally everyone showing up at my house always had food of some sort.

        After or during the break in the viewings, usually the family will leave the funeral home and either go home to eat, or go out to eat. Sometimes very close friends of the family join in on this. Everyone pays for themselves.

        After the funeral itself, it is customary to have a wake. This can either be at the family's home (or as we discovered, for much less hassle) at a restaurant/banquet hall. It is the family's responsibility to pay for this.

        If you have a church that is nice enough to donate the food after the service, that is wonderful, but it is not standard nor should it be expected.

        3 Replies
        1. re: carey24

          In this particular church if you belong to one of the ladies service groups, as opposed to a sewing group, etc., then part of the service the group gives to the congregation is to have a committee that provides some kind of food for families after a funeral or memorial service. I know this first hand because I used to attend there and belonged to one of the groups. This is not a small congregation, nor is it a predominantly elderly one either. So, it is not out of a sense of entitlement, and I do realize that limits have to be set, as in how many they are willing to serve, etc., yet to be totally blown off is what is offensive.

          We are fortunate, however, because one of our daughters has a connection with a bar/restaurant which graciously offered to host a lunch for the family for after the service. So we will be taking some sandwiches, chips, punch and dips to the church for the attendees who want to visit after the service and then we will leave for our own special lunch.

          It's so different than when my dad died back in 1988. We had food dropped by the house for days, and a nice reception at my house, where my ladies from church swept in and took care of the food and everything else. And my dad didn't even go to church! My, how things have changed.

          1. re: danhole

            I'm 32 and was raised Catholic. My first relative died when I was 8. Even back then, the church did nothing except the funeral service and I'm pretty certain we paid for that. In fact, the priest even came to the wake afterwards and ate (on our dime). And my mother taught at the school and my sister and I attended the school.

            We had more help from the restaurant my sister and I worked for and people we knew that owned carry-out places, than we ever did from our church. Even when my father died suddenly.

            The first church I've ever seen provide food was a funeral service that I attended recently. It was a more modern church, I'm not even sure of the religion other than "Christian". My family and I were shocked at the amount of food served in the lobby, directly following the service at no cost to the family. It was the first time any of us experienced a church providing food.

            1. re: danhole

              Times have changed, but some churches are just cold. Your M-I-L's church sounds like one of the cold ones. When my F-I-L passed, the service was dry as dust and the church did nothing. FIL's wife served store-bought cake and coffee at home after the service.

              Your experience when your dad passed was similar to when my Dad passed in 1982. Mom and Dad had been members of the church since 1950. We had food for days. My favorite funeral gift was 2 big bags of ice after we ran out.

              My aunts, uncles and grandmother's after-funeral meals were all similar - whether held at the church or at home. The church ladies outdid themselves. BTW, all these funerals were in Houston.

              Last year my brother passed. They weren't churchgoers, but reserved a large church in San Marcos for the 400+ funeral attendees. Then my sister-in-law's service held a blow-out luncheon at a friends house on the river. My brother would have loved the party.

              Condolences to you and your husband.

          2. In my experience with funerals (mostly in Eastern NC) friends and neighbors bring a lot of food immediately following the death. We typically don't wait too long for the visitation and funeral (recently had a very interesting conversation about funerals on Sundays...) so the abundance of food from friends and neighbors is still good and served to family and close friends after the service either at the home of the closest family member to the deceased or in the church fellowship hall. Some of the more thoughtful ladies from church will wait a day before and ask what is needed before bringing food. There is never a shortage of food and we never have to go to a restaurant.

            1. Jewish tradition is to bring food to the home of the bereaved during the week following the death - aka the period of "sitting shiva." A tip to those with Jewish friends - do NOT send flowers, it is inappropriate in Jewish mourning!

              3 Replies
              1. re: BobB

                To elaborate on Jewish funeral food tradition a little more...

                Usually family will come to the house after the funeral and the closest mourners will be served a hard-boiled egg. There is always food - we're Jewish, after all. At our most recent funerals, a grandson, son-in-law, etc. will call and arrange for deli platters to be delivered to the house. The family pays for this.

                In the week following the death, friends will either bring food to the family or arrange to have meals sent from delis, restaurants, or caterers. Again, the idea is that the family should not have to think about cooking or feeding the children during this period. People coming to visit the family will bring cakes and the like and the family will generally have coffee and other beverages available.

                1. re: rockycat

                  I remembered this from an earlier thread last year on True Friendship.....from 3000 miles away....specifically to the Jewish Tradition of "sitting shiva".


                2. re: BobB

                  Thank you for the tip! I appreciate it.

                3. In my experience the family provides food for a post-service reception. Whether it's just punch and cookies or a full meal depends on their means and inclination I suppose. I don't think I've been to one where a church provided the food, at least not for free. I did go to a service where the church provided it after, but the family paid for it.

                  As to post-service food, around where I live people still bring food to the family in the first week or two following a death.

                  1. Growing up in So. MS, food would begin to arrive at family members' homes immediately upon word spreading that a death had occurred. After the service (burial, memorial) many friends would gather back at one family member's home to share condolences and "graze".

                    A few years ago, here in TX, I picked up enough bbq w/sides for about 10 ppl and took to a friend whose mother in law had died. It was waiting for the family for when they returned from making the arrangements.

                    Some time later, her husband asked me "why I did that". Go figure.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: CocoaNut

                      Wow. How nice that this tradition hasn't died out in other areas of the country.

                      1. re: CocoaNut

                        That was a very thoughtful thing for you to do!

                        1. re: CocoaNut

                          Same in Virginia. One of the things I remember was that a couple of neighbors or church friends always skipped the services to set everything up for when the family & friends returned, restocked platters while the family received guests & stuck around to clean up after. Bless Em.

                        2. Jfood FIL passed away recently and under Jewish law the burial must occur within 2 business days. The funeral was held at the temple and then the ceremony at the place of internment immediately thereafter.

                          Then, as BobB states there is a shiva period (1 week) at the home of the family. Upon returning from the place of internment, food is provided. In jfood's case the amount of food that arrived from friends and neighbors was enough to feed everyone there, plus the family for the shiva period. Jfood also had food brought in from a local caterer. And as BobB stated, flowers are not something to bring to a Shiva.

                          On a different note, a good friend died a few years ago and left the non-cooking husband to fend and feed himself and the 2 kids. Mrs jfood established a schedule for various friends to commit to cook and bring over dinner (both fresh and frozen) for several weeks after the wife passed away. This gave the husband a chance to get his feet under him and keep the family fed.

                          1. 1. Yes you are being too sensitive ... but death in the family will do that to you

                            2. Whatever other people do, what is important is what this particular church usually does.

                            So in a way to validate your feelings, I thought it was particularily cold not only to tell you they would not be providing food, but that it was because they are having their turkey supper. It would kill people to share a little of that turkey supper food with you? One would hope at the least they will be attending the service and not be too tied up cooking for their event.

                            I'm Catholic and as others noted there is usually a meal afterward paid for by the family. If it is a small group, people go out to a restaurant. A larger funeral usually involves renting a hall.

                            For me, it depends if I bring food to someone after a death.

                            If I think the family probably won't be cooking due to grief ... or will have lots of visitors ... I'll bring something over.

                            My dad died when I was 16 and these many decades later I still remember a neighbor who made breakfast for us the next morning. It was the worst, runny scrambled eggs I've ever eaten ... and the best meal I've had in my life because of the sheer kindness of the act ... this woman had MS and would be joining my dad soon.

                            An act of unkindness, such as it seems the one you mention, can also remain with you forever. I can only suggest you forgive and forget. Being bitter will not hurt these women one bit and the only one stuck with the unpleasantness is you. Not now, maybe next week, you might write a letter to the pastor or whatever and mention that after 86 years of being a member of this particular church, well ... what would God think? Why go to church if not to show our love for God and our neighbors?

                            My condolances to the family. I hope you will spend these days remembering the good times with your mother in law and not waste time being bothered by thoughtless people.

                            1. The Catholic way in the Northeast is that the family invites people to a collation after burial or interment (if its immediately follows the funeral Mass) . It used to be frequently held at the family home, with food either catered or potlucked, but now it is much more common for it to be held in a function room (if the parish hall has a kitchen and the room, it could happen there, but that's only true for more modern buildings that have been designed with that in mind).

                              This might be repeated on a more intimate scale for the Monthsmind Mass (the Mass that is customarily offered on the 30th-day anniversary of the death or burial) and similar anniversary Masses that people are invited to attend. The traditional anniversary Masses (one week, 30 days especially, one year) are not as common as they once were and that is reflection of how family is now much more geographically disparate than was formerly common. I find the parallels between Jewish and Catholic anniversary rituals fascinating (what can I say - my mother grew up in a Catholic and Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and learned both...).

                              1. My mom passed away on Easter Sunday of this year. My sister and her family had to drive in from St. Louis to VT so we had the funeral on Saturday morning. During the week a multitude of friends brought over dinners, ham dinners, meatballs and sausage so that my wife and I did not have to prepare anything when my sister and family arived.
                                The day of the funeral we had ordered food from a local caterer and people stopped by to offer condolences etc.
                                The caterer actually sent over more food than we ordered so that we would have enought for the rest of the weekend.
                                It was greatly appreciated and these friends just appeared with platters of food.
                                It's a tradition in our part of VT regardless of what faith you are. Just neighbors helping neighbors.

                                1. Hi danhole,
                                  Just wanted to say I'm sorry for your loss and weigh in on the topic-
                                  I don't think you are being sensitive at all. It seems like the church would do a little something for the family seeing as how your MIL was a member for so long. I have never experienced a funeral where there wasn't loads of food in the house and usually in the church after the service. I was raised in NC and usually people start bringing food over as soon as they hear that someone has passed. I'm talking hams, cakes, pies, bread, side dishes, and more. Usually family and close friends will come eat after the wake and after the funeral and just hang out and talk. These are also Southern Baptists who tend to be pretty old school and traditional but that is pretty standard in the South no matter what church or denomination(in my experience).

                                  1. I'd find another church, but that's just me. It was my experience growning up in the South, that if there was a death in the church, regardless of who died (deacon, elderly, child, etc) or when they died, the church ladies took food. If it was during your holiday cooking time, you cooked extra and took it. One of the major functions of a church is to be an "extended family," and take care of each other.

                                    1. In my church (Latter Day Saint) - and this is constant among all congregations in the country, we usually provide a family dinner after the funeral, and meals if they are needed for the family after. But the meal in the western US is typically ham, funeral potatoes (see thread on Mormon funeral potatoes), green beans of some sort or green salad and rolls. I think I may demur : ). No really, it is a very sweet gesture. They also do meals for illnesses, baby births, surgeries, etc. so it is really an entrenched part of the culture. I also saw the same thing in a Seventh Day Adventist church when a colleague was tragically killed in a hit and run.

                                      But if it isn't the tradition in the church where your MIL attended, they probably never even assumed you were relying on it. It just isn't part of the culture maybe?

                                      1. I know when my great grandmother passed away, the ladies of the church (of which she had been a member for eons) put on a nice lunch for our family and her acquantances.

                                        1. Thanks for all the different responses, and condolences. I do want to make a couple points:

                                          1. I am hurt, but I am not going to remain bitter or let this leave a bad taste in my mouth. We left this particular church many years ago because of the demeanor, yet my MIL was totally devoted to it. To honor her, I will let this slide.

                                          2. I think it's ironic that a bar/restaurant is hosting our family, seeing as how they are considered "heathens" by a lot of "christians", while the "christians" have refused. Enough said.

                                          3. The food isn't really the point. It is the spirit of it. Even when I was a working mother with small children I could at the very least pick up a package of something to take to a family that had lost a loved one, just out of compassion.

                                          4. I am done ranting, and thanks for the help.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: danhole

                                            There's no answer to your question.
                                            Different times different places different people/cultures and on and on.
                                            Got ALL the T-shirts. From the death of my son to my sister dying at age 30 to my mother.
                                            Forget about it. I promise you everyone else will have done so a few days after they have had to once again drag out their dark clothes and interrupt their 'busy' lives to attend yet another funeral/wake/dinner/whatever for someone most of them barely knew.
                                            The days of the classic 'movie fantasy funeral/wake/dinner' are long since passed.
                                            I recommend to everyone who plans to die in the future to get Lebowski to take care of the details.
                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKjBFs... That's exactly what's going to happen to my ashes.
                                            Funerals/wakes etc are 100% about salving the living.
                                            Next time be nice to those who are about to depart this vale.

                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                              Sadly, since posting this question in 2008, Danhole herself died, early last year.
                                              Hopefully her passing was observed in a manner of which she'd have approved.

                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                  I thought she had, but then we've lost more than a few in the last coupla years, it's hard to keep straight. I hope something was done right (whether in a bar or a church basement).

                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                    grey, I just saw this as a 'related' topic and clicked on it just to see. And was really caught off-guard when I saw danhole's name. I also hope her church pulled out all the stops. She was a wonderful Chowhound.

                                              1. My grandfather and aunt passed away within days of each other. We had a joint service for the two of them in a small church in a small farming town in Wisconsin. The church ladies provided coffee, maybe some cookies, and helped get the room ready for the reception. The family provided food for the guests.

                                                1. Being raised catholic the one thing you can depend on is a bill at the end of the month. And the priest never brings his own bottle to any gathering.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. Up here (North Idaho), the ladies from the church put together a nice spread in the basement (kitchen) of the church for after the service. Lots of food is brought to the house, there are usually out of town family and guests milling around for days after the service. We usually take an ice chest, bags of ice, a large coffee urn, and disposable plates, cups, silverware and napkins for extra storage and easy clean up.

                                                    1. I live in the south and can remember only funerals from when I was a child. We had too mcpuch food brought to us by friends that knew us and the deceased. The 'church' didn't provide food, but then again many of the church ladies brought us food. No one came to the house after the service. Usually people would float in and out during the time of death and a few weeks afterwards.