Growing up in Arkansas, it was customary for me to spend a portion of summer break with my paternal grandparents in El Dorado. Granny and Granddaddy never met a stranger, and I suppose that’s why a great deal of my time with them was spent listening to conversations concerning who’s obituary was in the newspaper and, subsequently, attending his/her funeral. While this wasn’t my idea of a great way to celebrate being out of school, those experiences allowed me training on the protocol of the events following death, from ordering a spray of flowers to what to anticipate during the honor guard ceremony at a military funeral.
As with any social event (and, though a sad occasion, funerals certainly fall within that category) there is proper etiquette to follow in paying one’s last respects. This holds true for those who are familiar with the deceased, as well as passersby who just happen to be in the presence of a hearse followed by a limousine and line of cars. That parade of mourners is referred to as the funeral procession or cortège, and takes the grieving family to the location of the funeral service and, afterwards, to interment. Here are a few rules that pertain solely to the funeral procession:
Go – If participating in the procession, be prepared to drive at a slower pace – typically 30-40 mph on surface streets and no more than 55 mph on the highway. Your headlights should be illuminated or flashing, and you should remain close to the vehicle in front of you, so that there’s no room for an outside vehicle to separate you from the group.
Yield – Should you see a funeral procession approaching, with or without police escort, know that in most all states it is the law that you should yield the right-of-way to the motorcade. They will likely not have to obey stop signs or traffic signals. This does not apply in the presence of emergency vehicles; emergency vehicle law trumps that of the procession.
Stop – Be respectful as the procession passes. By all means, resist honking at the line of cars. Additionally, be sure to wait for the last motorist to pass, so that you don’t cut off, cut into, or join the procession. Know that it is considered uncouth to pass the motorcade. However, if the cortège is in the far left lane of the highway, you can slowly pass the cars on the right. If standing outside, it is polite to remove your hat and stand silently until the procession has passed.
I vividly remember witnessing my first funeral procession in El Dorado; it scared me a bit. My grandfather had just taken me to the ice cream stand, then suddenly pulled off the road and turned off the radio. He’d abruptly ended our conversation and placed his hand over his heart. Afterwards, he took care in explaining his display of respect. It was comforting to see that same level of civility shown during my time spent in his motorcade; driving to church and to Granddaddy’s gravesite. By following these guidelines, you, too, will exhibit compassion for the grieving family and friends as they make their way to the final resting place of their loved one.