There's no "right" thing to say to someone who has just lost a close friend, family member, or significant other. However, there are general etiquette rules to follow at the memorial service.
mental_floss spoke with Amy Cunningham, a Brooklyn-based funeral director who runs an establishment called Fitting Tribute Funeral Services, to get a sense of what is appropriate—and what is not—at a funeral or memorial service. While funerary customs differ from family to family, Cunningham provided a list of tips that are universal enough to apply to any ceremony.
1. DO: DRESS CONSERVATIVELY
“Modesty reigns. You're there to listen and learn, not seize the limelight,” Cunningham says. In short, steer clear of flashy or distracting outfits and accessories. While it’s a good rule of thumb to stick with darker colors, don’t worry about wearing all black. After all, “black isn't as uniformly correct as it used to be. At the Washington D.C. burial of a journalist, Diana McLellan, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wore white,” Cunningham says. (Of course, this is entirely dependent on the culture. Different countries have their own de-facto shades for mourning.) Also, it goes without saying that you should make sure everything’s neat, clean, ironed, and tucked in.
2. DON'T: SIT JUST ANYWHERE
The general practice is that the first few rows of the church or venue are reserved for family members or close friends. If you’re neither of those, sit toward the middle or the back. Once you're seated, stay put (and quiet) for the ceremony's duration. If you start coughing or crying, feel free to go to the bathroom or lobby and wait until it passes.
3. DO: ACT NORMAL
Chances are, you don’t know what to say to the person whose loved one just died. That’s OK. There’s no magic phrase that will make everything better, or sum up how sorry you are for their loss. Instead of tripping over your words, “be normal, hug, say nothing. Hug again,” Cunningham says. “Bring them some water or a snack if you see that they're stuck talking to folks in a receiving line or something.” It's also a nice gesture to send flowers or a card to the family member's residence or workplace, or to the funeral home in time for the visitation or memorial service. Try to send these sooner, rather than later.
4. DON'T: BE LATE
Cunningham says it’s a good idea to show up about 10 minutes early to a funeral. (If you think the service will be crowded, swing by a half-hour early so you can nab a seat.) If you do come late, the Emily Post Institute recommends that you remain unobtrusive by entering a row through a side aisle. If there’s a procession, wait outside until it’s done. However, it’s not the end of the world if you’re tardy. At the end of the day, the family is likely to be distracted for reasons other than your delayed arrival.
5. DO: LAUGH
If someone makes a joke during the eulogy, don’t be afraid to crack up. (To stay on the safe side, follow the family’s lead.)
6. DON'T: INSTAGRAM THE FUNERAL
Keep your phone off or on silent—and better yet, keep it in your pocket or purse. It’s inappropriate to tweet, Instagram, or Snapchat a funeral unless you’re an immediate family member. (In that case, you might want to use social media to take advantage of digital memorial platforms or websites.) As for photos, you shouldn't snap any during the ceremony, but it's OK to take them if you're away from the mourners and you want to pose for a group shot with friends or family members you wouldn't have seen otherwise.
7. DO: BRING KIDS
Babies should be left with a sitter, but it’s fine to bring kids over the age of six or so to a funeral. Don’t worry that the occasion will make them anxious or sad. “Kids want to be a part of the festivities, and are generally less scared of death than we assume they are,” Cunningham says.
If your child was close to the person who died, they might be asked to participate in the ceremony. They can read poetry, speak, sing, or play instruments. In short, be creative with your child's involvement. “We don't give kids enough to do at funerals,” Cunningham says.
8. DON'T: BE RATTLED BY RELIGION
If a service contains religious elements, don’t worry if you’re not a practicing member of the faith. You shouldn't feel forced to partake in a sacrament or say a prayer out loud. Instead, “stand and listen. Marvel at the world's liturgy and funeral customs,” Cunningham says.
9. DO: TAKE SOME TIME TO REFLECT
While you go to a funeral to pay tribute to someone who died, it’s OK to also take some time to reflect on your own life. “When you attend a funeral, you are—like it or not—exposing yourself to life's greatest mystery,” Cunningham says. “It’s an opportunity to sift through your own ideas regarding life's meaning, your work, your friendships, your family—in short, your commitment to living fully … Even if you don't experience a transporting ‘Eureka’ moment, you will get something out of it if you're present to what's happening.”
James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
Regardless of whether you were impressed, confused, or downright frightened by the trailer for Tom Hooper’s upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Cats, it’s safe to say that the star-studded cast and “digital fur technology” generated strong reactions all around. And, if you didn’t grow up listening to the soundtrack or watching performers in the 1998 film version purr and prance in furry, feline bodysuits, your shock is completely understandable.
Cats is light on plot, heavy on characters, and sprinkled with words that T.S. Eliot made up for his 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the basis for the musical. To familiarize yourself with all the eccentrically named cats—and find out who’s portraying them in the film—here’s a comprehensive list of every "romantical, pedantical, critical, parasitical, allegorical, metaphorical, statistical, and mystical" cat you’ll meet.
Admetus is a ginger and white chorus cat with no spoken lines, but plenty of strong dancing sequences—perfect for former Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood. Though some musical productions have renamed Admetus as Plato (both names are mentioned in “The Naming of Cats”), the film will feature them as two separate characters.
Alonzo is another chorus cat, identifiable by the black patches of fur on his face and the black-and-white stripes on his head. Apart from his ensemble appearances, he has intermittent solo lines and also assists Munkustrap during the fight against Macavity. Since singer/songwriter Bluey Robinson will portray him in the film, it’s possible that Alonzo will dance less than he has in stage productions.
Asparagus, the Theatre Cat
Played by: Sir Ian McKellen
Nicknamed “Gus,” this elderly, trembling tabby has an impressive acting history, which he recounts at length during his song (along with a few disparaging comments about how the theater isn’t what it once was, and kittens these days aren’t properly trained). Who better to play one of the Jellicles’ most well-respected thespians than one of the humans' most well-respected thespians, Sir Ian McKellen?
Played by: Taylor Swift
Though Bombalurina is only mentioned by name once (in “The Naming of Cats”), she’s pretty hard to miss: the slinky, red-coated cat helps introduce Jennyanydots, the Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Macavity. She most often sings with Demeter, her duet partner for “Macavity the Mystery Cat.”
Played by: James Corden
Known as “the Brummell of cats,” this black-and-white, epicurean dandy frequents gentlemen’s clubs, wears white spats, and weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Jones’s genial manner endears him to just about everyone—not unlike James Corden.
With her sleek brown coat and her regal, mysterious manner, Cassandra seems like she might’ve been worshipped by ancient Egyptians in a past life. You might recognize Mette Towley, a member of Pharrell’s dance group, The Baes, from her appearances in 2019’s Hustlers and Rihanna’s “Lemon” music video—and you can be sure that she’ll uphold Cassandra’s legacy as one of the most eye-catching chorus cats.
These striped twin tabby cats always move in unison and boast psychic abilities. Though the roles are sometimes cut from theatrical productions, we’ll get to see them in the film, played by hip hop dancer Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen, best known for her work as Mary Poppins in the recent West End revival.
This multicolored, slightly skittish cat usually duets with Bombalurina, and together they perform “Macavity the Mystery Cat” in full. It’s often implied that Demeter has a complicated romantic past with Macavity, who tries to abduct her during his attack. British ballet dancer Daniela Norman will star opposite Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina in the film, and you can also see her in Netflix’s upcoming ballet drama seriesTiny Pretty Things.
Grizabella, the Glamour Cat
Played by: Jennifer Hudson
This aging starlet is now decrepit, depressed, and shamefully rejected by the rest of the Jellicles—think Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond with more self-awareness and very raggedy fur. Even if the Cats original cast recording wasn’t the soundtrack for your childhood road trips, you might have heard Grizabella’s song “Memory;” it’s been covered by Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Glee’s Chris Colfer, and more. American Idol alum (and general ballad-belting powerhouse) Jennifer Hudson will bring her Academy Award-winning talents to the role of Grizabella in the film.
Growltiger, a rough-riding sea captain cat, and Griddlebone, his fluffy white lover, appear during “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” during which Gus reminisces about having played the part of Growltiger in a stage production long ago. The characters have been left out of some productions, including the 1998 film, but Hooper’s version will feature them, where they'll be played by British actor Ray Winstone and Australian performer Melissa Madden Gray (whose stage name, fittingly, is Meow Meow).
Played by: Freya Rowley
Named after T.S. Eliot’s own cat, Jellylorum is a maternal calico who cares for Gus and also helps introduce Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones. Though sometimes portrayed as older and more mature than some of the other cats, Freya Rowley (who performed as Tantomile on the UK tour of Cats) will likely bring a younger energy to the character.
Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat
Played by: Rebel Wilson
Jennyanydots is a goofy old tabby cat who lazes around all day and spends her nights teaching the basement vermin various household skills, etiquette, and performing arts. Under her tutelage, the mice learn to crochet, the cockroaches become helpful boy scouts, and the beetles form a tap-dancing troupe. Rebel Wilson is a perfect match for such a multifaceted, eccentric, and amusing gumbie cat (whatever gumbie is).
Macavity, the Mystery Cat
Played by: Idris Elba
The show’s main antagonist is a tall, thin criminal cat with sunken eyes and dusty ginger fur. While the Jellicles are plainly terrified of this “monster of depravity,” they also seem eerily impressed by his ability to elude capture and conviction. Historically, Macavity hasn’t done any speaking, singing, or dancing—he only shows up briefly to kidnap Old Deuteronomy during a rousing cat fight—but here’s hoping that Hooper has broadened the role for the film so we get to hear at least a good growl or two from Idris Elba.
Laurie Davidson, who played Shakespeare in TNT’s Will, will take on the role of Mr. Mistoffelees, an affable tuxedo cat who peppers his magic tricks with plenty of high leaps and pizzazz. He’s generally beloved by the rest of the cats, and he also saves the day by conjuring Old Deuteronomy from wherever Macavity had hidden him.
These two roguish calicos describe themselves as “knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tightrope walkers, and acrobats.” They’re also partners in petty crime, notorious for smashing vases, stealing pearls, and generally wreaking havoc upon their posh family in Victoria Grove. British dancer Danny Collins will join Naoimh Morgan—who actually played Rumpleteazer in the Cats international tour—to bring the spirited rascals to life in the film.
Played by: Robert Fairchild
Without Munkustrap, viewers would have little hope of understanding what’s actually happening in this vaguely plotted musical. Though there’s no song to introduce him, the striking, silver cat is still arguably the most important character: He describes the function of the Jellicle Ball, narrates the action as it unfolds, and leads the charge against Macavity’s attack. It takes a certified musical theater machine to play such an integral part, and Hooper has surely found that in Robert Fairchild, former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris.
Played by: Dame Judi Dench
In the gender-swapped role of our dreams, Dame Judi Dench will play Old Deuteronomy, the revered (usually male) town elder who chooses one lucky kitty at the annual Jellicle Ball to ascend to cat heaven, the Heaviside Layer, and be born again. It isn’t Dench’s first time in the junkyard: She was preparing to appear as both Jennyanydots and Grizabella in the original 1981 West End production of Cats when she snapped her Achilles tendon and had to pull out.
Though Plato is a chorus cat mentioned in “The Naming of Cats” and included in some stage productions, Socrates was created specifically for Hooper’s film to make room for both halves of Les Twins, also known as Larry and Laurent Bourgeois. The French hip hop duo gained mainstream recognition after Beyoncé featured them in her 2018 Coachella set and subsequent Netflix concert film Homecoming.
Rum Tum Tugger
Played by: Jason Derulo
The Rum Tum Tugger is a perpetually fickle feline with a lot of rock-n’-roll flair and a pair of hips that he seems to have stolen from Mick Jagger himself. In addition to his own song, Tugger also sings “Mr. Mistoffelees” and features in a few other numbers. With Jason Derulo taking on the role for the film, there’s a good chance we’ll see a modernized, moonwalking version of this swoon-worthy cat.
Skimbleshanks is a charming Scottish cat who looks like a friendly tiger and ensures that all is in order on the night trains, which includes everything from patrolling for mice to reminding the guard to ask passengers how they like their tea. With his flaming red hair and graceful precision, Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae definitely has a couple things in common with his character.
This kitten’s name varies from production to production, but she’s usually characterized by her playful, innocent manner and her willingness to accept Grizabella when the other Jellicles try to shun her. Jonadette Carpio, Philippines native and member of the all-female Krump crew Buckness Personified, will bring her street dance background to the role in the film.
Though lithe, light-footed Victoria doesn’t sing any lines of her own in the original musical, her gleaming white coat and balletic dance solos still make her a standout—so it’s only fitting that Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward will bring her to life in the film, where the role has been expanded into a main character. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift even collaborated on a new song called “Beautiful Ghosts” that Hayward will sing in the movie.
Miscellaneous Chorus Cats
Because theater companies vary in size and scope, certain chorus cats are sometimes omitted from productions—or members of the ensemble just aren’t assigned specific characters. At this point, Bill Bailey, Carbucketty, Electra, Etcetera, Peter, Pouncival, Quaxo, Rumpus Cat, Tumblebrutus, and Victor are all chorus cat names that haven’t been given to anybody in the film, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see extra cats in the shadows. According to Dance Spirit, Corey John Snide and Kolton Krause, who played Coricopat and Tumblebrutus on Broadway, respectively, have both been cast as ensemble members in Hooper’s film.
If you’ve never visited the Big Bone Room, you’re in luck. Check out our visit to New York City's American Museum of Natural History for a rundown on fossils, which provide invaluable insight into our understanding of history and its once-living occupants.
In this edition of "The List Show," editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy explains the ins and outs of excavation, fossil follies (extinct giants were a big miss), and the terrorizing prospect of a 3-foot-tall parrot.
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