When a friend or acquaintance passes, your first reaction may be to help the family in any way. It is a natural to not know what to say or do. We are providing this information to help guide you on proper funeral etiquette. It will also give you helpful information on how you can be of comfort to the bereaved.
You may feel hesitant about intruding on the family during their grief but it is important to visit them. It helps let them know that they have support and are not alone. Upon learning of the passing, close friends and family should visit the home to offer their condolences and help as soon as possible. The home is a more comfortable setting.
At a visitation it is only necessary to stay for a short time; 15-20 minutes gives you enough time to express your sympathy. Try not to leave during any prayers or eulogies that might be offered. In your own words express sympathy to the family. Expressing kind words about the decedent is always appropriate. If the family wants to talk, they usually need to express their feelings; they aren’t looking for a response from you. A caring gesture such as a nice hug or rub on their back lets them know you are there for them. Viewing the decedent is not mandatory. However, if offered by the family, it is customary to show your respects by doing so. Always sign your name in the register book. If you were a business associate it is appropriate to note your company affiliation if the family may not otherwise recognize you. You presence alone will mean a lot to the family.
While there is no substitute for a personal visit, there are many other ways to express sympathy.
- Flowers: They can be a great comfort to the family. Flowers can be sent to either the family’s residence or funeral home. You may even decide to send flowers to the residence after services are rendered. This is appropriate. If the family requests that donations be made in lieu of flowers, you should honor their request.
- Mass Cards: If the decedent was Catholic some people will send a mass card instead or in addition to flowers. Some may arrange for a mass to be said for the decedent. It is also appropriate to arrange a mass on the anniversary of the death.
- Memorial Gifts: A memorial gift is always acceptable. The family may request such a gift in lieu of flowers to a specific organization or charity. Remember to provide the family’s name and address to the charity so they can send proper notification to the family. It is appropriate to mention your gift in a sympathy note without mentioning the amount of the gift.
- Food for the family: One of the most welcome gifts during this difficult time is food. There may be several visitors in the house who need to be fed. This act of kindness will relieve the immediate family of the undue stress of food preparation during a time of bereavement.
- Email: This is appropriate from those who are not too close with the family such as a business associate or former neighbor. The family will appreciate your message of concern.
- Phone calls: If you reside out-of-town you should call the family as soon as possible to offer your condolences. Keep the call brief, since others will probably be trying to contact the family also.
Funeral services are different depending upon the religious background along with personal beliefs. Memorials may be held at a church, temple, funeral home or possibly a residence. They may be simple or elaborate. Most families will choose a centralized location.
Once you arrive to the location, enter and quietly seat yourself. The first few rows are normally reserved for immediate family. The ceremony is usually conducted by a member of clergy, but others may offer thoughts, anecdotes or eulogies. If this is a traditional burial, once the service has concluded you will want to leave promptly and wait in your automobile if you plan to follow in procession to the cemetery. Out of respect for the decedent it is important to turn your headlights on.
Following the funeral, the family sometimes invites the attendees to join them for a reception at their residence or designated area. This gives family and friends a chance to talk and provides some time to relax and support each other.
If you happen to see the family in public at a later date, merely greet them warmly and ask how they are doing. If this is the first time you have seen them since the death has occurred, express your condolences. In the days and months to come, the family will continue to need support. Calling or writing on a regular basis is nice. Continue to include them in your social plans. It is nice to remember the family on special occasions and holidays especially during the first year following the death. This provides a great support system which is important to the family throughout the healing process.
Here are a few quick helpful tips to remember when attending a funeral.
- Select an appropriate and conservative outfit.
- Sign the guest book.
- Shake hands and offer a hug to the immediate family.
- Share something positive about the decedent.
- Follow their lead if someone is escorting you to your seat.
- Cry if you want to. It’s alright to show emotion.
- Attend graveside services if you are a close family member or friend.
- Offer to assist the family.
- Remember to continue to call and visit.
We hope this information has advised you on proper funeral etiquette. If you have any further questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact our professionals at any hour. We are here to further assist you and to guide you throughout the entire process.