What should I say?
It is important to clearly identify yourself to the family. In addition to expressing sympathy, it is appropriate, if desired, to relate to family members your fond memories of the deceased. In some cases, family members may simply want you to be a good listener to their expressions of grief or memories of the deceased. In most circumstances, it is not appropriate to inquire as to the cause of death.
When in person, sympathy may be expressed by clasping hands, an embrace, or a simple statement of condolence like:
- “My sympathy to you.”
- “Our condolences to you and your family.”
- “It was good to know John.”
- “John was a fine person and friend. He will be missed.”
- “My sympathy to you and your mother.”
Funeral Etiquette Frequently Asked Questions
It is completely up to you and depends on the closeness of your relationship with the family or the deceased. You can send flowers to the funeral home prior to the funeral. Gifts in memory of the deceased are often made, particularly when the family has requested gifts in lieu of flowers. The family is notified of the gifts by a personal note from the charity or other organization.
Even if you don’t make a gift, a note or card to the deceased’s family expressing your thoughts of the deceased is a welcome gesture, especially if you weren’t able to attend the funeral.
Anyone can go. A funeral service is open to anyone unless the family requests that it be held privately.
No, wearing colorful clothing is no longer inappropriate for relatives and friends. Most people choose formal clothing. In general, jeans, flip flops and casual day-to-day wear is not considered appropriate for a funeral unless noted by the family.
Yes, but toddlers and babies can be disruptive, especially if it is a long service. Studies have found that children benefit from attending funerals. It helps them accept the death and say goodbye. Although, depending on their age, children have different understandings of the permanence of death. Parents should always use their best judgment to determine whether their child should attend any funeral and make the best decision for their family, always.
The decision of whether or not to approach the casket is a very individual one. It is not required or considered rude if you decide against it. Many people find that viewing the deceased helps you to accept the loss and move on.
If you decide to approach the casket, use that time to say your goodbyes and pay your respects. Keep in mind that there are often long lines to follow, and everyone deserves their moment with the deceased.
When you arrive, quietly take a seat if the service is being held in a church or chapel. The first few rows are usually reserved for the immediate family and the casket bearers. There may be an opportunity during the service for you to share some words about the deceased. If the ceremony is being held at the interment site, seating is usually only available for the immediate family.
When the funeral ceremony and the burial are both held within the local area, it is appropriate for friends and relatives to accompany the family to the ceremony.
The casket is normally placed beside the grave, prior to when all the mourners gather at the gravesite. People then gather around the casket to listen to any burial rites. Following any remarks, family members may place a flower or tribute on the casket.
One of the best ways you can help your friend is to allow them to feel what they want to feel. They may feel anger, guilt, or fear. Let them talk these feelings through with you – don’t try to stop them, because you think they are irrational or acting out-of-character.
Remember that grief doesn’t go away in a few short weeks. Even one year may not be long enough to adjust to changes in your life. A friend who calls in three, six- or 12-months’ time may be one of the few who still asks how things are going. Special days like birthdays or holidays may be just the time to pick up the phone and say, “I was thinking of you today.”