If there’s ever a time when we’re afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, it’s when a death occurs. But there are many things you can do to be sure that your words and actions are appropriate.
Fortunately, doing and saying the “right thing” during such a sensitive time is largely a matter of good manners and common sense. Over the years, we’ve been asked many excellent questions about funeral etiquette, and we’re happy to offer these answers.
What is a condolence visit? How long should I stay?
Close friends of the family usually visit the home of the bereaved as soon as they learn that a death has occurred. You may wish to offer your help at this time, by bringing food, offering to take care of children, or making phone calls.
Normally, fifteen to twenty minutes is enough time for you to express your sympathy and offer assistance. If the bereaved wishes you to stay longer, of course you should do so.
What should I say?
At a time of loss, the simplest words are usually the best. It is always appropriate to offer a few kind words about the deceased, and say that you will miss them.
What should I not say?
Basically, there are three things that should not be said at this time. Don’t ask the cause of death. Don’t give advice as to funeral plans or arrangements unless you are asked, and don’t say anything that might diminish the importance of the loss. Some people think they are helping by letting them know they will get over it, but this hurts. Statements such as “You’re young. You’ll get married again,” are not comforting.
What about religious customs?
Customs surrounding death and dying are different in each religion. If you are attending a funeral outside your faith, and are unfamiliar with the type of service, feel free to ask one of the funeral directors attending the service.
Are there any general guidelines about the order of the funeral service?
Yes. Remember that the first few rows at the service are generally reserved for the family. After the ceremony, the family may want a few private moments alone. Leave promptly, and wait in your car if you are planning to take part in the procession.
At the cemetery, the chairs closest to the casket are reserved for family. At the conclusion of the service, attendees are usually informed whether the family is receiving visitors, and where.
Black dress is not necessary for the visitation or funeral, but you should dress in a way that shows respect for the family and other mourners. If you bring children, dress them in their better clothes, and explain carefully how important it is for them to be on their best behavior.
When a death occurs, it is a time of great emotional strain. There are other areas of interaction with people who have lost a loved one when appropriate behavior is important. Immediately after the funeral is such a time. Later, you will meet the bereaved person in public, in social situations. And even months after the funeral, bereaved families generally need the ongoing help and support of their close friends. Our resource library has several brochures and pamphlets concerning funeral etiquette and other issues. We will be happy to provide them for you.