Funeral Etiquette

It’s safe to say that, for most of us, our first experiences attending a visitation or a funeral service were at least a little daunting. Even after you get past the difficult and emotional nature of the event and the unusual setting, it’s pretty common to struggle with knowing what to do and say (and scarier still – what if I say the wrong thing?)

This is all very normal and some aspect of this trepidation often stays with us well past our first time. We thought it might be helpful to offer a few tips and suggestions that may ease your way.

  • #1 (Always) – It is your presence that matters most. What you say doesn’t matter near as much as the simple fact that you have come to offer your love, care or support to a family in grief. Your appearance reminds them they are not alone and that their loved one will be missed by many. Something we all need to know at a time of loss.

  • When you do speak to the family, speak from the heart – you don’t need to be a poet, just express your sadness at the loss and your respect for the individual, in your own words. And very few words are required.

  • Don’t be afraid to mention their loved one, by name. They will never tire of hearing that name spoken and they will often be comforted to know others will remember as well. And, happy memories are not out of place. Offer them gently but rest assured that they have healing power.

  • Read the room – if there is a long line, keep it brief. If you arrived at a quiet time, take your cue from the family. If they seem to welcome the company, it’s OK to stay a while longer.

  • Offers of help may not always be accepted but they will be appreciated. Before you meet the family, it helps to consider what they might need that you can provide. Think practically – they will get a lot of ‘if you need anything’ but may find it more helpful to hear ‘I’m available to walk the dog’ or ‘is there a good time to drop off a casserole?’.

  • Be present. When you greet the family or enter the service remember that, while it’s perfectly alright that you are grieving too, you are first and foremost there for them. Turn off your cell phone at the door, suspend the socializing with others as you approach, listen carefully and take your cues from the family. In that moment simply be present for them without distraction.
  • Finally, at all times be mindful and respectful. In the way you dress, in your tone, volume and behaviour. That’s not to say you can’t wear bright colours or smile. Simple good manners will usually be all you need. Just give a little thought to what you believe the family would expect – after all, you’re here for them.