Even though common sense and good discretion are always the best guides to proper funeral etiquette, a few principles still apply.
It is sometimes appropriate for close friends of the bereaved family to visit the family's home to offer sympathy and assistance. With the bereaved family having to ensure that all the arrangements are looked after, a close friend(s) may become very helpful with food preparation and childcare. The visit can take place any time within the first few weeks of death, and may be followed with one or more additional visits, depending on the circumstances and your relationship with the family.
In addition to expressing sympathy it is appropriate, if desired, to relate to family members fond memories. In some cases family members may simply want you to be a good listener to their expressions of grief or memories of the one they loved. In most circumstances it is not appropriate to inquire as to the cause of death. If it is important for your to know, the family will volunteer this information.
If you attend a gathering where the family is present, approach them and express your sympathy. As with the home visit, it is appropriate to relate your memories. If you were only acquainted with their family member (and not the family) you should introduce yourself.
The length of your visit at any gathering is a matter of discretion. After visiting with the family you can feel comfortable visiting with others in attendance. Normally there is a guest book for visitors to sign.
As with other aspects of modern day society funeral dress codes have relaxed somewhat. Black dress is not necessarily vogue.
Gifts in memory of an individual are commonly made today, particularly when the family has requested gifts in lieu of flowers. The family is notified of the gifts by personal note from the donor or through the receiver, if the receiver is a charity or other organization. In the latter case the donor provides the family's name and address to the charity at the time the gift is made.
Even if you don't make a gift, a note or card to the family expressing your thoughts of the one they loved is a welcome gesture, especially if you weren't able to attend the funeral.
The funeral is a ceremony of proven worth and value for those who mourn. It provides an opportunity for the survivors and others who share in the loss to express their love, respect, grief and appreciation for a life that has been lived. It permits facing openly and realistically the crisis a death presents. Through the funeral the bereaved take that first step toward emotional adjustment to their loss.
The Funeral Service
The family specifies the type of service that will be conducted for their family member. Funeral directors are trained to assist them in arranging whatever type of service they desire. The service is held either at a place of worship or another facility where the remains may, or may not be present. The presence of friends at this time is an acknowledgment of friendship and support.
This service is usually by invitation only and may be held at a place of worship, another facility, or a family home. Usually, selected relatives and a few close friends attend this type of service. May times a gathering is held, condolences are sent, and the remains may, or may not be present.
A memorial service is a service without the remains present and can vary in ceremony and procedures according to the community and religious affiliations. Some families prefer public gatherings followed by a private or graveside service with a memorial service later at the church or another location.
Friends, relatives, church members or business associates may be asked to serve as pallbearers. The family generally contacts those individuals direct.
When an individual has been active in political, business, church or civic circles, it may be appropriate for the family to request close associates to serve as honorary pallbearers. They do not actively carry the casket, however, they are usually seated together in honor to the family.
A member of the family, clergy, a close personal friend or a business associate, may give a eulogy. The eulogy is not to be lengthy, but should offer praise and commendation and reflect the life of that person.
Wearing colorful clothing is no longer inappropriate for relatives and friends. Persons attending a funeral should be dressed in good taste so as to show dignity and respect for the family and the occasion.
When the funeral ceremony and the burial are both held within the local area, friends and relatives might accompany the family to the cemetery. The procession is formed at the place of worship or at the location where the funeral service is being held. The funeral director can advise you of the traffic regulations and procedures to follow while driving in a funeral procession. Usually a law enforcement escort is used to lead the funeral to the final committal location.
The time of death is a very confusing time for family members. No matter what your means of expressing your sympathy, it is important to clearly identify yourself to the family.
Sending a floral tribute is a very appropriate way of expressing sympathy to the family. Flowers express a feeling of life and beauty and offer much comfort to the family. A floral tribute can either be sent directly to the visitation, funeral location, or to the residence. Sending floral arrangements directly to the gathering location the day of the visitation or service assures two things: the arrangements will be the freshest possible and each will be moved only one time...from your florist choice to where it will be displayed for the public to appreciate.
Mass cards can be sent either by Catholic or non-Catholic friends. The offering of prayers is a valued expression of sympathy to a Catholic family. A card indicating that a mass for the deceased has been arranged may be obtained from any Catholic parish. In some areas it is possible to obtain mass cards from the funeral provider. The mass offering card or envelope is given to the family as an indication of understanding, faith and compassion. Make sure that your name and address is legible. This will make it easier for the family to acknowledge your gift.
A memorial contribution, to a specific cause or charity, can be appreciated as flowers. A large number of memorial funds are available, however the family may have expressed a preference. Memorial donations provide financial support for various projects. If recognized as a charitable institution, some gifts may be deductible for tax purposes. Your funeral director is familiar with them and can explain each option, as well as supply the donor with a card, which are given to the family.
Sending a card of sympathy, even if you are only an acquaintance, is appropriate. It means so much to the family members to know they are in good thoughts. The card should be in good taste and in keeping with your relationship to the family of the deceased.
A personal note of sympathy is very meaningful. Express yourself openly and sincerely. An expression such as "I'm sorry to learn of your personal loss" is welcomed by the family and can be kept with other messages.
Speaking to a family member gives you an opportunity to offer your services and make them feel you really care. If they wish to discuss their recent loss, don't hesitate to talk to the person about their loved one. Be a good listener.
Visitation or Gathering
Your presence at a visitation or gathering demonstrates that although someone has died, friends still remain. Your presence is an eloquent statement that you care.
Visitation provides a time and place for friends to offer their expression of sorrow and sympathy, rather than awkwardly approaching the subject at the office, supermarket or social activities. The funeral provider's website and the obituary/death notice will designate the hours of the visitation or gathering and when and where the family will be present. Friends and relatives are asked to sign the register book. If the person is a business associate, you may want to list your affiliation, as certain family members may not be familiar with your relationship to the deceased.
When the funeral service is over, family members often feel very alone in dealing with their feelings. It is important that they know you are still there. Keep in touch.
The family should acknowledge the flowers and messages sent by relatives and friends. When food and personal services are donated, these thoughtful acts also should be acknowledged, as should the services of the pallbearers. The funeral director may have available printed acknowledgment cards that can be used by the family. When the sender is well known to the family, a short personal note should be written on the acknowledgment card expressing appreciation for a contribution or personal service received. The note can be short, such as:
In some communities it is a practice to insert a public thank you in the newspaper. The funeral director can assist you with this.
Children at Funerals
At a very early age, children have an awareness of and a response to death. Children should be given the option to attend a visitation/gathering and the funeral service. The funeral director can advise you on how to assist children at the time of a funeral and can provide you with additional information and literature.
It is healthy to recognize death and discuss it realistically with friends and relatives. When a person dies, there is grief that needs to be shared. Expressions of sympathy and the offering of yourself to help others following the funeral are welcomed. It is important that we share our grief with one another. Your local funeral director can help family and friends locate available resources and grief recovery programs in your area.