Funeral Etiquette

To set your nerves at ease

The death of a loved one often leaves us feeling lost and not sure what we can do. It is natural to feel this way. Here are some helpful suggestions to give you insight on how to comfort those who are grieving.


When should I visit/help?

griefwomenUpon learning of a death, intimate friends of the family should visit the home to offer sympathy and ask if they can help. You may prefer to visit the family at the funeral home. This setting may be more comfortable for you and the family, as they are prepared for visitors.

After the difficult and busy days surrounding the death, the family is faced with the challenge of trying to resume their day to day lives. Remembering the family during this time often is critical in their recovery. Try to write or call on a regular basis. Continue to include them in your social plans, they will let you know when they are ready to participate. It is also nice to remember the family on special occasions during the first year following the death. Don’t worry about bringing up the pain and emotion of the loss, they are well aware of that. By remembering such occasions as wedding anniversaries and birthdays, you are not remembering the death, but reaffirming that a life was lived.

What should I say?

Using your own words, express your sympathy. Kind words about the person who has died is always appropriate. If the family wants to talk, they usually simply need to express their feelings; they aren’t necessarily looking for a response from you. What you say depends entirely on your relationship with the deceased and their family. If the deceased is an acquaintance or casual friend, saying “I’m sorry,” “He was a wonderful person and a friend of mine. He will be missed,” “My sympathy to your family,” or something comparable is appropriate. However, if you are closer to the family you may want to ask if there is anything you can do to help or express your feelings about the deceased. You should not ask for details from the family about the illness or death.

Expressions of Sympathy

While there is no substitute for a personal visit if you are able to do so, there are many other ways to express your sympathy.

  • Flowers
  • Memorial Gifts
  • Phone Calls
  • Food for the family
  • Mass Cards
  • E-mail

What should I wear?

It is no longer necessary to wear black to a funeral. Wearing colorful clothing is no longer inappropriate for relatives and friends. However, persons attending a funeral should be dressed in good taste so as to show dignity and respect for the family and the occasion.

The visitation

It is only necessary to stay for a short time; fifteen minutes or so gives you enough time to express your sympathy. Your simple presence will mean a lot to the family. You do not need to stay for the entire visitation, but try not to leave during any prayers or services.

A formal visitation provides a time and place for friends to offer their expressions of sorrow and sympathy. This practice is most common among the Protestant and Catholic faiths. The obituary should tell you the visitation hours and when the family will be present.

When you speak to the family, don’t feel as though you must avoid talking about the person who has died. Talking can help the grieving process begin. Do not feel uncomfortable if you or the family member becomes emotional or begins to cry. Allowing the family to grieve is a natural healing process. However, if you find yourself becoming extremely upset, it would be kinder to excuse yourself so as not to increase the strain on the family.

Many times the family will be in a receiving line near the casket. Viewing the deceased is not mandatory. However, if offered by the family, it is customary to show your respects by viewing the deceased, and, if you desire, spending a few moments in silent prayer. If a kneeling bench is placed in front of the casket, you may kneel and say a prayer. If you do not wish to kneel, you may stand in front of the casket for a moment.

The funeral and graveside services

You can find the funeral service time and location in the obituary. If the location and time of the services are included in the obituary notice, it is considered an invitation to attend.

At the cemetery, the casket is normally placed beside the grave. People then gather around the casket to listen to the rites of burial given by the clergy. Following the clergy’s remarks, family members may place a flower on the casket. In many cases the funeral director will provide flowers for each mourner. The clergy or funeral director will then dismiss the family and friends at the end of the service.

Immediately following the funeral
Immediately after the funeral, families often invite the attendees to join them for food or a reception at their home or designated place. This gives everyone a chance to talk and provides some time to relax and refresh. Sometimes friends or church members will take it upon themselves to prepare food ahead of time for this gathering, and relieve the family of this task.