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Funeral Etiquette: The Dos and the Please Don'ts

Published: November 14, 2018

Funeral Etiquette: The Dos and the Please Don’ts

When someone you know passes away, your first instinct is to offer encouragement, help, and support to those affected—but you may not know what to say or do. And that’s ok. Below is a guide to help you when attending services.

What to Say

To begin, offer your condolences to the family. If you are comfortable, share a memory of the deceased. In this difficult time, sharing the joy of the deceased’s life can help comfort the bereaved. For example: “I was so sorry to hear of Mary’s passing.  She was always such a wonderful friend to me."

What Not to Say

Try not to give comments that minimize the loss, such as "It's probably for the best, because he was suffering too much," "I know how you feel.," or “She’s in a better place now.” Oftentimes these will not provide comfort to the bereaved.

Wait for the family to discuss the cause of death. Do not bring it up yourself.

Do not say, “Let me know how I can help.” It’s common for grieving individuals not to reach out. Instead, tell them things like, “I will come by every morning this week to walk the dog,” or “Is 6pm a good time to drop off some groceries?”

What to Wear

When attending a memorial service or funeral, dress in dark and subdued colors, such as dark blues, grays, browns, and black. Dress simply and conservatively. Men are encouraged to wear a jacket and tie paired with dress shoes. Women should choose either a dress, a suit, or a skirt and blouse.

Arriving

Be on time, or even early. Enter the facility as quietly as possible. If there are no ushers present, remember that the first few rows of seats are usually for the immediate family and close friends. Acquaintances should seat themselves in the middle or towards the rear.

When to Visit

Immediately upon learning of a death, it is appropriate for family and close friends to go to the home of the bereaved to offer sympathy and support. This can be a very overwhelming time for a family. Offering to assist with child care, food preparation, or household chores can be extremely helpful and meaningful to the family.

For non-relatives, the funeral home is the best place to visit the family to offer your condolences.

Flowers

Sending flowers is a thoughtful way to express your sympathy to the family of the deceased. Flowers are a gift that can be enjoyed during and after the funeral service.

Floral arrangements and plants can be sent to both the funeral home to be present at services, or sent to the family’s home.

Keep the Line Moving

Visitations can be very emotional. If there is a line to speak with the family and view the deceased, be conscious of keeping the line moving. After passing through the line, stand to the side to continue conversation or allow the family member to continue to greet guests. The family will often be more available to speak following the conclusion of the service.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones should be turned off or silenced completely during the service. Checking your phone is noticeable and is a distraction to those who are trying to pay their respects. If you must return a message or receive a call, exit the service quietly.

Should I Bring My Children?

Allowing a child to attend a memorial or funeral service can help them say goodbye to a friend or loved one. A child shouldn’t be forced to go, but instead encourage them to share in this tribute with the rest of the family. Before attending, help prepare them by explaining what they might see at the service.

Gifts

The gift of food is a kind gesture that the family will deeply appreciate and help alleviate the stress of funeral planning and mourning. Gift cards to restaurants are also a helpful gift.

Remembering children in the family is a thoughtful gesture, as this is often a difficult time for them as well. A small gift like a stuffed animal or book is best.

Helping with household tasks ease the family's burden. Caring for pets, driving children to school, running errands, or helping around the house are wonderful gifts to the family.

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