Funeral Etiquette – What and What Not to Say

I recently experienced the loss of my father. Other than my grandparents funerals, it was the first time I experienced a funeral as an immediate family member. An experience no one can truly understand until they have gone through it.

I kept that thought in the back of my mind during the visitation hours, but it was very difficult to stomach some of the comments made to me and my family by visitors. Whether you have personally experienced a tragic loss or not, you should know what is and is not appropriate to say to the grieving family.

1. A simple, “I’m so sorry”, or “You’re in my prayers”, will do. A few nice comments about the deceased would be appreciated, but keep it short. This is not a time for long winded chit chat. The family would appreciate any memories you have of the deceased in writing to refer to later and share together.

2. Do not say, “They’re in a better place” or “They’re no longer suffering”. My father was not suffering and I thought we gave him a pretty good place to be in. He loved his life.

3. Do not give a play by play of the death of your relative or friend.

4. Do not give excuses for not attending the funeral. It’s not like you’ll have an opportunity to attend again next year. It’s over when it’s over and you were either there or not. Someone told me they just returned from vacation and were too tired to attend.

5. Do not ask the manner of death or make comments about the appearance of the deceased. I did not appreciate hearing, “Oh my. Look how bloated he is” or “He looks like a mafia hit man”.

6. You should not make comments about the physical appearance of the grieving family. If you must, make sure they are positive. Both my mother and I were told we should get some rest because we looked terribly tired with those dark circles under our eyes. Gosh, I wonder why? I did everything in my power to look as presentable as I could under the circumstances.

7. If you see a member of the grieving family crying, do not say, “Suck it up and get over it”. Crying is very important to the grieving process.

8. Don’t hit on the widow or widower at the funeral.

9. Allow the family to have their private time. If the family is behind closed doors, in a car during the funeral procession, or saying their final farewell at the burial site, do not pop your head in to make a comment. Call or visit at a later date or put it in writing and mail it.

Unfortunately, all of these things did happen at the funeral. Please don’t forget your physical attendance alone is one of the most supportive gestures you can make. You don’t need to be the center of conversation.

For those of you who have lost a family member, I am sorry. My prayers are with you.

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