Funeral Etiquette Advice: Show Up, Be Brief, Listen

By Paul Larson

MILLBRAE – Have you ever attended a funeral or memorial service and felt ill-at-ease, uncomfortable or awkward when talking to the family of the deceased? Have you ever stumbled through your words and condolences because you just didn’t know what to say or how to say it? Have you even decided to not approach the family for fear of saying the wrong thing or making a fool of yourself? If so you are not alone. Many people in this situation want to provide some kind of comfort to the immediate family, but just don’t have the verbal tools to do so in an assuring manner.

Learning “Funeral Etiquette” can be useful. Using the right words at the right time is an appropriate way to show that you care, and in situations like this can be of great help when provided correctly.

Standard condolences such as “I am sorry for your loss” have become routine and generic. A personalized phrase can be welcomed such as “John touched many lives” or “I will miss John”. DO NOT ask the cause of death, offer advice or make comments that would diminish the importance of the loss such as “Oh, you’re young and can marry again”.

Other ways to demonstrate your support include: 1. Listening. The family may feel the need to express their anxiety, and giving them that opportunity can be therapeutic; 2. An embrace. This can show that you care without the need for words; 3. Offering your services. This shows the family that you are willing to give extra time for them: “Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help” (be prepared to act if needed).

Even if you don’t feel confident in approaching the family there are other ways to show that you care: 1. Attending the funeral and signing the Memorial Book will show the family that you took the time to be there in support; 2. Dressing appropriately for the funeral will demonstrate your efforts to prepare for this special occasion (dark colors are no longer a requisite for funerals, but dressing in a coat, tie, dress or other attire that you’d wear to any special event are considered a way of showing you care); 3. In certain cases friends are invited to stand up and offer BRIEF personal feelings. Prior to the funeral write a few key notes and reflections which will help you organize your thoughts. Even if there is no opportunity to speak before a group you may have a chance to offer your thoughts to the family following the ceremony; 4. A personalized card or note will help you arrange your words better and can be kept by the family. If you don’t have their mailing address you can send your envelope to the funeral home and they will forward it to the next of kin; 5. Providing flowers is a long time tradition, or making a charitable donation in the deceased’s memory will give the family a strong sense of your regards; 6. If appropriate a brief phone call can show your immediate concern, but generally this should be avoided to give the family the privacy they may need.

If you ever wish to discuss cremation, funeral matters or want to make pre-planning arrangements please feel free to call me and my staff at the CHAPEL OF THE HIGHLANDS in Millbrae at (650) 588-5116 and we will be happy to guide you in a fair and helpful manner. For more info you may also visit us on the internet at: