Funerals and memorial services are a way for families and friends to honor the deceased and acknowledge a sense of loss. Because there is such emotion involved, attending a funeral can be uncomfortable for some people. Not knowing what to say or do—and what to wear—can add to the stress of the day.
Although customs will vary, depending on location and religion, the following tips can be used as a basic guideline for what to expect:
To Go or Not to Go
A funeral or memorial service for a loved one is a public event and typically anyone who knew the deceased—close family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances—are welcome to attend. If a private service is planned, you will be notified of the details. If you can attend, do. The family will appreciate your presence and support.
What to Wear
Funerals and memorial services are somber occasions and conservative (somber) clothing is appropriate:
- Men: Dark suit or dark pants and jacket
- Women: A dark dress or dark suit
What to Send
Sending a sympathy card, or a personal note, is an appropriate gesture. Choose a card that is in good taste and reflects your relationship to the family.
When someone passes away, it’s very common to send flowers to the bereaved. You can send them to the family’s home or directly to the funeral home.
Keep in mind that:
- Baskets of flowers or plants of any kind are fine
- Floral wreathes and crosses are typically sent by a group as they are usually bigger and more involved
- Close family typically provides casket arrangements and it’s not appropriate to buy this type of arrangement without discussing with the family first.
Often, families request that donations be made to a specific charity in memory of the deceased, in lieu of sending flowers. If you choose to make a donation, make sure that the charity has the name and address of the bereaved family so they can be notified that a donation was made in memory of their loved one.
What to Say to the Bereaved
Expressing sympathy to someone in deep mourning can be difficult. It’s best to keep it short and simple. On arrival, greet the family and briefly offer your condolences.
- Be specific when offering any help. Offer to help with childcare, make dinner, or run errands, for example.
- Avoid claiming that you know how someone feels. Simply let them know that you’re thinking of them.
- Don’t bring up spirituality.
What to Do If
You may be asked to serve as pallbearers or ushers at the service.Here’s what to expect:
Pallbearers: Pallbearers carry or escort the coffin to the burial place. During the service, you will sit at the front, just behind the family. If you are asked to be a pallbearer and are not comfortable carrying the coffin, you may be able to escort it instead.
Ushers: Ushers help escort mourners to their seats before the service. Always try to seat those with the closest relationship to the deceased nearest to the front. Ushers themselves can sit wherever they choose once the ceremony starts.
Eulogies: You may be asked to give a eulogy at the service. If you are not comfortable doing so (or too upset), it’s perfectly okay to decline. If you do decide to say a few words, keep these tips in mind:
- A eulogy is just 2 – 10 minutes long
- Plan what you are going to say before you arrive
- Have someone review your words beforehand
- Share how you knew the deceased, and don’t speak only about your relationship with him or her
- Emphasize the deceased’s best qualities
No one likes to think about death or funerals, but unfortunately it’s a part of life. Even though common sense and good discretion are always the best guides to proper funeral etiquette, knowing what to expect, in itself, can be a comfort. Hopefully these tips helped!