Funeral Etiquette Questions and Answers

When Should I Visit?

Upon 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.

What Can I Send The Family?

While there is no substitute for a personal visit or phone call if you are able to do so. If you are not able to do so, consider these options to extend your support to the family:

  • Flowers (through our website store, or call a local florist directly. Avoid the low cost online only options, they may be send by a shipping company and may not arrive on time, dry, not properly arranged, or damaged)
  • Memorial Gifts (the family may have specified a memorial donation, or you can send a gift directly to the family)
  • Food for the family (a thoughtful tradition that still helps every family to this day. Consider a restaurant or grocery store gift card if you are not local to the family)
  • Mass Cards (A faith based card indicating a prayer intention or memorial mass scheduled in honor of the deceased)

Attending a Visitation, Wake, or Calling Hours

Known by many different names, often by different faiths, neighborhoods, or generations, it is often an opportunity to come and visit with the family at the funeral home and extend your sympathies and support in person. Traditionally this is with the casket present, and often with the casket open for each guest to say goodbye. Today we may see a visitation with the urn present, or just photos and mementos displayed. In any type of visitation, it is only necessary to stay for a short time; just enough that feels right and 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.

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 may 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 or urn. 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.

Attending a Funeral or Memorial Service

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.

Funeral Reception or Collation

Immediately after the funeral, families may extend an invitation to 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. If the invitation is not included in a service program or announced after the service, it is considered to be a private event for the immediate family, or they may not have a group gathering planned.

Get a Free Printable

Planning Guide

Download Now