Funeral Etiquette: What to Say & What to Do When Someone Dies

Funerals are not only difficult for the funeral planner and the immediate family of the deceased, but they are also troublesome for friends, relatives and acquaintances as well. Typically, there are many questions confronting this group of mourners.

Funeral etiquette and sympathy flowers

What do you say to someone who has just lost a loved one and how do you support them?

Whether you call, send a card or flowers, or visit, the important thing is to make a gesture that lets the family know you’re thinking of them and share their sorrow. (Although this appears to be changing slowly in today’s culture, such forms of communication as texts, emails, and Tweets are still too informal for expressing sympathy.)

When hearing the news…

  • Be a good listener. Let friends and family talk about their loved one and their death. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t pressure them. Focus on the survivor’s needs.
  • Refer to the deceased by name.


How do I handle awkward questions about the death?

Be prepared to hear words of comfort that are awkward or seem inappropriate, such as, “You’ll get over it,” “It was her time,” or, “I know exactly how you feel, because I lost my little Chihuahua last week.”

  • Expect many questions regarding the circumstances of your loved one’s passing, especially if it was sudden, unexpected, or involved an accident.
  • Prepare a brief response and remember that you aren’t obligated to tell the entire story. Most people simply want to give you an opportunity to talk, although there are others whose morbid curiosity won’t be satisfied without hearing every detail. Including the cause of death in the obituary, if appropriate, can alleviate some of these questions.

Above all, if it is possible, be gracious to all who express sympathy, regardless of how inconsiderate or unfeeling their remarks might appear. They will someday be in your place and understand what is and isn’t inappropriate.

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