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

Funerals, viewings, and visitations are not only difficult for the person planning the funeral and the immediate family of the deceased, but they can also be troublesome for friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

Funeral Etiquette You just don’t know what to say or aren’t sure of the best way to approach a grieving person. As a mourner, you will likely be confronted by many questions and just don’t know the proper funeral etiquette for handling certain difficult situations.

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. While times are changing and proper funeral etiquette is evolving, texts, emails, and tweets are still too informal for expressing sympathy. It is still much better to reach out using traditional communication methods such as a telephone call or hand written note.

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 and acknowledge the person’s life.
  • Avoid using cliched phrases such as “he or she is in a better place.” Instead, speak from your heart in your own words.

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How do I handle awkward questions about the death?

Be prepared to hear words that are intended to comfort but 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.” While these types of questions may be bad funeral etiquette, understand that many people just aren’t sure what to say or how to say it.

Expect many questions regarding the circumstances of your loved one’s passing, especially if it was sudden, unexpected, or involved an accident. Be prepared with 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 you may cross paths with those 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.

Have a specific funeral-related question?

Check out our Funeralwise Forums if you want to ask our experts a specific question about funerals or funeral etiquette. We receive a wide range of questions, such as: whether or not to attend a funeral, who to invite or not invite, how to conduct the funeral service, what to wear, what to do with the ashes, and where to send flowers. We respond in a “Dear Abby” style to questions involving sensitive family matters and relationships.

You can participate in the discussion and also share a personal funeral story, whether it’s funny, sad, or inspirational.

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