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

Funerals, viewings, and visitations are difficult for the person planning the funeral or memorial service and the deceased’s immediate family. They can also be troublesome for friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

Funeral EtiquetteOften, you 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 face uncomfortable questions, and you may not 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?

There are many ways to make a gesture that lets the family know you’re thinking of them and share their sorrow. Exactly how you reach out to the grieving family is up to you–call, send a card, food or flowers, or visit. Times are changing, and proper funeral etiquette is evolving. It is still best to reach out using traditional communication such as phone calls or written notes. Texts, emails, and tweets are still considered too informal for expressing sympathy. 

When hearing the news…

  • Be a good listener. Let friends and family talk about their loved one’s life and 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?

As a mourner, you will likely hear a phrase intended to comfort but is awkward or seems inappropriate. People often say things  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 comments may be bad funeral etiquette, many people aren’t sure what to say or how to say it.

Expect many questions regarding the circumstances of your loved one’s passing. Particularly if the death 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 want to allow you to talk, but 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.

Try to be gracious to all who express sympathy, regardless of how inconsiderate or unfeeling their remarks might seem. 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 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 share a personal funeral story, whether funny, sad, or inspirational.

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