What Should I Say to the Grieving Family?

People at Graveside

Visitations and funeral services are often confusing for the family. Take time to talk with and greet family members, even if only to share a hug and a simple expression of sorrow. Kind words or memories about the person who has died are always welcome. The family may want to talk and there’s no need to feel pressured to have a response. Listening is synonymous with being supportive and helpful.

Additional information is available in Funeral Etiquette — What To Say/Do.

How long should I stay at a visitation or wake? Do I have to wear black?

It isn’t necessary to stay a long time at a wake or visitation. You can express your sympathy in a little as fifteen minutes, but don’t make it obvious if you are anxious to leave.

Dressing in good taste and showing dignity and respect for the family is more important than the color of your clothing. It is no longer considered inappropriate to wear colorful clothing.

Should I send flowers to the funeral home or is another type of tribute more appropriate?

Flowers are an acceptable and customary tribute for most religious and ethnic groups. Judaism is one notable exception. Oftentimes, families prefer that donations in memory of the deceased be made to certain charities. Usually the family will indicate their preference in an obituary or other form of communication. You should honor the wishes of the family even if you prefer to send flowers when donations are requested. There is no rule that you cannot offer more than one type of condolence, but not all expressions need to be public.

See Funeral Etiquette > Sending Flowers for detailed information on how to choose the right flowers to send and to place an order.

See Funeral Etiquette > Memorial Donations for guidance on making donations in the memory of someone.

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