A Helpful Guide to Funeral Etiquette

When a friend or acquaintance dies, your first reaction may be to help. But you may not be sure of what to say or do. It is natural to feel this way. This information is designed to inform you on proper etiquette and also provide helpful advice on how you can be of comfort to the bereaved.

While you may feel hesitant about intruding on the family during their grief, it is important to visit them. It lets the family know that while their loved one is gone, they are not alone; that while suffering a great loss, they are still connected to the living, and that life will go on.


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.


It is only necessary to stay for a short time; fifteen minutes or so gives you enough time to express your sympathy.


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 are not necessarily looking for a response from you. The kindest response is usually a warm hug and simply say, AI understand@.


A formal visitation provides a time and place for friends to offer their expressions of sorrow and sympathy. This practice is most common among the Protestant and Catholic faiths. The obituary should tell you the visitation hours and when the family will be present, or you may call the funeral home for this information.

When you arrive, go to the family, and express your sympathy with an embrace or by offering your hand. Don=t feel as though you must avoid talking about the person who has died. Talking can help the grieving process begin. If you were an acquaintance of the deceased but not well known to the family, immediately introduce yourself. Do not feel uncomfortable if you or the family members become emotional or begin to cry. Allowing the family to grieve is a natural healing process. However, if you find yourself becoming extremely upset, it would be kinder to excuse yourself so as not to increase the strain on the family.

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. Always sign your name in the register book. If you were a business associate of the deceased, it is appropriate to note your company affiliation or the family may not otherwise know you.

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 that might be offered.


While there is no substitute for a personal visit if you are able to do so, there are many other ways to express your sympathy.


E-mail is appropriate from those who are not intimate with the family such as a business associate or a former neighbor. The family will appreciate your message of concern.


Flowers can be a great comfort to the family and may be sent to the funeral home or to the residence. Some people prefer to send flowers to the residence afterwards. If the family asks that donations should be made in lieu of flowers, you should honor that request.


The most welcome gift at this time is food. Also, there may be several visitors in the house who need to be fed. During the days immediately following the death, substantial dishes that require little preparation other than reheating are appropriate.


If the deceased was Catholic, some people will send a mass card instead or in addition to flowers. Catholics and non-Catholics may arrange for a mass to be said for the deceased. It is also appropriate to arrange a mass on the anniversary of the death.


A memorial gift is always appropriate, especially when the family has requested such a gift in lieu of flowers. Usually the family will designate a specific organization or charity. Remember to provide the family=s name and address to the charity so they can send proper notification. It is acceptable to mention your gift in a sympathy note without mentioning the amount of the gift. When possible, Givens Funeral Home will offer a direct link to charities requested by the family.


If you live out-of-town you should telephone as soon as possible to offer your sympathy. Keep the call brief, since others will probably be trying to call as well.


Funeral services differ depending upon the religious and personal beliefs of the family. Funeral services can be held at a church, temple, funeral home, or even the residence. Most folks will chose the funeral home, because of its central location or its unique service it provides.

Whether the service is held at the funeral home or at church, enter quietly and be seated. The first few rows are usually reserved for family members, however, people should sit close behind them to give comfort and support. The ceremony is usually conducted by a member of the clergy, but others may offer thoughts, anecdotes, or eulogies. At the conclusion of the service, you will want to leave promptly, and wait in your car if you plan to follow the procession to the cemetery. Remember to turn your headlights on so you can be identified as being a part of the procession. Also remember to turn your headlights off once you arrive at the cemetery.


Immediately after the funeral, the family sometimes invites 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.



What you say depends on if you have already had contact with them. If you attended the visitation or funeral, merely greet them warmly and ask how they are doing. If this is your first meeting with them since the death, your first reaction might be to express your sympathy. However, it is nicer not to bring up the death as this might evoke emotions which might be painful for your friend to deal with in a public place. Perhaps it would be better just to say you understand that this is a difficult time for them. You might even ask when it would be a good time to visit or go to lunch or dinner.


In the days and months to come, the family will continue to need your support. 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.

It is our sincere hope that this information will help guide you on how you can be of comfort to someone who is grieving the lost of their loved one. If there is any other information or questions you may have please feel free to contact us any time by telephone 540-921-1650 or stop by at your convenience.