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Funeral Etiquette

Today, we’d like to share tips on funeral etiquette. You may find yourself unsure of what is acceptable. Here are answers to some of the most common etiquette questions that have come up.

What to do upon hearing the news:
It can be very difficult to cope with the news of an immediate family member passing away. Those that are closest to the deceased will be grieving and trying to cope with their loss. The best thing that you could do for someone that experiences such a loss is to reach out to them and offer your condolences and assistance.

The family may need some help, whether it be with children, running a quick errand, or needing a listening ear. Offer to help. Often times, creating a dish or two for the family can go a long way. The family may be very busy with funeral planning and arrangements, so a nice hot meal or something they can easily reheat is usually more than welcome.

If you find yourself trying to contact the family, but getting a voicemail, it is acceptable to leave a message. In your message, express your sympathy and state your intentions. Let them know that you are available to help.

Who should attend:
If you are close to the deceased or to someone who is close to the deceased, you should attend the services. It is often acceptable to attend just the wake, and not the funeral, if you are not close to the deceased or the family of the deceased.

As for children, in most cases, it is best that you do not bring children to the services, if you are not family. It is at the discretion of the family whether or not children who were close to the deceased should attend. The child’s grieving process should be taken into consideration when making this decision, as often times, just as with adults, attending the service may help them with closure.

It is customary at a wake, to approach the casket and take a moment of silence or prayer. A wake is a time to honor and recognize the deceased, and a final viewing of the body is seen as a sign of respect. It is not mandatory to view the body, but it is often expected. However, if you feel that you won’t be able to do this calmly, you should consider foregoing this.

There is often a receiving line near the casket. The people in this line are the closest loved ones to the deceased. It is often expected that you will express sympathy to each of those people.

Sending Flowers:
Flowers are a symbol of sympathy towards the family, and is a way of honoring the deceased. Many florists offer arrangements specifically for funerals. If you are unsure of where you should purchase the flowers, check the funeral home’s website, often times there is a link to the florist they recommend.

It is almost always acceptable to send flowers, unless the notice specifically says not to. Some families wish to receive donations to a charity, in lieu of flowers. If you are ordering flowers, be sure to order flowers as soon as possible so that they arrive in time for the service.

What to wear:
For many people, wearing black to a funeral is a symbol of grieving and sympathy. Although the strict black attire is not as common today, one should show respect for the family by dressing in subdued colors and clothing that is conservative (not too loud or revealing). For men, a suit is often the best option. A polo shirt and slacks can be acceptable, too. For women, dressing in a skirt at about knee level or slacks, and shirts with conservative neck lines are appropriate. The key is to wear clothing that does not draw attention to you.

Some colors and styles are culturally inappropriate for certain traditions, so if you are attending a service of a faith or ethnicity you are not familiar with, ask family members or friends if the family follows the traditions of their faith/ethnicity, and then research or ask about clothing that is culturally acceptable.

Knowing what to say:
At the service, you are going to be expressing sympathy to the family. Do not worry about choosing the “right” words. Simply say what you feel. If you are having difficulty in communicating your feelings, saying something such as “sorry for your loss”, is acceptable. Try to say something from the heart. Keep in mind that during this time your presence is what the family really appreciates.

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