Funeral Etiquette: The Right Ways to Provide Comfort

Most of us know about proper etiquette for celebrations such as weddings, birthdays and holiday dinners. Not as well-known are rules of etiquette for funerals, celebrations intended to comfort those grieving the loss of a loved one. Well-meaning friends and family members who don’t know the right things to say or do can unintentionally make the bereaved feel even worse. Here are some answers to questions we frequently receive about the right ways to provide comfort.

What Should I Say?

Sharing a fond memory of the person who passed away will help the grieving focus on happier times. Many people want to say as much as they can, but it’s best to keep it short and simple. Tried and true sentiments such as “My condolences to you and the entire family” or “My thoughts are with you all” are usually all you need.

What Shouldn’t I Say?

Avoid statements that can be perceived as insensitive, such as “He’s in a better place” or “The pain will lessen in time.” Don’t ask how the person died or tell the bereaved you know how they feel — no one truly knows how they feel. Again, keep it simple. There can be great comfort in a smile, a hug or just a silent moment together.

How Can I Help the Grieving Family?

Chances are they’re overwhelmed, so simply ask what they need. It’s best to be tangible and specific. Instead of saying, “I’m here if you need me,” say “I’m here if you need me to provide food, or pick someone up from the airport.” And be sure that you can actually do it — don’t make empty promises.

What Things Should I Absolutely Not Do?

As terribly thoughtless as it sounds, it’s not unheard of for someone to answer their cell phone during a funeral ceremony. Doing that is insulting and hurtful for the grieving family. Please make sure your cell phone is turned off or in silent mode. If possible, leave your phone in the car. Texting is also frowned upon, as well as whispering to your neighbor. If you are coughing loudly, it’s best to step out of the room.

Should I Attend the Funeral?

Many families experience rifts or estrangements. When a death occurs and the family is not intact, it can be difficult to know how to reach out or decide whether or not to attend the funeral. If you’d like to attend but aren’t sure how your presence will be received, reach out to family members and discuss the matter.

The most important thing to keep in mind when interacting with a grieving family at a funeral is that you are there to support them. In many cases, your presence alone will be enough. After experiencing a loss, many people feel lonely and isolated, and by simply offering a sympathetic word or a caring touch, you can remind the bereaved that you are there for them.