Many well-intentioned people avoid going to funerals and other types of memorial services because of the intense emotion and sadness associated with these events. Knowing what is appropriate in terms of etiquette can put you at ease as memorial services provide a mechanism for mourning the dead and a sense of finality and completion for the living.
If you have doubts as to whether you should attend a funeral, do try. The family will appreciate your presence and if you are able, offer a few words of kindness and support. This gracious act will be much appreciated as well.
Attending the Services
Frequently, the first event after a death is called a wake, a visitation, or calling hours. In many cases, this occurs in a funeral home and the casket (if present) has flowers and personal items on display. The family receives visits from friends who offer condolences and words of support.
A funeral (or memorial service) is attended by family and friends, and also neighbors, co-workers, and anyone who had a relationship with the deceased. Frequently, prayers are said, a eulogy is delivered, and any culturally-specific customs are practiced.
Burials, if appropriate, follow the funeral services, and frequently a shovelful of dirt is dropped into the grave as a sign of respect. The family initiates this act and anyone close to the deceased may follow suit.
In many cultures, the family shares a meal with the mourners after the ceremonies. This is a symbolic act that separates the continuity of life from death and the events associated with it. During this meal it is both typical and appropriate to share stories and memories of the deceased which invoke laughter, camaraderie, and levity.
It has been a longstanding tradition that mourners should wear black, but this is no longer the case (however, a bright, cheerful color isn’t the most appropriate choice, either). For men, dark suits and ties are appropriate, and for women, dresses or suits are a reasonable choice.
Recalling stories, fond memories, and warm anecdotes is always appropriate, and letting the family know how much the person meant to you and all they did for you is always appreciated.
Some more generic ways to express sympathy might include
– How kind the deceased person was
– That you are very sorry to hear the sad news
– That you had genuine feelings for the deceased and are bereaved yourself
– How much the deceased will be missed by family and friends