The accepted customs of dress and behavior in a funeral have changed over time, but courtesy never goes out of style. Here are some "good to know" funeral etiquette tips.
Making the Most of a Difficult Time
Understanding what religious, ethnic or personal considerations you need to take into account at a funeral is important, but – more than anything - it’s important to be respectful of the emotions of close family members and to speak from your heart to let them know you care.
Here are a few things that may help you feel more comfortable at a funeral:
- Offer an expression of sympathy.
Sometimes we are at a loss for words when encountering something as final as death. Simply saying "I'm sorry for your loss" or “You must really be hurting” is usually enough. Be compassionate and just listen – these small gestures can mean so much.
- Find out the dress code.
In the past, black was the only acceptable color to wear to a funeral. Unless the family has indicated a particular dress code – either personally or via the obituary – conservative clothing is always appropriate and never out of place. However, other colors are now acceptable and, as long as you respect the wishes of the family and the deceased person in your dress, you can’t go wrong. More casual clothing is now typically acceptable at informal visitations and gatherings; whereas, funeral services usually call for slightly more polished attire. If you are unsure, play it safe and stick with basic black.
- Give a gift or send a card.
Whether you send flowers, make a donation to a charity, send a sympathy card, or send food, the old saying "It's the thought that counts" always holds true. The family may receive many gifts, so if you are giving a gift or flowers, it’s best to include a signed card, so they know what gift was given and by whom.
- Sign the register book.
The memory book (also known as the register or guest book) will hold touching memories for the family for years to come. When signing the book, include not only your name, but your relationship to the deceased person, such as co-worker, gym buddy, or casual acquaintance from the golf club. This will help the family place who you are in future.
- Keep in touch.
For most people the grieving doesn't end with a funeral. Simply sending a “thinking of you” card or placing a phone call a week, a month, or even a year after the death to let them know you are thinking of them can mean the world to a grieving family.
But, What Shouldn't You Do?
- Don't feel that you have to stay.
If you make a visit during calling hours, there's no reason your stay has to be a lengthy one. As a rule of thumb, the closer you were to the deceased person or a close family member, the longer your visit should be.
- Don't be afraid to laugh.
Remembering their loved one fondly can mean sharing a funny story or two. Just be mindful of the time and place; if others are sharing, then you may do so, as well. During visitation can be the perfect place to share your memories. There is simply no good reason you shouldn't talk about the deceased person in a happy, positive tone.
- Don't leave children at home if they knew the deceased person.
Children grieve just as adults do. Invite them to share in the experience of remembering a loved one. If you think you may need assistance with them at the visitation or during the funeral, bring along a sitter to help. Erlewein Mortuary has a children’s room with plenty of toys and activities where your children can “escape” for awhile, then return when they are ready.
- Don't leave your cell phone on.
Switch it off before entering the funeral home or, better yet, leave it in the car. It can be tempting to check your cell phone for messages during the service – leaving those around you and the family wondering if you really care. If you forget to turn your cell phone off and it happens to ring during a funeral, quickly turn it off or immediately step out of the room. Only answer the phone once you are well enough out of the room with the door closed behind you, so you don’t disturb the family and others participating in the service.
- Don't neglect to step into the receiving line.
Simply offer your name, tell how you knew the deceased person, and say how sorry you are for their loss. For example, “I’m Jim Smith. I worked with Tom. I’m really sorry. We will all miss him.” That’s all you need to say – nothing fancy or poetic required. The family will appreciate your kind words and expression of sympathy.
- Don't be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake.
Everyone does and you can be sure that an apology may be all that's needed to mend and soothe.