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Attending the Funeral or Memorial Service

Should you attend the funeral? Unless the funeral notice says it’s a private service, then you can assume the public is welcome, and you should go. Until you’ve lost a family member yourself, you won’t understand what a comfort it is to the family to see a full chapel [and] the seats packed with people who also care for and remember the deceased. … The family knows that attending a funeral is inconvenient, and that’s why they’ll never forget that you came.

Funerals today range from the rigidly ritualistic to the extremely informal. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from going. Even if you’ve never been to a funeral of another faith, your presence is appreciated, and if necessary, 0ur funeral director or clergy will tell the mourners what to do and when. 

Arrive early. Services often are delayed because of the people who show up five minutes before the starting time and find they have to park a block away and then try to find a seat, perhaps after the service has already started. If there is a memorial book, be sure to sign it with your first and last names and, if appropriate, your relationship to the deceased. It is important to the family to see who attended the service, and they may use the memorial book to send thank-you notes. 

Don’t try to seek out the family before the service; if you find that they are greeting people, keep your interaction brief and find your seat quickly. 

Be respectful. Don’t chat with those around you or eat or drink anything (leave that latté in the car). Turn off your mobile phone; the last thing the family wants to hear is a ringer going off during one of life’s most solemn occasions. If you brought small children who start making noise or causing a distraction, take them outside immediately.

Tears are normal and expected at a funeral; however, if you find yourself crying uncontrollably, in a manner that would be upsetting to others or call undue attention to yourself, it is best to excuse yourself from the service until you can gain control.

An open microphone for sharing memories of the deceased is sometimes available at memorial services. If you decide to participate, keep your remarks respectful and brief. Long-winded or off-colour stories are inappropriate.

At a religious service, whether or not you agree with the rituals, try to go along to the best of your ability. Your cooperation shows respect for the deceased and the bereaved family rather than agreement with the religion.

If you are tempted to use your phone camera to photograph the service, think twice; this act can be seen by the grieving as an invasion of privacy. If you believe you have a legitimate reason for taking pictures, check with the family and/or funeral director or clergy first.

Children and Funerals

Should you take your children to a viewing or memorial service? 

Children who are very young and can’t understand what is going on generally should not attend services, not only because they may disrupt the service, but also because the grief displayed during the service may be upsetting to them. It may be appropriate to take older children who knew the deceased and have at least a basic understanding of the service.

Children old enough to understand death also should understand the purpose of a funeral and be allowed to ask questions before or after the service and to work through their grief.

Addressing questions in advance also helps quiet spontaneous and potentially embarrassing questions during the funeral. Recognise that children, like adults, may respond to grief with humour, behavioural issues. Be patient and tolerant. 

Clothing at Funerals

For many people, wearing black to a funeral has been a symbol of grieving and sympathy. Although people are less sensitive about dress today, one still shows respect for the family by dressing in subdued colours and clothing that is conservative—that is, clothes that don’t call attention to yourself by being too casual, loud, or revealing

Crying at Funerals

Don’t feel guilty about saying or doing something that causes a loved one to cry or crying yourself. Crying is healthy. If, however, you find yourself weeping uncontrollably (you’re causing a scene or making other mourners uncomfortable), it is polite to excuse yourself until you regain control. 

The cardinal rule is to ensure the focus is on the survivors, not on yourself and your grief. You are there to console the family, so don’t put them into the awkward position of consoling you.

Funeral Processions

The etiquette for driving in a funeral procession is fairly simple: follow the instructions of the funeral director (if applicable), turn on your headlights, and closely follow the vehicle ahead of you. Funeral processions generally have the right of way at intersections, and other vehicles should yield. 

Graveside Services

There may be a public graveside service for interment after the funeral. If the cemetery is distant from the funeral, there likely will be a motorcade or procession. When you arrive at the cemetery, pull off to the side but don't park on the grass unless directed to do so.

Keep in mind that the chairs at graveside are for the immediate family members (or the infirm); others will be expected to stand.

If you're male, remove your hat during the service.

It is not polite to laugh loudly in a cemetery, engage in phone conversations during the service, or sit, walk, or lean on gravestones or markers.

Keep your children in check and remind them that this isn’t the park; games of hide and seek are inappropriate.

Avoid walking directly on graves if you can (stay between the headstones).

Photography should be done only with the permission of the family.

Pallbearers

If you are asked by the family to be a pallbearer, consider it an honour. You should accept if at all possible, unless physical limitations would keep you from helping to lift and carry the coffin. (If you must decline, do so with regret, and explain why.) 

The funeral director will inform you of your duties at the funeral and, if applicable, at graveside. Pallbearers usually carry (or, in the case of honorary pallbearers, accompany) the casket to the front of the church or funeral home, to the hearse, and from the hearse to the burial site.

Photography at Funerals

If you have been specifically requested by the family to photograph the service—perhaps because certain family members couldn’t attend—do so with the utmost discretion, using natural light if possible rather than a flash, and avoiding close-up photos of grieving people.

Etiquette demands extreme respect for others; keep this tenet in mind when taking photos.

Photographing the deceased in the casket, unless the family has asked you to do so, is generally considered in very poor taste.

Viewings

If visiting at the funeral home, take a moment to stand by the coffin (if it is present) to pay your respects, whether you offer a silent prayer or simply reflect. Be sure to sign the guestbook or registry if one is available.

It is appropriate to bring along a card with a personal note and flowers.    

Visiting the family home

Keep your visit brief, unless you are lending a hand or are encouraged by the family to stay longer. After you have expressed your heartfelt sympathy, asked if you can help in a meaningful way, and perhaps offered a warm memory or two, leave. This is not the time to “hang out,” talk about your own bereavement, or catch up on old times.

Memorial Donations

Finding Reputable Charities

More frequently, friends and family may encounter the phrase, 'in lieu of flowers, please make donations to...' 

If the family has requested donations to a specific cause or charity in lieu of flowers, you can choose whether to make such a donation. Make sure the charity knows the name and address of the bereaved family so they can be notified of your kindness; even if you wish to remain anonymous, the family should be made aware that a donation has been received to commemorate their loved one (charitable envelopes are available to be filled in on all of our funerals). 

Donations in the form of cash gifts to the family, even if they are in dire need, must be handled with discretion. Unless a bank account has been set up for donations,

Appropriate charitable organisations may include a favourite charity of the deceased. If he or she suffered an illness the specified charity may be a medical research organisation that works for a cure in that area. Selecting a charity that will make good use of the money is an important consideration

The Pallbearers

Clergy presiding at the funeral (also receive an honorarium; see Clergy.)

How Do You Remember Whom to Acknowledge?One of your most important tools during this time will be a simple notepad and pen.

Keep it handy, and note each call and visit; do not depend on your memory.

You can assign a friend or family member to keep this record.

Be sure to note first and last names and telephone numbers. It can be a great comfort in future days to see the support you were offered.

Sympathy Thank You Cards

What Do You Say in a Sympathy Thank You Note?

A simple 1 to 3 sentence thank you is all that is needed. You can purchase sympathy thank you cards that come with a preprinted message or blank note cards for your message. Even if you send the preprinted notes, you should add a brief personal message. 

Use phrases such as:

  • Thank you for your sympathy and kindness
  • We deeply appreciate your expression of sympathy
  • Thank you for your support at this difficult time
  • Thank you for your prayers and thoughts
  • Thank you for the support and comfort you provided
  • Thank you for the beautiful floral arrangement
  • We appreciate your thoughtful donation in memory of our dearly beloved.
  • We are grateful for friends like you at this time of sorrow.
  • We appreciate having you with us at this difficult time in our lives.