One of the reasons why people are so uncomfortable at a wake or funeral is because they’re not sure about what to do or say. While death may be an extremely uncomfortable topic, the worst thing you can do is ignore it when it occurs in the family of a friend or colleague. Doing nothing, or pretending it didn’t happen, is not good etiquette.
Whether you call, send a card or flowers, or visit, the important thing is to make a gesture that lets the family know you’re thinking of them and share their sorrow.
When Hearing the News
Be a good listener. Let friends and family talk about their loved one and their death
If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t pressure them. Focus on the survivor’s needs.
Refer to the deceased by name.
Acknowledge the deceased’s life.
Take control of the situation. The grieving family needs control to help them work through grief.
Bring up other people’s experiences. Let the bereaved focus on their loss.
Pressure the family to clean out the deceased’s belongings. They need to do this in their own time.
Expect things to be “back to normal” in a certain time frame
What to Say and Not to Say
Whether you express sympathy via a visit, call, or card, your choice of words is important. It is appropriate and kind to let the family know how much you will miss the deceased, how dear he was, how she made the world a better place, or what an inspiration he was.
Use your own words to convey messages like these:
“I/We are thinking of you. I/we wish there were words to comfort you"
“I/We are shocked and saddened by your loss. We care and love you deeply."
He/She was such a fine person.”
“What you’re going through must be very difficult.”“He/she lived a full life and was an inspiration to me and many others.”
What not to say…
It is inappropriate to make statements that imply that the death was for the best or that show disrespect for the deceased. It is also inappropriate to probe for details of the circumstances of the death or the person’s final moments. Be careful about making spiritual or religious references unless you know those sentiments will be well received.
Avoid cliches like …
“It’s probably a blessing.”
“I know just how you feel.”
“He’s at peace now.”
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
“At least he/she is no longer suffering.”
“It was her time.”
Don’t tell them what to do …
“You have to be strong now for your family (or business).”
“Stay busy to take your mind off things.”
“You’ll get over it in time and find somebody else.”
“You’re young and can have more children.”
Should I Attend the Funeral
Unless the obituary 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 church [and] the pews 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.” (from The Art of Manliness)
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, the funeral director or clergy will tell the mourners what to do and when. For more information click here