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Funeral Etiquette

Hi friends.  Please don’t be alarmed at our subject matter this month.  Although it might not be our favorite topic, I know that this is very important and sometimes knowing a few skills can help all of us feel more comfortable when we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations.  How many of us have experienced the situation where someone we know has lost a loved one and we don’t quite know what we should do?  Should we call?  Should we send flowers?  Should we take over food?  What?  Let’s talk about it. 

First, I would like to share a quick story before I list a few helpful hints.  Several years ago I had a friend whose husband died very tragically and suddenly.  He was very young.  I wasn’t super close to this lady, but our children were good friends.  When I heard, I was of course so saddened and shocked that I couldn’t even fathom what she must be going through.  So...I picked up the phone to call her.  I just wanted to tell her how sorry I was.  She didn’t answer so I just left a message on her voicemail.  I can’t remember what I said, but I remember just wanting her to know how my heart ached for her and her family and that I would be spending time on my knees in her behalf.  That’s all I knew to say.  I assumed that she was surrounded by family and friends and probably was being well cared for.  To my surprise, a couple of months after this incident, I was speaking to her one day and she said to me, “Monica, do you realize that you were the only person that called me?”  I was completely shocked.  I didn’t understand and my heart hurt even worse for her.  Now please don’t think I’m telling you this so you can “pat” me on the back and say “Good job Monica.”  Not at all.  As I’ve thought about this over the years, I’ve realized that the reason they didn’t call is not because they didn’t care, but because they didn’t know how.  They were afraid they would say the wrong thing, or not know what to say and then it would be awkward, etc. etc.  I realized that day, how important it was to forget about my own comfort level, my own fears, my own inhibitions and just reach out.  We don’t have to know what to say.  We don’t have to have all the answers.  We don’t have to have ANY answers.  But we do have to let others know that we care and the only way to do that is to ACT. 

Here are a few etiquette suggestions that I think may help:
Sending a card quickly is a wonderful way to express your condolences.   It shows you took the time out of your day to send a few words of encouragement and love.
Check the obituary or contact the funeral home to find out the details of the services.  This way the family is not burdened with so many questions about the schedule.
Honor flower/donation request.  If a family requests a donation to a charitable organization in lieu of flowers, it is important to honor the family’s wishes; otherwise, it is customary to send flowers for the service.
Show your support by offering to do things for the family like; volunteer to pick up their dry cleaning, shop for groceries, deliver meals, help out with household chores.  You can also make necessary phone calls or volunteer to stay at their house and receive guests and food while the family members make arrangements at the funeral home or cemetery.
Wear Proper Funeral Attire. It’s important to dress appropriately for the service. While there is no longer a requirement to wear all black, it is always safe to wear conservative clothing in dark or neutral colors.
Arrive Early.  Make sure you arrive 15 minutes before the service begins.  Remember to turn off all cell phones and all electronic devices.
Turn on your Headlights if you are part of the funeral procession.
If a funeral procession is passing you, it is polite to pull to the side of the road until the entire procession is past.
Make sure and check in on the family a couple of days after the services.  Now is a better time for longer conversations and words of empathy and encouragement.
Remember it is more important to listen than to talk.  Usually, during these difficult times, what you do is so much more important than what you say.  Listen, hug, share a cry, pray with them and simply offer your friendship and love. 
Some suggested things to say; “I’m sorry for your loss,” “You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers,” “I’m here for you,” “Please accept my sympathy.”
There are some things, inappropriate to say.  Although they may be true, it is the family’s decision to reach to these conclusions.  For instance, “They’re in a better place,” “At least they’re no longer suffering,” “We should rejoice for their deliverance.”

Overall, just remember that a true friend is there to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those who stand in need of comfort and to lift those down trodden.  Be sincere.  Just be there.

Have a great month,
Monica Irvine
a.k.a. Mary Manners

Some of the above suggestions came from the Berry Funeral Home Website.

5 comments:

Jodi Hansen said...

As a woman who has lost many family members over the past few years, including my mom and my seven-year-old daughter, I can't tell you how needed your "Funeral Etiquette" subject is. I have been completely horrified by things that people have said, have done, or haven't done during these most difficult times. The best advice in this article is to just be there. There is nothing you can say to alleviate any of the pain, so please don't try to. As a matter of fact, some of things you say may add to the pain. Just tell me you're sorry and hug me close. Pray for me. Bring a meal. Help put pictures and items together for the visitation. Do my laundry or scrub a toilet. Take my kids out to do something fun. And don't disappear after the funeral is over. Once the hub-bub is over, that's when the emptiness settles in and that's when we need other people the most. Don't forget about me as I try to adjust to my new normal. Thank you for writing on this topic. I hope others read it, take it to heart, and teach their children.

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Dave said...

I have heard those inappropriate things said before and always thought them kind of wierd, but what did I know? No one ever taught me etiquette when I as younger, and I never even attended a funeral until high school. Thanks so much for post this.

Sara Giambruno said...

I'm always concerned I will say the wrong thing. So I usually let the bereaved know I'm sorry for their loss. If I'm to write a message of strength, I do often wish for their days to be filled with the joy of the memories of the loved one, rather than the sorrow of the loss. Is that sensitive enough? I'm socially quite awkward so I do struggle with "normal things to say".