When someone you know passes away, your first instinct is to offer encouragement, help, and support to those affected — but you may not be sure what to say or do.
It's okay to feel this way.
Does it matter what I wear? Can I bring the children? What should I say to the family of the deceased? When should I visit? J. Levy & Termini Funeral Home offers guidance on the proper etiquette of visitations and funerals, so you'll feel more comfortable and prepared for attending services.
A formal visitation provides a time and place for friends to offer their expressions of sorrow and sympathy. This practice is most common among the Protestant and Catholic faiths. The obituary should tell you the visitation hours and when the family will be present, or you may call the funeral home for this information.
When you arrive, go to the family, and express your sympathy with an embrace or by offering your hands. Don't feel as though you must avoid talking about the person who has died. Talking can help the grieving process begin. If you were an acquaintance of the deceased but not well-known to the family, immediately introduce yourself. Do not feel uncomfortable if you or the family member becomes emotional or begins to cry. Allowing the family to grieve is a natural healing process. However, if you find yourself becoming extremely upset, it would be kinder to excuse yourself so as not to increase the strain on the family.
Viewing the deceased is not mandatory. However, if offered by the family, it is customary to show your respects by viewing the deceased, and, if you desire, spending a few moments in silent prayer. Always sign your name in the register book. If you were a business associate of the deceased, it is appropriate to note your company affiliation if the family may not otherwise know you.
Your simple presence will mean a lot to the family. You do not need to stay for the entire visitation, but try not to leave during any prayers that might be offered.
Funeral services differ depending upon the religious and personal beliefs of the family. Funeral services can be held at a church, temple, funeral home, or even the residence.
Whether the service is held at the funeral home or at church, enter quietly and be seated. The first few rows are usually reserved for family members, however, people should sit close behind them to give comfort and support. The ceremony is usually conducted by a member of the clergy, but others may offer thoughts, anecdotes or eulogies. At the conclusion of the service, you will want to leave promptly, and wait in your car if you plan to follow the procession to the cemetery. Remember to turn your headlights on so you can be identified as being a part of the procession. Also remember to turn your headlights off once you arrive at the cemetery.
Immediately after the funeral, the family sometimes invites the attendees to join them for food or a reception at their home or designated place. This gives everyone a chance to talk and provides some time to relax and refresh. Sometimes friends or church members will take it upon themselves to prepare food ahead of time for this gathering, and relieve the family of this task.
If you are not able to make a personal visit during the planned services there are many other ways to express your sympathy:
E-mail. E-mail is appropriate from those who are not intimate with the family such as a business associate or a former neighbor. The family will appreciate your message of concern.
Food for the family. The most welcome gift at this time is food. Also, there may be several visitors in the house who need to be fed. During the days immediately following the death, substantial dishes that require little preparation other than reheating are appropriate.
Mass Cards. If the deceased was Catholic, some people will send a mass card instead or in addition to flowers. Catholics and non- Catholics may arrange for a mass to be said for the deceased. It is also appropriate to arrange a mass on the anniversary of the death.
Memorial Gifts. A memorial gift is always appropriate, especially when the family has requested such a gift in lieu of flowers. Usually the family will designate a specific organization or charity. Remember to provide the family's name and address to the charity so they can send proper notification. It is acceptable to mention your gift in a sympathy note without mentioning the amount of the gift.
Phone Calls. If you live out-of-town you should telephone as soon as possible to offer your sympathy. Keep the call brief, since others will probably be trying to call as well.
Sympathy Card. A sympathy card mailed to the family is a way to let them know you are thinking about them. If you are unsure of the address mail it to us at J. Levy & Termini Funeral Home, 2128 Broadway, Galveston, Texas 77550, and we will forward it to the deceased's family.
After the Service. Many times families will need assistance after things begin to "settle down." Acts of kindness such as mowing the grass, purchasing groceries, changing the oil in the car, baby sitting the children, providing a meal, providing transportation, etc. Avoid telling the family, "call me if you need anything." Most often grieving survivors do not have the energy to call and ask for help.
Immediately upon learning of a death, it is certainly appropriate for family and close friends to go to the home of the bereaved to offer sympathy and support. This can be a very overwhelming time for a family. Offering to assist with child care, food preparation, receiving visitors, or service preparations can provide immense comfort during this difficult process.
Most friends and acquaintances visit the family during planned visitations and services to offer condolences.
It can be difficult to know what to say to the family of the deceased to express your sympathy. To begin, offer your condolences to the family. If you are comfortable, share a memory of the deceased. In this difficult time, sharing the joy of the deceased’s life can help comfort the bereaved. For example, “I was so sorry to hear of Mary’s passing. She was always such a wonderful friend to me."
When attending a funeral or a service, do your best to be on time. Try to enter the facility as quietly as possible. If there are no ushers present, remember that the first few rows of seats are usually for the immediate family and close friends. Acquaintances should appropriately seat themselves in the middle or towards the rear.
Visitations can be very emotional, especially when speaking with the family of the deceased. If there is a line to speak with the bereaved and view the casket, be conscious of keeping the line moving. After passing through the line, be sure to stand to the side to continue conversation, or allow the family member to continue to greet guests. The family will often be more available to speak following the conclusion of the service.
When attending a memorial service or funeral, dress in dark and subdued colors, such as dark blues, grays, browns, and black. Be sure to dress simply and conservatively. Men are encouraged to wear a jacket and tie paired with dress shoes, while women should choose either a dress or a suit. Any jewelry should be subtle and traditional.
Sending flowers is a wonderful way to express your sympathy to the family of the deceased, and can bring comfort in a difficult time. Flowers are a meaningful gift that can be enjoyed during and after the funeral service.
Floral arrangements and plants can be sent to the funeral home to be present at services, or sent to the home of the family directly.
If the family asks that donations should be made in lieu of flowers, you should honor that request.
Smart phones should be turned off or silenced completely during the service. Checking your phone is noticeable and is a distraction to those who are trying to pay their respects. If you must return a message or receive a call, exit the service quietly.
Allowing a child to attend a memorial or funeral service can help them say goodbye to a friend or loved one. It is important to not force a child to go, but instead encourage them to share in this tribute with the rest of the family. Before attending, help prepare them by explaining what they might see at the service.