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Funeral Etiquette 101


Submitted by Reid Trimble, Licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer, Trimble Funeral Home & Crematory

Finding out that a loved one, business colleague, or casual friend has passed on can cause anxiety and uncertainty. Attending a visitation or funeral is an emotional event for all involved. Knowing proper funeral etiquette can ease angst and allow you to comfortably and confidently show your respect for the deceased and immediate family. The accepted customs of dress and behavior in a funeral have changed over time, but courtesy never goes out of style. Now in the 21st century, here are some guidelines for funeral etiquette.

Making the Most of a Difficult Time

The Do’s

  • Do 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” is usually enough. Be respectful and listen attentively.
         If you are very close to the family, you may want to make a condolence visit. This is when a family member or close friend visits the deceased loved one’s home and offers sympathy. The condolence visit can be as simple as letting the family know that you are there for emotional support and to offer your willingness to help with any task to lift a burden from the family, now and in the months to come.
         It is good etiquette to phone the family as soon as possible to offer your sympathy. Try to keep the call brief as others will probably be trying to call as well. Also, the family will more than likely be busy with visitors and funeral arrangements.
         Send a hand written note or card. An email is not appropriate. Check out the website of the selected funeral home to see if you can send a message or light a candle out of respect.
  • Do attend the celebration of life, visitation, or funeral.
         The main purpose of having a funeral is for people to express their love and respect for the deceased and to get some personal closure and healing. Preparation before attendance is vital.
  • Do find out the dress code.
         These days almost anything goes, but only when you know it’s the right thing. In fact, sometimes the deceased has specified the dress code; ‘no black’, or school/team colors, or ‘dress casual’ are common requests. Funeral dress can vary even between the various branches of Christian customs, and it is best to go with the funeral etiquette requirements laid down by the bereaved family’s belief system. Your dress should be appropriately conservative and respectful for the family and others in attendance.
  • Do give a gift.
         It doesn’t matter if it is flowers, a donation to a charity or a commitment of service to the family at a later date — as always, “it’s the thought that counts.” Always make sure to provide the family with a signed card with your address, so they know what gift was given, and by whom.
  • Do sign the register book.
         Most funeral homes provide a traditional register book to sign so families can send a thank you notes for guest attendance. Some funeral homes have starting using an electronic guest registry, which allows the funeral director to print a list of guest names and addresses in the form of a keepsake book. More than one family member can request a printed book to follow up with guests.
  • Do engage in conversation.
         While starting a conversation is often difficult during grieving, it is important. Thoughtful conversation helps to ease emotions and brings the attendees of the funeral together socially. Reflect on fond memories that you have of the deceased, their values, personality, and even their sense of humor. In most cases you should avoid asking about the cause of death. If family members want to share more about the death, they will.
         Family and loved ones usually just need to talk and express their feelings. Let them talk as much as they need without asking too many questions. They are not necessarily looking for a response from you. They are trying to understand what has happened and in their own way come to terms with the fact their loved one is gone.

The Don’ts

  • 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.
  • 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 too. There is simply no good reason you shouldn’t talk about the deceased in a happy, positive tone.
  • Don’t feel you have to view the deceased if there is an open casket.
    Act according to what is comfortable to you.
  • Don’t allow your children to be a disturbance.
          If you feel they might be, then leave them with a sitter. But, if the deceased meant something to them, it’s a good idea to invite them to share in the experience.
  • Don’t leave your cell phone on.
         Switch it off or vibrate before entering the funeral home, or better yet, leave it in the car.
  • Don’t attend a private funeral.
         A private funeral service is one that is closed to the public. Attendance is by invitation only. So unless you received a request from the family please do not attend, it would be considered intrusive and bad etiquette.
  • Don’t forget to keep in touch.
         It’s sometimes awkward for you to do so, but for most people the grieving doesn’t end with a funeral. In this emotional time the family is dealing, not only with grief, but also with other things such as real estate, personal property, wills, life insurance or the lack thereof, etc.
         Remember to continue to offer support and love to the bereaved. The next few months are a time when grieving friends and relatives could need you most. And, if you were unable to attend a funeral, consider taking a family member out to lunch at a later date. Your kindness will be most appreciated.

Reid Trimble is open to answering other questions you may have about etiquette, cremation, celebrations of life, veteran’s benefits, or pre-planning. You can contact him at RTrimble@TrimbleGroup.com, 309-764-1144 , or stopping by Trimble Pointe, 701 12th Street in Moline.

Photo credit: webphotographeer/iStock