The time following the loss of a loved one can be very confusing. You may not be sure what to do or say. It is natural to feel this way. This article will outline some of the most common questions about funeral etiquette. It's only a general guide as customs and traditional will differ depending on family choices or religious beliefs.
Expressions of Sympathy
The first thing you will need to do on hearing the news that a friend or relative has died is to extend your sympathy and offer assistance in whatever way you can. Simple, brief expressions of sympathy are usually best. Grief is a difficult emotion to deal with but it is important to let the family know that while their loved one is gone they are not alone. While there is no substitute for a personal visit if you are able to do so, there are a number of ways you can express your sympathy.
- Flowers. Sending a floral tribute is an accepted custom in many traditions and can be sent to the family's residence or the funeral home. If the family asks that donations should be made in lieu of flowers, you should honour that request.
- Sympathy Card. Usually those who are not intimate with the family choose to send a message of sympathy in a card. This is appreciated as many people find it difficult to accept phone calls immediately after the news of the death.
- Phone calls. Keep any calls brief, offering support and condolences.
- Memorial Gifts. Usually the family will designate a specific charity or organisation. Remember to provide the family's name and address so they can send proper notification.
- Food for the family. Dishes that require little preparation are most appropriate.
The Funeral Service
Funeral services differ depending on the religious and personal beliefs of the family. However regardless of the type of funeral you are attending there are some common rules of etiquette.
- Arrive early. It is a good idea to arrive at the funeral home or church at least 15 - 20 minutes early. You should enter quietly and be seated. The first few rows are usually reserved for family members. Its best not to sit at the back, unless the chapel is full. The clergy may have difficulty in making themselves heard and the family might feel isolated at the front.
- Dress appropriately. While it is becomming more acceptable to wear brighter colours, good taste should dictate attire. Keep it simple but not too casual.
- Participate in the ceremony. There may be times during the service when participation is requested either via a song, hymn or prayer. Even if you are not religious or agree with the choice of dedication you should recognise the tradition and decision of the family.
- Leave promptly. The chief mourners leave first, followed by everyone else.
Attending a Wake
Wakes can be traditional or more personal get-togethers. The purpose of a wake is to honour the deceased and offer support to the bereaved. Sometimes friends or family take it upon themselves to prepare food and take care of the arrangements to relieve the family of this task.
In the days and months to come, the family will continue to need your support.
- write or call on a regular basis
- include them in your social plans
- remember them on special occasions and holidays
- offer help and run errands
- grief counselling and support services
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