What to Expect
Grief & Guidance
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Also known as social graces, the rules of etiquette ease us through challenging social situations. Most of us know how to behave in common circumstances but unless you've been to a lot of funerals, you may not know the rules of proper behavior in this often uncomfortable social situation.
Emily Post once said, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others." When you use those words as your guide, the rules of funeral etiquette become easier to understand.
We find it interesting that Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served as the 32nd president of the United States, summed up etiquette in six words: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated."
What to Wear at a Funeral
Tradition has always required a certain level of formality in dressing for a funeral. However, today's end-of-life services are so varied – ranging from the traditional funeral to the often more relaxed celebration-of-life – that it's challenging to know exactly what's expected of you.
The advisors on the Emily Post website tell readers that "attire isn't limited to just black or dark gray. Remember, though, that it is a serious occasion and your attire should reflect that, especially if you are participating in the service. At the very least it should be clean, neat, and pressed as for any other important occasion."
What to Say at a Funeral
If we choose to follow Roosevelt's advice to be brief, knowing what to say becomes a bit easier. After all, no one expects you to say more than a few words and bereaved family members are often unable to give you their full attention anyway. So, keep it short and make it sincere.
"I'm so very sorry for your loss" may work very well. If you have time to add to those seven words, you might want to share a personal story about a time you shared with the deceased. But, watch closely for signs that your audience needs to move on to receive condolences from other funeral guests.
When speaking to other funeral guests, speak quietly. This is not a time to discuss business or share stories about your recent vacation. Instead, focus on sharing and listening to stories of times spent with the deceased.
What to Do at a Funeral
If you're unsure about what actions to take when being led by a pastor or celebrant, simply follow along. If you're not comfortable, don't draw attention to your unwillingness to participate. Be discrete and respectful of others.
Always leave your cell phone in the car or at the very least, turn it to vibrate mode or turn it off.
A visitation, or viewing, is a time prior to the funeral where guests are invited to share stories of the deceased or just simply, show support for the family. While it is customary to show your respects to the deceased by stepping up to the casket in the company of a family member or on your own, you may not feel comfortable doing so. That's perfectly alright; no one wants you to be unnerved by the experience, so focus your attention instead on providing comfort to the bereaved family.
After the Funeral
If the cemetery is not located on the grounds of the funeral home, there will be a processional of cars formed to escort the hearse to the cemetery. Unless they have chosen to have a private burial, those in attendance are welcome to join in the procession, however, don't feel obligated to do so. You may simply leave the funeral at that time.
The Funeral Reception
Many families today hold a post-funeral gathering where food and refreshments are served. While this is a time to share memories, laughter, and even tears, your behavior at a funeral reception needs to remain respectful. The family of the deceased is still very emotionally vulnerable, so think twice (or even three times) before you share a memory or comment on another's story. Some helpful suggestions would include:
If you've not already done so, this is a good time to send the family a sympathy note or card. About a week after the funeral, pick up the phone to check in with them to see if there's anything they need. This follow-up may be one of the most important things a person can do for a family member. After some time, relatives will go home, others will go back to their daily lives and their daily schedules. Your friend who has lost their loved one, will need you now more than ever.
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