There are varying opinions, from etiquette experts, on the etiquette involved when there has been a death. Most of us don’t deal with death on a daily basis so we’re often tongue tied when it comes to what to say. Then there’s “what to wear” and “how to act” at a service for a deceased. Whether it’s a funeral service, a celebration of life, or a simple memorial service, your best bet is to simply be thoughtful of others’ feelings at this emotional and difficult time in their life.
When approaching the bereaved at a service, saying “I’m so sorry for your loss,” is appropriate and adequate. This is not a time to come up with your personal philosophy of death, God’s will, life after death, or anything else of that nature. Even though these responses are offered from the heart, they can often make matters worse. A hug, a handshake, or a gentle squeeze of the arm can provide more love than words at a time like this. These touching condolences are most appropriate for the loved one’s spouse, family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues.
In most cases there will be tears, but don’t feel it’s wrong to share a memory about the deceased or to talk about them. Sharing kind thoughts and special memories can be healing for the family. “Henry sure was a gifted wood worker. I’m going to miss seeing him working on his projects.” “Sharon sure was involved in our community. Her memory will serve as inspiration to me and what I can do to make a difference. She touched so many people’s lives”. “I didn’t know him long but John had a way with lighting up an entire room with his smile when he’d walk in. I’m going to miss the way he could find the positive in every situation.”
After services, the family of the deceased will often stand and greet friends as they leave. It’s much like that of a receiving line at a wedding in that, as the bereaved, you will be expected to speak to and acknowledge each person’s presence and comments. Like the experience with the funeral, grief experts believe this makes the death more of a reality and aids in the healing process. Philosophical or witty comments are not the expectation here. A simple, “Thank you for coming,” or “I appreciate your kind words and prayers,” is totally adequate.
When it comes to “what to wear” at a service, wardrobe-wise, almost anything goes, but can also depend on the location of the service, the lifestyle of the deceased as well as the time of year. A lot of people will still choose somber-colored clothing, and choose to wear a veil (maybe sunglasses). Traditional colors of black, blue, mauve and white are often chosen, though other colors are appropriate. Wearing any kind of business-style clothing is fine and respectful, especially if services are to take place in a church, synagogue, or the chapel at a funeral home. Arriving scantly dressed is not appropriate at these facilities. Exceptions are usually obvious if services are going to take place at a beach or park. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to call the funeral home for guidance as we are all here to serve on every level.
Sending flowers for the service had always been traditional. Now, in many cases, families of the deceased are requesting donations to specific organizations that they feel would honor their loved one’s memory. In some cases, it’s a donation to Hospice, as the family really valued their presence at such a difficult time. It could also be a request to donate towards an organization that focuses on finding a cure for a specific condition or disease. These requests by the family don’t mean that flowers aren’t welcome. It just means that they truly value the specific organization and feel that this is an active way of honoring their loved one. Should you send flowers, “Please accept my/our condolences for your loss,” or “My/Our prayers are with you and your family”, is all that is necessary.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and we hope that you have found this information helpful. As always, Bill and Ingried Lowman, with Lowmans Arizona Funeral Home, are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (602) 276-3601, toll free (877) 276-3601, and fax (602) 276-1889. We love to hear from you and value your feedback as we are here to serve you!