What to Say and Do at a Funeral

Created: | Category: Supporting A Loss.

One of the most difficult times for finding the right words would almost assuredly be at a funeral or visitation. Not only is this a time of sorrow and grief for the family and loved ones but it is a highly emotional time of instability or insecurity. Finding the right words to say can seem almost impossible, especially for those who just don’t know what to say.

Sometimes words are unnecessary

There are times when just a personal presence can mean a great deal to a grieving person. The presence of friends and extended family can be an incredible source of comfort for those in sorrow. Sometimes when words just do not seem to come, take time to either hug the person or put an arm around them to let them know you care. Another way to help those who are experiencing sorrow is to cry with them. People will not necessarily care about what you say when they know that you care about them.

Sometimes a few words can make a big difference

Instead of worrying about saying a great deal to someone, focus on one main statement. Remember to let your words reflect how you feel about the person who has passed away and how you care for those who have been left to pick up the pieces.

Here are a few phrases that work in a funeral setting:

  • I am so sorry for your loss
  • (insert name of the deceased) was an amazing person we will miss them
  • I am praying for you
  • I am here for you if you need anything
  • Is there anything we can do for you?

Offer assistance

Many times during a funeral people will offer to assist the grieving family. These are surely acts of incredible kindness but they are merely words until action is put with them. Be sure to follow up on any kind of offer of assistance. For example, most people send food to assist grieving families. Others may volunteer to help run errands or take care of the home, pets, or small children. Doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Let the family or friends know that you are there for them.

Send flowers

Flowers are an extension of compassion and care toward the family. These can easily be ordered online and have delivered to the funeral home or the family’s home. The arrangement does not have to be elaborate to communicate care and compassion. There are times that families do not wish to have flowers and request that flowers not be sent. Sometimes flowers are not necessarily the best choice. A donation to the deceased’s favorite charity or community organization can be an equally as condoling.

Remember when you go to a funeral or visitation the goal is to help those who are hurting with your presence, with your words, and with your compassion.



How to Write a Sympathy Card

Created: | Category: Supporting A Loss.

Grieving can be a confusing and overwhelming time for the mourner and for friends and family trying to be supportive. Grieving involves so many different emotions: sadness, loss, guilt, emptiness. It’s often hard to know what to write in a sympathy card and find the right words to provide comfort.

A thoughtful card or personal note can go a long way to show your concern. Be sensitive about the words you use and the pre-printed message of the card. Keep both the card and your sentiments short and simple. Later, you might want to share personal memories or stories about the person who has died, but your initial contact should be simple. Write a phrase such as, ‘I’m thinking of you,’ or ‘You are in my thoughts and prayers,’ or even ‘I’m here if you need me.’

Your card should convey a message that:

  • Lets them know how much you care.
  • Affirms that they have done their best.
  • Invites them to talk about their feelings when they are ready.

What to avoid saying:

  • ‘I know how you feel.’
  • ‘You should _____.”
  • ‘Time heals all wounds.’
  • ‘At least he’s no longer in pain.’
  • ‘She’s in a better place now.’
  • ‘It was God’s timing/will.’
  • ‘Oh, it’s not that bad.’
  • ‘You’ll be okay.’
  • ‘Things will get back to normal before you know it.’

Each person must grieve at his or her own pace. The process does not occur in a step-by-step logical, orderly fashion. There will be ups and downs. Do not try to ‘fix’ someone’s grief by telling him how to mourn. Do not frame his grief in your own experiences. Grief is whatever a person says it is. Provide support and be willing to listen.

Recognize that life has changed forever in the loss of a loved one. Encourage the grieving person by respecting personal beliefs, and listen to his or her feelings, without making judgments. Do not try to change someone’s beliefs or feelings.

Tips to follow when someone is grieving:

  1. Don’t try to avoid sending a card because you feel uncomfortable.
  2. Don’t pry into personal matters, such as the circumstances of the death.
  3. Don’t offer unsolicited advice or easy solutions; the grieving process will follow its own individual course.
  4. You can make grieving easier by making specific offers, such as, ‘I’m going to the store. What can I bring you?’ or ‘I’ve made lasagna for dinner. When can I drop by and bring you some?’ Or you may suggest, ‘Let me know what I can do,’ and allow the grieving person to get back to you with her needs.


Helping Others Handle Their Grief

Created: | Category: Supporting A Loss.

When a person you love is dealing with a loss, the most important thing you can do to help them through the grieving process is to accept that everyone grieves differently, and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone handles death in different ways. Some people cry, while others hold it all in. No matter how they choose to express what they are feeling, it’s important to make yourself available to them- whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, a ear to listen, or just to help them take their mind off of things. Here are some suggestions to help you be a better friend, daughter, brother, or colleague to someone who is hurting.

What Should You Do

Above all, let the grieving person freely express the emotions that they are feeling. Let them cry, yell, or complain, or just let them talk for endless hours about how much they loved their best friend. Listen contently. But, do not judge and do not freely offer up advice unless you are asked. Find opportunities to focus on happier times. Share stories that brought them joy and happiness. Recount old times. Finding opportunities to help them focus on the happier memories will act as filter to process the emotions that they are feeling.

What else should you do to comfort a grieving friend or family member? Go over to their home and cook dinner for them. Cook a large meal that it can be eaten for several nights. Either cook the meal there or cook it at home and take it over. Serve the meal to the friend or family member to make sure that they eat. And, if you are able, stay and eat with them. Eating alone can be a painful reminder of their loss.

Clean their home. Many times, when someone has lost someone they love, they stop functioning for awhile. Do some laundry, clean the kitchen, or take out the trash. Make things look a little brighter and nicer, and smelling better. Bring in a new plant to spruce things up.

If the grieving person is willing, get them out of the house. Home can be a constant reminder of their loved one. Get them out by going for a walk, to a movie, or to a restaurant. Creating a new routine can help bring a new sense of normalcy into their lives.

All it really takes to help a grieving person is a little understanding, compassion and kindness.



Funeral Etiquette

Created: | Category: Supporting A Loss.

Funerals are difficult for everyone. It is often hard to know what to say or how to behave at the funeral. These days, funeral etiquette is less formal than it once was, but following some simple guidelines will help ease awkwardness.

Funeral Dress

It is no longer expected that family and friends dress in black at a funeral, however dark, somber tones are still appropriate. Funeral dress should be conservative and tasteful.

Formality of funeral dress varies from one family to the next. However, very casual clothes or sports attire should be avoided. Simple, conservative clothes that do not draw attention are a respectful choice for family members and guests alike.

Sending Flowers

Sending flowers is appropriate in some traditions, unless the newspaper announcement states that the family has requested memorial gifts in lieu of flowers. Contact the funeral home or check their Web site for information on where to send flowers. Ask the florist to print your name and full address on the floral card so the family will not have to look up your address when sending thank you notes.

Memorial Gifts

Families may request that memorial gifts to a particular charity or organization are sent in lieu of flowers. When sending the memorial gift, be sure to tell the organization that the gift is being made in the name of the deceased. Often the organization will send a list of donors to the family so they can thank you for your support.

Visitation or Calling Hours

Many families will hold visitation or calling hours prior to the funeral service. This is often held at the funeral home and may be the day before or just prior to the funeral. Visitation or calling hours allow family and friends a chance to say goodbye prior to the funeral.

When visiting, be sure to sign the guest book and keep conversation with the immediate family brief, especially if there are many people there paying their respects. Simply expressing sympathy for their loss is appropriate. You may have the opportunity to approach the casket, however it is not required that you do so.

Funeral Service

Where the funeral is held will often depend on the family’s religious beliefs or traditions. If you are not of the same faith, simply follow the service quietly and respectfully. You will not be expected to join in on the religious aspects of the service, such as accepting communion at a Catholic mass.

To show respect for the family, do not arrive late to the service. Plan on arriving 10 minutes early, as the service will likely start right on time. Keep conversations before the service low and avoid talking during the service. If you have young children who begin to cry or make noise, take them out to avoid disturbing the other mourners.

Funeral Procession

Family and close friends may choose to take part in the funeral procession. This is the line of cars that drive together from the funeral to the cemetery. Often the immediate family will ride in a limousine following the hearse and other cars will follow. The funeral director will give instructions and provide identification tags, often small flags, to attach to the cars. Cars in the procession should turn their headlights on.

After the Funeral

While a bereaved family may draw strength from their extended family and close friends, do not plan to visit at the family home unless an invitation has been offered. The family may choose to host a luncheon or buffet after the services or they may prefer to have some time alone.

Funerals are always difficult, but keep in mind that the function is to pay respect to the deceased and offer support to the family. Simply attending the services is a strong sign of support. Do not let the fear over what to say or how to behave keep you from paying your respects.



Expressing Sympathy: Cards, Gifts, and Their Importance

Created: | Category: Supporting A Loss.

The loss of a loved one is at the best of times a very disruptive and shocking experience. People often find it hard to express their sympathy towards friends or family who have just suffered a loss. It was only with the death of my father that I came to truly understand the value of expressing sincere sympathy.

I can still remember the confusion of those few days before and just after the funeral of my dad. People came and went, saying how sorry they were for our loss. People brought cards and gifts and sent truck loads of flowers.

I truly valued every hug and every card. Before the death of my father, I hated having to sympathize with people because I never knew what to say. Everyone just said that they are sorry and it seemed to me that it had become somewhat of a cliché. Since that horrible time in my life, I’ve came to the conclusion that saying it, is best.

With the funeral, I got a few unexpected responses. Through the complete chaos, some things stuck with me. An old friend of mine got to hear of the death of my father. We haven’t spoken in years. Yet he phoned me and sympathized. He also took a day off work and drove a hundred miles just to attend the funeral. I cannot put into words what this meant to me. Although we haven’t spoken since, I appreciate his gesture tremendously.

Another friend simply couldn’t make it to the funeral. He tried to get out of his meetings but there was just no way. He compromised by attending all his meetings and then drove a hundred miles to be able to sympathize personally and give me a hug. I will forever treasure him as a true friend.

People who were not able to attend sent cards, and I loved it, because it meant that they cared. We received so many flowers that there was no place to put them all, and for weeks afterward I was continually reminded of the funeral because of them. The flowers confused me- one part of me hated to be reminded. And, another wanted to keep them alive for as long as possible because in a strange way it connected me with my dad. Some people sent food, books and other gifts.

Each person experiences grief differently and therefore have different needs when it comes to their need for sympathy. From personal experience I set up a few rules that I follow when I sympathize with a friend:

  1. Do say it out loud, no matter how many people said it before.
  2. Make every effort you can to attend the funeral and to pay your respects. If you really cannot attend, send a card.
  3. Write the card personally and say what you feel, not what you think should be said.

In times of loss, sincerity and time are often the most valuable gifts that you can give.