Even though common sense and good discretion are always the best guides to proper funeral etiquette, a few principles still apply.
VISITING THE FAMILY AT THEIR HOME
It is a common gesture for close friends of the family to visit the family's home to offer sympathy and assistance - this is sometimes referred to as a condolence visit. With the bereaving family having to ensure that all the arrangements are looked after, a close friend(s) may become very helpful with food preparation and childcare. The visit can take place any time within the first few weeks of death, and may be followed with one or more additional visits, depending on the circumstances and your relationship with the family.
In addition to expressing sympathy it is appropriate, if desired, to relate to family members your fond memories of the deceased. In some cases family members may simply want you to be a good listener to their expressions of grief or memories of the deceased. In most circumstances it is not appropriate to inquire as to the cause of death.
VISITING THE FAMILY AT THE FUNERAL HOME:
If you attend a wake (now known as the visitation period), you should approach the family and express your sympathy. As with the condolence visit it is appropriate to relate your memories of the deceased. If you were only acquainted with the deceased (and not the family) you should introduce yourself and share an uplifting story or a positive circumstance.
It is customary to show your respects by viewing the deceased if the body is present and the casket is open. You may wish to say a silent prayer, or meditate about the deceased at this time. In some cases the family may escort you to the casket.
The length of your visit at the visitation is a matter of discretion. After visiting with the family and viewing the deceased you can visit with others in attendance. Most often there is a register book for visitors to sign.
As with other aspects of modern day society funeral dress codes have relaxed somewhat. Black dress and suits are no longer required. Today we seem to celebrate and honour a life well lived, brighter shades and uplifting dress seems to be the current day trend, but yet, still subdued or darker hues are sometimes selected. Wearing colorful clothing is no longer inappropriate for relatives and friends. Persons attending a funeral should be dressed in good taste so as to show dignity and respect for the family and the occasion.
AFTER THE PUBLIC RECEPTION:
It is often a tradition after the funeral or memorial service reception at a public place, (such as the Church Hall, Legion/ Lions Club Hall or a Community Hall) the family will often invite specific family and friends to their home for a time of reflection and refreshments.
You can send flowers to the funeral home prior to the funeral, or to the family residence at any time. Your florists will know what is appropriate as to when and where to deliver floral tributes. Sending a floral tribute is a very appropriate way of expressing sympathy to the family of the deceased. Flowers express a feeling of life and beauty and offer much comfort to the family. If sent to the residence, usually a planter or a small vase of flowers indicating a person's continued sympathy for the family is suggested. The florist places an identification card on the floral tribute. At the funeral home the cards are removed from the floral tributes and given to the family so they may acknowledge the tributes sent.
Memorial gifts/ Memorial donations in memory of the deceased are often made, particularly when the family has requested specific charities. The Funeral Home Staff will look after all details regarding the placement and acknowledement of memorial donations, they will also forward any monies (cheques) to the appropriate charity.
Even if you are not able to make a memorial donation or send flowers, a note, a sympathy card or an online condolence expressing your thoughts of the deceased and words of support and love to the family is a welcome gesture, especially when you are not able to attend the visititationor funeral service.
The funeral is a ceremony of proven worth and value for those who mourn. It provides an opportunity for the survivors and community who share in the loss to express their love, respect, grief and appreciation for a life that has been well lived. It permits facing openly and realistically the crisis the death presents. Through the funeral the bereaved take that first step toward emotional adjustment to their loss. This information has been prepared as a convenient reference for modern funeral practices and customs.
PUBLIC FUNERAL SERVICE
The family specifies the type of service conducted for the deceased. Funeral directors are trained to assist families in arranging whatever type of service they desire. The service held either at a place of worship or at the funeral home with the deceased present, varies in ritual according to denomination. The presence of friends at this time is an acknowledgement of friendship and support. It is helpful to friends and the community to have a funeral notice published announcing the death and type of service to be held. When the funeral service is over, the survivors often feel very alone in dealing with their feelings. It is important that they know you are still there. Keep in touch.
PRIVATE FUNERAL SERVICE...
This service is by invitation only and may be held at a place of worship, a funeral home or a family home. Usually, select relatives and a few close friends attend the funeral service. An optional public visitation is held, condolences are sent, and the remains are viewed, followed by a private funeral service the next day.
A memorial service is a service without the remains present and can vary in ceremony and procedures according to the community and religious affiliations. Some families prefer a public visitation just prior to the memorial service, Others will have the more traditional visitation of 2-4 and 7-9 followed by a memorial or graveside service the next day. Other families may wish only to have a memorial service at a later date./
Friends, relatives (grandsons and granddaughters are common), church members or business associates may be asked to serve as pallbearers. The funeral director will secure pallbearers if requested to do so by the family. Often the numbers today are six active pallbearers, although sometimes there can be four.
A member of the family, clergy, a close personal friend or a business associate of the deceased, may give a eulogy. The eulogy is not to be lengthy, but should offer praise and commendation and reflect the life of the person who has died.
Wearing colorful clothing is no longer inappropriate for relatives and friends. Persons attending a funeral should be dressed in good taste so as to show dignity and respect for the family and the occasion.
FUNERAL PROCESSION / CORTEGE...
When the funeral ceremony and the burial are both held within the local area and of course on the same day, friends and relatives might accompany the family to the cemetery. The procession to the cemetery is a vital step in realizing the value of the process and many would agree it enhances the belief of the death and term "closure" is experienced to it's fullest. The procession is formed at the funeral home or place of worship. The funeral director can advise you of the traffic regulations and procedures to follow while driving in a funeral procession.
The time of death is a very confusing time for family members. No matter what your means of expressing your sympathy, it is important to clearly identify yourself to the family.
Mass cards can be sent either by Catholic or non-Catholic friends. The offering of prayers is a valued expression of sympathy to a Catholic family. A card indicating that a Mass for the deceased has been arranged may be obtained from any Catholic parish. In some areas it is possible to obtain Mass cards at the funeral home. The Mass offering card or envelope is given to the family as an indication of understanding, faith and compassion. Make sure that your name and address is legible and that you list your postal code. This will make it easier for the family to acknowledge your gift.
Speaking to a family member gives you an opportunity to offer your services and make them feel you really care. If they wish to discuss their recent loss, don't hesitate to talk to the person about the deceased. Be a good listener. Sending a telegram expressing your sympathy is also appropriate.
When a person calls at the funeral home, clasping hands, an embrace, or a simple statement of condolence can express sympathy, such as:
"My sympathy to you."
"It was good to know John."
"John was a fine person and a friend of mine. He will be missed."
"My sympathy to your mother."
The family member in return may say:
"Thanks for coming."
"John talked about you often."
"I didn't realize so many people cared."
"Come see me when you can."
The family should acknowledge the flowers and messages sent by relatives and friends. When food and personal services are donated, these thoughtful acts also should be acknowledged, as should the services of the pallbearers. The funeral director may have available printed acknowledgement cards that can be used by the family. When the sender is well known to the family, a short personal note should be written on the acknowledgment card expressing appreciation for a contribution or personal service received. The note can be short, such as:
"Thank you for the beautiful roses. The arrangement was lovely.
"The food you sent was so enjoyed by our family. Your kindness is deeply appreciated."
In some communities it is a practice to insert a public thank you in the newspaper. The funeral director can assist you with this.
CHILDREN AT FUNERALS
At a very early age, children have an awareness of and a response to death. Children should be given the option to attend visitation and the funeral service. The funeral director can advise you on how to assist children at the time of a funeral and can provide you with additional information and literature.
It is healthy to recognize death and discuss it realistically with friends and relatives. When a person dies, there is grief that needs to be shared. Expressions of sympathy and the offering of yourself to help others following the funeral are welcomed. It is important that we share our grief with one another. Your local funeral director can help family and friends locate available resources and grief recovery programs in your area.
WHAT IS THE ETIQUETTE REGARDING ONLINE CONDOLENCES ?
This is an interesting question that some of you have had, I honestly do not think there is any said research done on this topic, but all I can offer you in my honest and sincere opinion, and it is just that---------my opinion.
When should online condolences be expressed: I realize that probably half of the world's population today, will, in any given day send probably one email to someone else. I get that because without modern technology we would not be able to send messages and receive responses so quickly and immediate. As with condolences, those from a great distance, or for those that are simply not able to attend any services for whatever reason, time , health, etc. It is a great, fast and immediate way to converse through the funeral home's website to express your sincere sympathy in a very timely fashion to the family that need to know you are thinking of them.
When should online condolences not be expressed: Again, only my opinion, The ultimate method of your expression of condolences is your physical attendance at any of the service options. If you are close by and have the time or know you should make the time, there is nothing like a hug, or a hand shake and kind words. This really is where the grieving family will gain strength and courage, simply knowing there is so much love and caring out there. Also if you are unable to attend, you can always make a phone call or make a home visit. You should not send an online condolence under any circumstances when you have full intention of attending any of the service options and are able to speak with the family one on one.
Failing both of the above : (and call me old school, if you must) for some of the bereaved families, the normal online condolence, which is usually typed in a times new roman 12 font may simply just not be enough. I think a lot of us still have a good feeling about sitting down with pen in hand, paper ready for ink and expressing our heartfelt feelings, offering words of encouragement and hope for those in need.
I know first hand, when I receive a note or letter of thanks, birthday, anniversary, etc, in the mail handwritten from a family we have had the opportunity to serve or a friend just thinking of me , I always feel just a little bit better, rather than receiving one by email or text. I guess just knowing that someone has actually taken the time to sit down, write the note, place in and address the envelope, put a stamp on it and take it to the post office means just a little bit more to me.