When attending a visitation or funeral, you might find yourself uncertain of what you should wear, what to say, or what to do. We’ve put together a short guide to the basics of funeral home etiquette to help you pay your respects with courtesy and consideration.
What to Wear
Try to find out the dress code before you attend, so that you can be sure you’ll fit in and look appropriate. If you aren’t sure, simply try to dress in a conservative way that shows respect for the family and other mourners. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must wear black (in fact, some families specify “no black” for their services), but try to avoid overly bright colors. For men, a suit and a conservative tie is usually a safe bet. Women should generally wear a conservative dress, skirt, or pants with a tasteful blouse.
Religious & Ethnic Customs
Traditions and customs differ among various communities, ethnic groups and religions, and it’s often helpful to ask beforehand about any special considerations you need to take into account. We can answer many of your questions, and can also point you toward resources that offer specific and detailed guides.
A funeral is an emotional time, and grieving is a natural part of the healing process. Don’t feel uncomfortable if you or the bereaved begins to cry. However, if you find yourself becoming extremely upset, it is kinder to excuse yourself to avoid increasing the strain on the family.
Greeting the Family
Upon arrival, approach the family and express your sympathy with an embrace or by offering your hands. Don’t feel that you should avoid talking about the person who has died…in fact, talking can help the grieving process to begin.
What to Say
Express your sympathy in your own words, however it feels right to you. Kind words about the loved one who has passed are always appropriate, and a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” or “My thoughts and prayers are with you” can be meaningful and comforting for the bereaved.
What Not to Say
Don’t ask the cause of death; if the family wants to discuss it, let them bring it up. Avoid giving unsolicited advice, or making comments that might unintentionally diminish the importance of the loss, such as “I’ve been through this before.”
At a service with an open casket, it’s customary to show your respects by viewing the deceased and, if you wish, spending a few moments in silent prayer. The family may escort you to the casket, or you might approach on your own. Viewing the deceased is not mandatory, however, and you should act according to what is comfortable to you.
How to Act
After you’ve offered your condolences to the family, it’s perfectly appropriate to engage in quiet conversation with friends and other associates of the deceased who attend the visitation. Don’t feel that you have to stay longer than you feel comfortable; your presence means a lot to the family, no matter how long or short the visit.
Signing the Register
Be sure to add yourself to the register book, using your full name so that the family can identify you in the future. It’s also helpful to add information about how you knew the deceased—through work, social clubs, school, etc.
Flowers and Gifts
Sending flowers, making a donation, or giving a memorial gift are all meaningful gestures to let the bereaved know that they are in your thoughts. The simplest of tributes can be of great comfort to the family, and can express your sympathy when words just aren’t enough.
Turn Off Your Cellphone
This one should go without saying. If you choose to bring your phone into the funeral home, take a moment to make sure you’ve turned it off.