Funeral Etiquette

If you are planning a funeral or are attending a service for a family member or friend, following are explanations and suggestions. Please feel free to contact us for more specific information. Remember, ethnic, religious, and family customs do vary.

Visitation or Viewing

Visitation, also called viewing, normally occurs before a funeral or memorial service, most often at a funeral home. Close family or friends receive friends, typically with the casket or urn present. Your presence at the visitation demonstrates that although someone has died, friends still remain. Your presence shows that you care.

Visitation provides a time and place for friends to offer their expression of sorrow and sympathy. Oftentimes the family learns new things about their loved one during a visitation; sharing stories becomes a special part of the visitation. The obituary/death notice will designate the hours of visitation when the family will be present as well as the times when special services such as lodge or prayer services may be held. Persons may visit the funeral home at any time during the suggested hours to pay respects. Visitors are requested to sign the register book. A person’s full name should be listed e.g. “Mrs. John Doe” or “Marianne Doe.” If a business associate, it is proper to list the affiliation so the family knows how the visitor is connected to the deceased.

Friends should use their own judgment on how long to remain at the funeral home or place of visitation. If you feel your presence is needed, offer to stay. If the casket is open, you are welcome to view the deceased and/or pray for them. Sometimes a family member may escort you to the casket. Regardless of your religious affiliation, moments of silence are always appreciated.

Special services, such as a lodge service or a rosary, may take place, typically in the evening. Conversation should cease during the service. If you are unfamiliar with the service customs, follow along with others.

The Remembrance Service

The family decides the type of service. Typically held at a place of worship, the funeral home or a cemetery, with or without the deceased present, a service varies according to religious denomination and family preference. It is helpful to have a death notice published in a newspaper and/or online to announce the death and type of service to be held.

Funeral Mass or Service

Usually a funeral is a ceremony with the deceased present in a casket. It may be held at a funeral home or at a place of worship.

Often there is a visitation time before the ceremony at the same location. If so, it is appropriate to greet the family and offer condolences.

Always enter the space quietly. The first few rows of seating are reserved for family members. The ceremony is generally conducted by a member of the clergy. Follow others if you are unfamiliar with the religious or ethnic customs.

Memorial Service

Typically, a memorial service is a ceremony without the deceased in a casket. The cremated remains may or may not be present. The service can vary in ceremony and procedures according to the community and religious affiliations and family desires. A memorial service may be held at a later date.

Often there is a visitation time before the ceremony at the same location. If so, it is appropriate to greet the family and offer condolences.

Always enter the space quietly. The first few rows are reserved for family members. The ceremony is generally conducted by a member of the clergy; follow the guide of others if you are unfamiliar with the religious or ethnic customs.

Private Service

This service, at the decision of the family, is by invitation only. Usually, selected relatives and a few close friends attend the service.


Friends, relatives, church members or business associates may be asked to serve as pallbearers to assist with moving the casket throughout the services. Typically there are six. The funeral director will secure pallbearers if requested to do so by the family. Pallbearers will be instructed by the funeral director.


A eulogy may be given by a member of the family, clergy, a close personal friend or a business associate of the deceased. The eulogy is not to be lengthy, but should offer praise and commendation and reflect the life of the person who has died. Depending on the wishes of the clergyperson, this can occur at the service, the visitation or the memorial luncheon.


Black is not required for the visitation or the funeral. Persons attending a funeral should be dressed in good taste so as to show dignity and respect for the family and the occasion. Some cultures do still adhere to the traditional black attire, and if you opt for that choice, you will never go wrong. If any part of the service is outside and there is a possibility of inclement weather, prepare accordingly.

Funeral Procession/Cortege

When the funeral ceremony and the burial are both held within the local area, friends and relatives may accompany the family to the cemetery. The procession of vehicles is formed at the funeral home or place of worship. The funeral director will advise you of the traffic regulations and procedures to follow while driving in a funeral procession.

At The Cemetery

If there is a graveside service, the chairs at the casket are reserved for immediate family members. If not at the graveside, the service will be in a cemetery chapel. You may be asked to stand for the brief service, which may include a short prayer or reflection.

Funeral Luncheon or Reception

An announcement is generally made at the end of the service indicating if the family will be receiving visitors for a luncheon at home or elsewhere following the service. If so, directions and times will be provided.

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 the visitation and/or 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. Children can be naturally uplifting to those in grief, a hopeful reminder of the future. It is also important for children to participate in a family ritual. Carefully explain the events, what they will see and hear, who may be there, and the importance of being on their best behavior.

For toddlers, accommodate their short attention span by having assistance with their care, bringing some quiet activities, and/or staying a shorter time. If attending a service, remember that a mealtime may be missed and, if so, plan accordingly. As a courtesy to others, please be attentive to your children.


The time of death is a very confusing time for family members. No matter the means of expressing your sympathy, it is important to clearly identify yourself to the family.


Sending a floral tribute is always an 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. A floral tribute can either be sent to the funeral home or the residence. If sent to a residence, usually a planter or a small vase of flowers indicating a person’s continued sympathy is suggested. The florist places an identification card on the floral tribute. If delivered to a funeral home, it will be placed in the appropriate chapel.

Mass Cards

Mass cards are a Catholic tradition and 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. 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 so the family is able to acknowledge your gift.

Offering Assistance

If you are able to offer assistance with childcare, food gifts, or picking up out-of-town relatives, by all means, do so. Food at the house is often very appreciated, especially if there are several visitors. Substantial dishes that require little preparation other than reheating are appropriate.

Memorial Donations

A memorial contribution, to a specific cause or charity, can be as appreciated as flowers. Often the family may express a preference. Memorial donations provide financial support for various projects. If recognized as a charitable institution, some gifts may be deductible for tax purposes. For more information, ask your funeral director. Some families request memorial donations in lieu of flowers.

Sympathy Cards

Sending a card of sympathy, even if you are only an acquaintance, is appropriate. It lets family members know others are thinking of them. The card should be in good taste and in keeping with your relationship to the family of the deceased.

Personal Condolence Note

A personal note of sympathy is very meaningful. Express yourself openly and sincerely. Using two or three of the following is all it takes for a comforting note.

• I am very sorry.

• I feel fortunate to have known (use name) because (share reason).

• You were a great (relationship, for example: sister) to (use name) because (share reason).

• My favorite memory of (use name) is (share memory).

• What I admired most about (use name) is (share what was admired).

Telephone Calls

Speaking to a family member gives you an opportunity to offer assistance and remind them you really care. If they wish to discuss their loss, don’t hesitate to talk to the person about the deceased. Be a good listener.

Sympathy Expressions

When a person visits at the funeral home, sympathy can be expressed by clasping hands, an embrace, or a simple statement of condolence, such as:

“I’m sorry.”
“My sympathy to you.”
“It was good to know Charlie.”
“My sympathy to your mother.”
“Charlie was a fine person and a friend of mine. He will be missed.”
“Hello, we have not met, but Charlie and I worked together several years ago. My name is George Miller.”

The family member in return may say:

“Thanks for coming.”
“Charlie talked about you often.”
“Come see me when you can.”
“I didn’t realize so many people cared.”
“I remember your name. How kind of you to come.”

Listen if the bereaved express their feelings and thoughts, but don’t demand it. Do not ask the cause of death; if the family wants to discuss it, let them bring it up. Do not give advice. Remember that comments such as, “You are young, you will marry again,” or, “He was suffering so much, he is now in a better place,” or “I know what you are going through” are not comforting to the bereaved.

Acknowledgments or Thank You Notes

The family should acknowledge the flowers, messages, contributions and gifts sent by relatives and friends. Although it is not required, many acknowledge those who visited. When food and personal services are donated, these acts also should be acknowledged, as should the services of the pallbearers. A note to clergy to convey appreciation and thanks for their comforting words and assistance should be sent. Flowers that were sent from a group require a separate thank you to each name included on the floral card. If flowers are sent by a group or organization without listed individual names, a note should be sent to all in the name of the group’s leader. A hand written message of thanks may or may not be included.

The funeral director may have available printed acknowledgement cards which can be used by the family. When the sender is well known to the family, a short personal note may 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.”

“We wish to express our thanks for your words of comfort at the service.”

“Your contribution to the fund is an appropriate remembrance to our loved one’s charity work. Thank you for such a special memorial.”

“Thank you for remembering our loved one with the memorial mass. I hope to see you there.”

“Thank you for your comforting words when I needed them most. Friends like you have certainly helped me through this difficult time.”

Grief Recovery

It is healthy to recognize death and discuss it realistically with friends and family. Death is difficult and each experience is unique.

Help a Grieving Friend

Be a listener

Grieving people often find they need to talk about what has happened and how they feel about it. You don’t need to fix their grief or cheer them up, but you can share the load just by being there to listen.

It’s alright to cry

There’s no need to say, “Be brave,” or, “Be strong.” Crying helps release emotions so they don’t stay bottled up. Giving permission for tears, anger or any other emotions will let your friend know you aren’t uncomfortable with their grief.

Stay in touch

Remember that grief doesn’t go away in a few short weeks. Even one year may not be long enough to adjust to life changes. So, a friend who calls in 3, 6, or 12 months time may be one of the few who still asks how things are going. Special days like birthdays or Christmas may be just the time to pick up the phone and say, “I was thinking of you today.”

More Information

For more information, feel free to contact us at (585) 924-3310 or (585) 924-8560.