are someone who has to plan a funeral due to the loss of a loved
one, or perhaps you are attending a service for a family member
or friend, here are some explanations of terms and situations
you may find yourself having to address.
The funeral is a ceremony of proven
worth and value for those who mourn. It provides an opportunity
for the survivors and others who share in the loss to express
their love, respect, grief and appreciation for a life that
has been 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.
The type of service conducted for
the deceased is specified by the family. 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 an obituary
notice published announcing the death and type of service to
This service is by invitation only
and may be held at a place of worship, a funeral home or a family
home. Usually, selected relatives and a few close friends attend
the funeral service. Often public visitation is held, condolences
are sent, and the body is viewed.
A memorial service is a service without
the body present and can vary in ceremony and procedures according
to the community and religious affiliations. Some families prefer
public visitations followed by a private or graveside service
with a memorial service later at the church or funeral home.
Friends, relatives, 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.
When the deceased has been active in
political, business, church or civic circles, it may be appropriate
for the family to request close associates of the deceased to
serve as honorary pallbearers. They do not actively carry the
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.
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.
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 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.
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. A floral tribute can either be sent
to the funeral home or the residence. 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
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.
A memorial contribution, to a specific
cause or charity, can be appreciated as flowers. A large number
of memorial funds are available, however the family may have
expressed a preference. Memorial donations provide financial
support for various projects. If recognized as a charitable
institution, some gifts may be deductible for tax purposes.
Your funeral director is familiar with them and can explain
each option, as well as furnish the donor with "In Memoriam"
cards, which are given to the family.
Sending a card of sympathy, even if
you are only an acquaintance, is appropriate. It means so much
to the family members to know they are in good thoughts. The
card should be in good taste and in keeping with your relationship
to the family of the deceased.
A personal note of sympathy is very
meaningful. Express yourself openly and sincerely. An expression
such as "I'm sorry to learn of your personal loss"
is welcomed by the family and can be kept with other messages.
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
Your presence at the visitation demonstrates
that although someone has died, friends still remain. Your presence
is an eloquent statement that you care.
Visitation provides a time and place
for friends to offer their expression of sorrow and sympathy,
rather than awkwardly approaching the subject at the office,
supermarket or social activities. The obituary/death notice
will designate the hours of visitation when the family will
be present and will also designate the times when special services
such as lodge services or prayer services may be held. Persons
may call at the funeral home at any time during suggested hours
of the day or evening to pay respects, even though the family
is not present. Friends and relatives are requested to sign
the register book. A person's full name should be listed e.g.
"Mrs. John Doe". If the person is a business associate,
it is proper to list their affiliation as the family may not
be familiar with their relationship to the deceased.
Friends should use their own judgement
on how long they should remain at the funeral home or place
of visitation. If they feel their presence is needed, they should
offer to stay.
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
When a person calls at the funeral
home, sympathy can be expressed by clasping hands, an embrace,
or a simple statement of condolence, 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
"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."
Encourage the bereaved to express their
feelings and thoughts, but don't overwhelm them.
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 which 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.
Help a Grieving Friend
Be a listener
Grieving people often find they need
to talk about what's happened and how they feel about it. You
don't have to fix their grief or cheer them up, but you can
share the load just by being there to listen.
all right to cry
There's no need to say "be brave"
or "be strong." Crying helps emotions to be released
so they won't get bottled up. To give permission for tears,
anger or any other emotions will let your friend know you aren't
uncomfortable with their grief.
Remember that grief doesn't go away
in a few short weeks. Even one year may not be long enough to
adjust to changes in your life. 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."