Unless you’ve attended a number of funerals, you might feel unsure about what to say or how to act. Like other public ceremonies, such as graduations and weddings, funerals generally follow a certain protocol. The type of ceremony will depend on whether or not it is a religious service and if so, which religion or denomination. It will also depend on whether the body will be present, if it is a ceremony soon after the death or a memorial service weeks or months later, and if it will be formal or informal. If you’re unsure, ask a family member beforehand about what the service will be like.
The obituary or death notice notifies the community of the date, time, and location of the funeral and visitation, if any. A good rule of thumb is to dress as if you were attending a wedding in that same venue, though colors and patterns are usually more subdued. In general, funerals held in churches are more formal. It’s customary to bring a sympathy card with a personal note inscribed to the family. Memorial donations can be included inside the card, if appropriate.
Most of all, keep in mind that you are attending the funeral to honor the person who died and to show your support for the family and close friends. The most important thing is your presence. If you attend, you can rest assured that you are doing the right thing. Try to attend all the parts of this service, if possible, which may include visitation, the ceremony, the committal, and a reception. If you’re unsure what to say to the primary mourners, it’s fine just to say, “I’m so sorry.” It’s not that you have something to apologize for; it’s just that you’re sorry they’re having to go through this painful time. Try listening more than talking. Give the gift of your quiet empathy and understanding. If you have a good memory of the person who died that you can share, by all means, share it. The reception after the funeral is often a time for telling stories.