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 is an eloquent statement that you care.
Visitation provides a time and place for friends to offer their expression of sorrow and sympathy. The obituary/death notice will designate the hours of visitation when the family will be present and as well as the times when special services such as lodge services or prayer services may be held (Desmond Obituaries). 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 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 judgment on how long to remain at the funeral home or place of visitation. If they feel their presence is needed, they should offer to stay. Oftentimes the family learns new things about their loved one during a visitation; sharing stories becomes a special part of the visitation.
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 or prayer 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 the guide of others.
The Remembrance Service
The type of service is chosen by the family. Usually it will be a funeral service or a memorial service. A service, typically held at a place of worship, the funeral home, or a cemetery, with or without the deceased present, varies in ritual according to religious denomination and family preference. The presence of friends acknowledges friendship and support. It is helpful to have a death notice published in a newspaper and/or online announcing the death and type of service to be held, such as at Desmond Obituaries. To learn more about Remberance Services, visit Ceremony Overview.
Funeral Mass or Service
A funeral is a service with the deceased present in a casket. It may be a service held at a funeral home or a mass held at a place of worship. Always enter the service 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.
A memorial service is a service without the body present, but there may or may not be cremated remains 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.
This service, at the decision of the family, is by invitation only. It may be held at a place of worship, a funeral home, a cemetery or a family home. Usually, selected relatives and a few close friends attend the funeral service. Sometimes public visitation is held and condolences are appropriate.
Friends, relatives, church members or business associates may be asked to serve as pallbearers. The pallbearers 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. 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 casket.
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. To learn more, visit Eulogy Tips.
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.
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, it 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. For more information, please review GriefWords, "Helping Children with Funerals."
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. For convenient and affordable arrangements visit our online flower shop at Send Flowers.
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. This will make it easier for the family to acknowledge your gift.
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. At A.J. Desmond & Sons there is a family lounge available for use during a visitation; families are encouraged to bring food and beverages into the lounge.
A memorial contribution, to a specific cause or charity, can be as appreciated as flowers. A large number of memorial funds are available; however 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. 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. Some families request memorial donations in lieu of flowers. At A.J. Desmond & Sons, when a family has designated a charity there will be addressed envelopes available at the visitation and the service and information is also included at Obituaries.
Sending a card of sympathy, even if you are only an acquaintance, is appropriate. It means 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 appropriate.
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:
"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."
Encourage the bereaved to express their feelings and thoughts, but don't overwhelm them. Do not ask the cause of death; if the family wants to discuss it, let them bring it up. Do not give advice. Do not make comments that would diminish the importance of the loss. 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 thoughtful acts also should be acknowledged, as should the services of the pallbearers. Clergy should receive a note to convey appreciation and thanks for their comforting words and assistance. Flowers that were sent from a group of neighbors or colleagues 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. You may or may not include a hand written message of thanks.
The funeral director may have available printed acknowledgement cards which can be used by the family. A.J. Desmond & Sons has several available and others may be specially ordered. 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."
"We wish to express our thanks for your words of comfort at the service of our loved one."
"Your contribution to the Fund is an appropriate remembrance to our loved one's charity world. Thank you for such a special memorial."
"Thank you for remembering our loved one with your memorial mass at the Cathedral. I look forward to seeing you there."
"I want to thank you for your comforting words when I needed them most. Friends like you have certainly helped me through this difficult time. Thanks for being there."
In some communities it is a practice to insert a public thank you in the newspaper. The funeral director can assist you with this.
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. Check A.J. Desmond & Sons Grief Resources for available resources and grief programs or your funeral director can assist in locating available resources 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.
It's 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.
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 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."
For More Information
For more information, continue to peruse our website or call us. You may also refer to a more comprehensive etiquette guide, such as those by Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt.