Offering Condolences: The Right Things to Say at a Funeral

Dealing with death is never easy, regardless of your relation to the deceased. If you've been invited to a funeral, the person who invited you looks at you as someone they want around in their time of need – whether you were friends with their loved one, or simply a friend to them.

One of the reasons dealing with death so challenging is because of the discomfort of not knowing the right thing to say or do when offering condolences. The worst thing you can do is ignore it entirely. Doing nothing, or pretending it didn't happen, is poor etiquette when it comes to the passing of a family friend, colleague, or family member of a friend.

What to Say to the Family at a Funeral

When attending a funeral, you'll likely have multiple opportunities to speak to the family of the deceased, whether during a visitation, viewing, or reception. Feeling being unsure of what to say to the family, and the right time to speak to them, is among the main reasons many of us feel uncomfortable at a funeral. While there's no rule book, the visitation, whether held at a funeral home or the family's home, is a good opportunity to express your condolences. It's best to wait until the funeral service is over to greet the family, unless they're greeting people before the service.

If you aren't close with the family, make sure to introduce yourself and explain your relationship to their deceased loved one. Keep your condolences brief, while sincere and heartfelt, as there are likely other people waiting to speak to the family as well.

Knowing exactly what to say at a funeral can be the hardest part, but remember that simply speaking to the family is often as important as what you say. Speak from the heart and with kindness:

  • "(The deceased) will be greatly missed. I'm sorry for your loss."
  • "Please accept my deepest condolences for your loss."
  • "(The deceased) was a great person, and I'll miss them very much."
  • "(He/she) meant a lot to me and everyone else at (the work place.) (He/she) contributed a lot to the company and our team, and (the deceased) will be missed."

It's also appropriate to share a happy story about the deceased, but make sure to keep this brief along with the rest of what you have to say to the family.

What not to Say to the Family at a Funeral

With some ideas of the right things to say at a funeral, also to be aware of some inappropriate remarks to say to family and friends of the deceased at a funeral. Keep in mind this is a very sensitive time for the loved ones of the deceased. Don't be judgmental, tell jokes, or tell that embarrassing story of something the deceased did in the office or among friends.

Avoid the following statements:

  • "You'll get over it with time."
  • Don't tell a husband or wife that there's plenty of fish in the sea, or any variation of "you'll meet someone else."
  • Stay away from mentioning any negative interactions you or others may have had with the deceased.
  • Avoid mentioning it if a certain family member isn't crying, or doesn't seem sad. Different people deal with death, especially of a loved one, in different ways.
  • Don't ask how the person died. These questions can often lead to sensitive answers, and you want to be as considerate as possible of the family of the deceased.

The main idea of what not to say at a funeral is to be as respectful as possible to the family of the deceased. Be kind, and avoid difficult topics or questions. Even if you didn't have the best relationship with the deceased or their family, it's not the appropriate time to bring these up. Leave all your negative feelings of the deceased at home.

How to Follow Up After a Funeral

Depending on your relationship with the deceased, this section may or may not apply. In most cases, if you've just met the family, it may not be necessary to follow up after the funeral service. But if you're a family friend, employer, or had a close relationship with the deceased, keep the following things in mind for after the funeral service:

  • Stay in touch with the family. Being there for them when they need someone to talk to or require help that the deceased could have provided is the best thing you can do. Make sure you let them know you're there when they're ready.
  • Remember birthdays and anniversaries of the death of the deceased.
  • In the weeks following the death, offer to help with simple tasks such as cleaning, cooking, or doing chores around the house.
  • If appropriate, and after discussing with the family, find out about support groups for bereaved parents or children, and set up a time for the family to discuss with the group leads.
  • Send cards – even up to six months after the death. Letting the family know you're still thinking about them and the deceased is one of the nicest gestures you can make.
  • Praise the bereaved for even small accomplishments that indicate they are moving forward, even in their time of mourning. As mentioned earlier, people grieve in different ways. Depression is very common for those who have experienced the death of a loved one; encouraging and supporting them can be inspiring and motivating.

If you have to ask whether a gesture is appropriate, it may not be. But, if you're a close friend or acquaintance of the family, these gestures may be something that can be deeply reassuring. Being there for those going through grief is the best thing you can do.

The Neptune Society is the nation's oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.

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