Thursday, May 24, 2012

Funeral Etiquette?

I find myself pondering this very question about funeral etiquette as I was driving to yet another funeral. This time the funeral was for the husband of a friend of mine.

 It never seems to get easier and the closer I get to the funeral home, I notice tension begin to coil in my stomach. I walk into the funeral home and join the many people waiting in line. I see a friend about 15 places ahead of me but I am pretty sure that "butting in line"  is worse here than at the movies. Funeral lines seem to move at a snail's pace.

 I sign the remembrance book. I wonder how many other books that I have signed and I doubt the family even knows who I am because I am not always there for them, but to pay respects for the person I knew who has transitioned. (passed on)

Last week I had dinner with a friend. She asked, "What has been going on since I saw you last?" I started to tell her about the funeral I had attended the week before. I explained to my friend, Sue, how sad and awkward I felt. I said I never quite knew how to act or what to say during these intense moments.

I knew that Sue was a counselor but I had forgotten that she has a specialty in  grief counselling. (Also for pet owners.) A lively discussion ensued and I would like to pass on some of the wisdom she shared with me. Everyone handles grief differently, but she gave me some suggestions for Do's and Don'ts that I will keep in mind when the situation calls for it. She based some of these suggestions on her own personal experiences.

First the Don'ts: Sue refers to these as the 3 B's:
 Babble-That means as you go through the line sharing your condolences don't bring up your own losses. Also saying, "I know how you feel," often makes the person you are try to comfort want to scream, "You couldn't possibly know how I feel!"

 Blame-That means keep your opinions to yourself. It is not helpful to blame the deceased for their own demise. There is no comfort in saying to the family what might be obvious, such as if he didn't smoke, he wouldn't have had lung cancer. Or, if she hadn't been texting, she would not have had a car accident.

Betrayal-Saying that, "We will get through this together"-and then don't show up as support" Sue says that often the people you would count on disappoint, you and people you hardly considered friends, step up in ways you never imagined.

Now for some Do's

Do go to the funeral even if you are not sure what to say.

Do ask, "What can I do for you?" and mean it, and follow through. Ask again a few weeks later when family and visitors have returned to their own homes and lives.

Do make your comments to the family in line brief. It is very stressful for the family to stand a long time and there are usually many people waiting behind you.

Do know that anger can mask grief and that a person may be in shock for a good six months, if not more.

Do help your friend adjust to a "new normal" later on.

Sue concluded that, "You will gain so much satisfaction knowing you have been a part of your friend's walk through grief."

As a result of our conversation, I believe I will be more prepared and authentic when I attend another visitation. (I hurt to write the word, another visitation--but there will always be another visitation. It's part of life.

Sue Coplea, M.A. LCPC specialist in grief counseling can be reached at 1124 S. Sixth St. Springfield, IL


  1. By Connie W. It is a good article because we have all had theses thoughts, and yes once you get there and see and here the people's gratefulness that we came for them, the living!

  2. Nicely written with great reminders!

  3. Thank you Virginia. One never knows when they need information until they actually need it. I find it helpful to have pieces like this in a storage place in my mind.