Death is a topic many find hard to think about, let alone talk about. To help ease the suffering of the bereaved, experts have outlined some etiquette guidelines funeral guests should follow.
What to say
Sometimes we are unsure what to say to someone who is recently bereaved. Etiquette expert Elaine Swann suggests saying something along the lines of "My condolences to you and the entire family" or "My thoughts are with you all". Fellow etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore advised sharing a fond memory of the person who passed away to focus on happier times. She recommended keeping it simple to avoid accidentally saying something insensitive.
What not to say
Author and etiquette expert Diane Gottsman recommends avoiding lines such as "He's in a better place," and "The pain will lessen in time”. She advised not to inquire about the finer details of the death or telling the bereaved you know how they feel. If you are unsure what to say, a hug can go a long way.
Many people question whether it is still customary to wear black to funerals. "While black is the traditional colour of mourning and a safe option, it's not the only colour you may choose," Diane said. “Grey, blue, and eggplant are other choices."
Different religions have various traditions for their funeral services. For example, it is considered inappropriate to send flowers to a Jewish funeral.
Diane recommended researching online the family’s religious and cultural customs if you are unsure.
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“If you have very small children, when you arrive ask if there is a space that you can take your little one just in case they get a little bit fussy,” Elaine said. “Or you might want to sit closer to an exit, so you can step out quickly with your child if need be. Just be mindful of how any noise your children are making is affecting other individuals.”
"As tempting as it may be, don't take photos of long-lost relatives or friends you haven't seen for a while," Diane explained.
"It may be a happy occasion to reconnect, even under difficult circumstances, but don't let the bereaved see you behaving as if you are at a party, rather than a funeral. And going up to the coffin and snapping a picture is not appropriate."
Assisting the family
Be specific. Instead of saying “'I'm here if you need me,' say 'Hey, I'm here if you need me to take flowers to the gravesite, or take someone to the airport.' I think that's a little more thoughtful. And make sure you actually can do it. Don't just make empty promises,” she said.
Although it should be obvious, never answer a call during a funeral and make sure your phone is on silent.
"I experienced that a couple months ago,” Diane said.
“Someone's phone went off and they answered it — and talked! It's beyond comprehension.”
Sympathy cards and food are always thoughtful ideas.
Often there are out-of-town family and friends that come in for the funeral and a meal that is easy to reheat is always a plus, Diane said.
When life eventually goes back to normal, remember to check on your friend or family member, Elaine said.
Ask the bereaved out to lunch or to a movie.
“Remember that significant holidays and special dates can be hard to bear alone,” she said. Even if they choose not to accept the invitation, it will show you care.
- Source: oversixty.com.au