People are often uncomfortable with the idea of attending a funeral. They struggle with what to say, what to wear, how to express their grief, and how to act. However, there are a few simple rules to make the event less stressful, regardless of whether it’s a funeral, celebration of life, or memorial service.
Most importantly, be yourself. Don’t try to be staunch, solemn, or reserved if that is not your nature. While being boisterous or crude is not the appropriate tone, you need to be you.
The point of a funeral service, memorial or celebration of life is gathering to pay tribute to the deceased. Offer your condolences by sharing a funny story about how you and the departed met, a special time that stands out in your memories, or recalling a memorable phrase they used to say. It may be appropriate to use humour; often, that is an emotion in short supply at this stressful time. Consider telling the grieving family about your favourite trait of the departed’s personality, or a time you spent together. If it is something you could say in front of your boss, a grandparent, or a child, it is probably perfect for sharing, and your genuine emotion will shine through. Being yourself, and sharing a memory you hold dear, provide comfort for you and those you are offering your condolences to.
Be sure to acknowledge the role the departed played in your life, the value they had in society, and the loss you have suffered. This is also an ideal time to tell those around you of their importance in your life, of your appreciation and love for them. Too often, words are left unspoken, and this is a chance to say what is in your heart.
It is perfectly acceptable to grieve, but do not make it about you. The family suffering the loss is the focus; regardless of what is happening in your own life, this is not the time or place to complain about things affecting you. Anything you want to share, other than condolences and memories, can wait.
When you’re with the deceased’s family, you can ask how they are. A sincere question can open the door to lend support, find out what they need, or let them express their thoughts and feelings. It shows compassion and concern and may help them to reveal what they really need or process their emotions. Be sure to listen to their answers and make them feel heard.
As a final unspoken rule, be sensitive to the circumstances and the situation. Every funeral is different, just as every deceased and every family is. For example, if the loss was a tragedy, the tone of the service would be significantly different from that of an expected passing. If you’re unsure about what memories to share or what to say, we suggest erroring on the conservative side, while still being yourself.