"Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings."
- Elie Wiesel
Funeral Etiquette: How to Conduct Yourself at a Funeral or Wake
At the Wake, or Calling Hours
The wake is a celebration of one's life. You should wear proper attire - the way you dress should convey respect
to the mourning family. Sloppy dress or jeans and t-shirts are not acceptable. For men, we suggest suit pants or
khakis, a button down shirt and a tie or bowtie. The appropriate color for most cultures and religions is black.
However, you should consult our Cultural Perspectives page for the proper color for
various religions and cultures. Upon enterting the wake, you should sign the book if one is available, and take a
prayer card. You then wait in line until entering the main room where the body of the deceased is displayed.
The family usually forms a receiving line to the right of the casket. When it is your turn, you should walk up to
the casket, kneel before the deceased and say a silent prayer of your choice, or simply reflect on that persons
life in your mind. After this short period of reflection, proceed to the receiving line, where you will greet the
mourning family, saying a few words of hope and encouragement. Here are some suggestions about what
several things that you should avoid saying to a member of the grieving family
or people in general situations. These include:
- I know exactly how you feel. (Pain and grief are unique to each individual.)
- Did you see the game yesterday? (Impersonal and out of place.)
- It's God's will. (There is no comforting value.)
- Something a lot worse happened to me. (No need to explain this.)
- Don't cry - you'll see him/her again.
- S/he lived a long life. S/he was ready to go.
- Aren't you over the death of your loved one yet?
- God gave you this trial to make you stronger.
- If you have enough faith, you will get well.
- S/he is much better off in heaven. S/he will be happier there. (Offensive.)
- Aren't you married yet?
- When are you going to have a baby?
- Whose fault was the divorce, you or your husband/wife?
There are several things that would be comforting and appropriate to say to the family. These include:
At the Funeral
- I'm very sorry about your loss, you have my heartfelt sympathy.
- I love you. (It helps to feel needed and wanted.)
- Please accept my sympathy.
- Your not alone, I'm with you. (Tremendous source of comfort.)
- I remember when... with a short story of the deceased. (Focus on happy and comforting memories.)
- Is there anything I can do for you right now? (Sense of compassion and caring.)
- Please know that I'm thinking of you.
Giving a Eulogy - The eulogy is a verbal celebration of the deceased's life given by a person close to the deceased
during the funeral. It should focus on the person's life and achievements. It often contains anecdotes and favorite
stories told by the person who delivers the eulogy. There is no time limit. There is no wrong or right way to write a eulogy.
Some have written poems or sung songs for the eulogy, while others have told funny stories or shared favorite memories.
However you decide to compose your eulogy, keep it appropriate and and most importantly, warm and compassionate.
After the Funeral Services: The Funeral Reception
Families of various cultures and religions often will have a reception
following the funeral services. This is a time for the family to relax
and meet with those who attended the funeral in a different atmosphere.
Proper attire is still required, although you need not be as formal as
during the wake or funeral. This is the time where it becomes ok to
smile and laugh with the mourners, but always remember to remain
respectful and compassionate.
In the following time
Coping with grief can be a very difficult task for some. Grief is sometimes misunderstood and manifested in improper ways.
In the time following the funeral, be sensitive to the ways that each individual copes with grief.
Some may cope in a healthy way, others may not. For help with coping with grief for yourself or others, please visit our
Coping Resources page where you will find
information about coping with grief in Rhode Island as well as on the internet.