How to support the bereaved at the funeral or memorial service

The time after the loss of a loved one can be very confusing for those around them. You may not be sure of what to do or say and it is natural to feel like this.  This is a general guide and customs and traditions vary depending on family culture and religious practice.

Expressions of Sympathy

The first thing to do when you hear that a workplace colleague,friend or relative has died is to extend your sympathy to those closest to the deceased and to offer assistance. Simple expression of sympathy are usually best.  A personal brief, visit is best but there are other ways to let them know that you care. Grief is difficult emotion to deal with but it is important to let the family know that while their loved one is gone, they are not alone. You can:

  • Flowers. Sending flowers is a widely accepted custom.  If you are sending them to the home, you may wish to send a small, potted flowering plant.
  • Donations. If the family asks that donations made made in lieu of flowers, you should honour that request.
  • Phone call.  If you are close to the family, a phone call is important. Do keep it brief and offer condolences and support.
  • Sympathy card. This is the usual way to express sympathy if you are not a close friend or relative.  This is appreciated as many people find it difficult to accept numerous phone calls immediately after the news of the death.
  • Memorial Gifts or Donations This is appropriate but remember to supply the family's name so they can be informed.
  • Food for the family. Dishes that require little preparation are appreciated.

The Funeral Service

There are some common rules of etiquette.

  • Arrive Early.  Aim to arrive at the chapel at least 15 - 20 minutes before the service is due to start.  When seated, fill up the seats behind the family rather than sitting at the back as the family could feel isolated at the front.
  • Dress Appropriately. Keep your attire simple but respectful.  It is not usually necessary to dress all in black. 
  • Participate in the Ceremony.  If there is a song, hymn or prayer that you are requested to join in, it is respectful to the family to participate, even if it is not a part of your religious or cultural tradition.

Attending the Wake or Funeral Reception

The purpose of the wake is to honour the deceased and to offer support to the bereaved. The family usually offer refreshments for the mourners after the funeral.  It is polite to attend if possible.

In the Days, Weeks and Months After the Death

  • phone or write on a regular basis
  • include the family in your social plans but understand that they may not wish to participate for a while
  • remember them on special days, anniversaries and holidays
  • offer to help in practical matters
  • talk about the deceased and don't by frightened to name them as it is more distressing to the bereaved if people ignore the situation




(c) 2011- 2018 Elaine Searle, Civil Funeral Celebrant