site image


Because the nature of funerals and memorial services varies so widely today, attire isn’t limited to just black or dark gray. The exception may be when you’re a pallbearer or honorary pallbearer, in which case a dark suit is the usual attire unless the family requests something else. Remember, though, that it is a serious occasion and your attire should reflect that, especially if you are participating in the service. At the very least it should be clean, neat, and pressed as for any other important occasion.


When attending a service, be on time and enter the location where the funeral will be held as quietly as possible. If there are no ushers, remember that the seats closer to the front should be taken by very close friends, with acquaintances seating themselves in the middle or towards the rear.

If you arrive late, enter a row from a side aisle, not the center aisle. If a processional has begun, wait outside instead of trying to squeeze past those who are a part of the cortege and are waiting to walk down the aisle.

Smartphone Use

Cell phones and smartphones should be off or completely silent (not set to vibrate, which can still be audible during quiet moments) during any service. If silent rather than off, they should be kept away during the entire duration of the service, from waiting for the service to begin while assembled to mingling with others afterward. Out of respect, you should 100% present at all times—glancing at a phone even for a moment destroys that impression. 


Children should be encouraged to attend the ceremonies surrounding the death of a family member or close friend to whatever degree they feel comfortable. Children learn through these experiences that death is a natural part of life and that rites are observed when someone dies.

Always consider a child’s age before taking them to a funeral, memorial service, or a prolonged visitation. Because young children can become restless or have trouble staying quiet, you may choose to have them stay at home with a sitter, or bring a sitter who can take them home if needed.

Older children should sit with their family, closest to whomever can give them the most comfort. The children should wear clothing that’s age appropriate and similar in style to that worn by adult family members.

For additional information of discussing death and funerals to children, CLICK HERE

In Lieu of Flowers

When the notations “in lieu of flowers, please…” or “contributions to xyz would be appreciated” appear in an obituary, take your cue from the request. You may still send flowers in addition, but if you wish to send only one expression of sympathy, however, follow the family’s wishes and choose the contribution.

When considering a donation:

  • Consider giving at least what you would have spent on a flower arrangement.

When you make a donation include a note saying whom it memorializes. Also add it on the notation line of the check or online donation form itself: “In memory of Rowan McGuire.” Include your address, as well, so the organization can alert the family as to where to send an acknowledgement. (You may want to confirm with the charity that they will notify the family of your donation.)

  • If you have been advised to give to your favorite charity, and wish to make a contribution, do so, and choose one that might mean something to the family as well. Include the deceased’s family’s address so the charity will know where to send the acknowledgement.
  • Ordinarily, cash isn’t sent to the family in place of flowers or a charitable contribution, but exceptions can be made. For example, if the bereaved is having financial difficulties, a group (fellow employees, club or lodge members, or neighbors, for example) might take up a collection or set up a scholarship fund for the deceased’s children.

Offering Condolences – Saying & Doing the Right Things

Acknowledging the Death

One of the reasons why people are so uncomfortable at a wake or funeral is because they’re not sure about what to do or say when offering condolences. While death may be an extremely uncomfortable topic, the worst thing you can do is ignore it when it occurs in the family of a friend or colleague. Doing nothing, or pretending it didn’t happen, is not good etiquette.

Whether you are offering condolences by calling, sending a card or flowers, or visiting, the important thing is to make a gesture that lets the family know you’re thinking of them and share their sorrow. (Although this appears to be changing slowly in today’s culture, such forms of communication as texts, emails, and tweets are still too informal for expressing sympathy or offering condolences.)

When hearing the news…

  • Be a good listener. Let friends and family talk about their loved one and their death. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t pressure them. Focus on the survivor’s needs.
  • Refer to the deceased by name, and acknowledge his or her life.
  • Encourage the family to plan a wake, funeral, and burial (even if cremated), if you are in an appropriate position to do so. Ask to help make arrangements.
  • Send flowers with a note (see suggestions for notes below) or offer a donation to a charity or an appropriate research organization.


  • Don’t take control of the situation. The grieving family needs control to help them work through grief.
  • Don’t bring up other people’s experiences. Let the bereaved focus on their loss.
  • Don’t pressure the family to clean out the deceased’s belongings. They need to do this in their own time.
  • Don’t expect things to be “back to normal” in a certain timeframe.

Making Condolence Calls

If you can’t visit in person, a telephone call expressing sympathy and offering condolences for the family is appropriate.

  • Don’t be surprised if the phone is answered by someone who is taking messages, or your call goes to voicemail. It may be too much of a burden for the family to answer each call individually. Your message of sympathy will still be valued and appreciated.
  • Keep your call brief. Remember, the family is likely receiving a large number of calls during a time of bereavement. Keep the focus on the bereaved. This is not the time to talk about yourself or to relate your own recent experience with losing a loved one or a dearly loved pet.
  • Be a good listener. The bereaved may want to vent or cry or grieve. Let them talk about their loved one and the death. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t pressure them.
  • Focus on the survivor’s needs. Don’t ask questions about the circumstances or probe for details about the death.

It is kind to call occasionally after the funeral to check on the family, especially if you were close to the deceased or have offered some type of tangible help. Let them know you care and if you still wish to help, make the offer again. Include them in social plans if possible, keeping in mind their state of mind.

Sending Sympathy Cards

A pre-printed sympathy card is the default choice for most people, and it’s an acceptable way to go. Consider, however, writing a personal note in the card.

  • Don’t be afraid to use the name of the deceased, to recall a fond memory, or to share a warm anecdote about how the person affected your life. Those remembrances will be treasured by the family and often are kept for years.
  • If you can’t attend the service, be sure to express your regrets in the card.
  • A special kind of acknowledgment for a Catholic family is a Mass condolence card—a greeting card that lets the family know a Mass will be said in memory of their loved one. You can obtain a Mass card at your local parish. You may offer a donation when asking that the Mass be said. Some greeting card stores also carry Mass cards. After purchasing the card, contact the parish to arrange for a donation. Mass cards can also be purchased online. An acknowledgment of the Mass will be sent directly to the bereaved.

Those who are bereaved may have an especially difficult time during holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or the deceased’s birthday or wedding anniversary. You can help by sending cards to acknowledge those special occasions or the anniversary of the death.

Offering Condolences

Whether you express sympathy via a visit, call, or card, your choice of words is important. It is appropriate and kind to let the family know how much you will miss the deceased, how dear she was, how they made the world a better place, or what an inspiration he was.

Use your own words to convey messages like these:

  • “I/We are thinking of you. I/we wish there were words to comfort you”
  • “I/We are shocked and saddened by your loss. We care and love you deeply.”
  • He/She was such a fine person.” 
  • “What you’re going through must be very difficult.”
  • “It’s too bad he/she died. I will always remember him/her.”
  • “He/she lived a full life and was an inspiration to me and many others.”

What NOT to say…

It is inappropriate to make statements that imply that the death was for the best or that show disrespect for the deceased. It is also inappropriate to probe for details of the circumstances of the death or the person’s final moments. Be careful about making spiritual or religious references unless you know those sentiments will be well received.

Avoid cliches like …

  • “It’s probably a blessing.” 
  • “I know just how you feel.” 
  • “He’s at peace now.” 
  • “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
  • “At least he/she is no longer suffering.” 
  • “It was her time.”

Don’t tell them what to do …

  • “You have to be strong now for your family (or business).”
  • “Stay busy to take your mind off things.” 
  • “You’ll get over it in time and find somebody else.”
  • “You’re young and can have more children.”

Bringing Food for the Bereaved

In many cultures, it is customary to bring food to the home of the deceased, since there probably will be many relatives arriving who need to be fed, and the family may have neither time nor energy to cook meals. Often the family’s church will organize the bringing of meals, or you can call ahead to see what is needed and when, so the family isn’t overwhelmed. Be sure to either use a disposable container or label your dish with your name and phone number if you need it back.

Follow Up

After the services…

  • Keep in touch with the bereaved. Be there for them when they are ready.
  • Remember birthdays and anniversaries of the death.
  • Offer to clean, cook or do other chores.
  • If appropriate, find out about support groups for bereaved parents and have the leader call the grieving parent to talk.
  • Send cards frequently — even six months after the death.
  • Praise the bereaved for even small accomplishments.

© 2024 Nowak Funeral & Cremation Services. All Rights Reserved. Funeral Home website by CFS & TA | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Accessibility