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What to Say to Someone Before, During & After a Funeral

Category: Etiquette

Wanting to say the ‘right’ thing to someone who has just lost a close family member or friend can be hard. Often people avoid the situation altogether in fear that they may cause upset or even more distress.

The truth is, there is no ‘right’ or perfect thing to say, but there are general funeral etiquette rules to be guided by to avoid triggering painful emotions. Whatever the situation may be, avoidance is not recommended. However uncomfortable you may feel, it is essential to put this to one side in order to ensure your friend or family member knows you are thinking of them. You don’t need to say much to be able to offer a kind word or a small piece of comfort.

Before the funeral…

Upon hearing the news of someone’s death it is important to reach out and let your friend or family member know you care. You could say;

I’m so sorry to hear about __________

Use the name of the person who has died. Many people avoid this with the fear that even using their name will bring tears to someone’s eyes. Crying is completely appropriate at this time, so prepare to see sadness.

I don’t know what to say

This is often just the truth of the matter. You may not know what to say. Words fail you in such a heart-breaking time. But this honesty comes across as authentic and real in a time when many clichés are often banded around. After you’ve said this it is ok to sit with someone quietly for a time. Hug and be in the sadness together.

During the funeral…

The day of the funeral is charged with strong emotions, and sometimes, high expectations. Navigating your way through the day can be difficult, but your support on the day is important too. Depending on how well you know the family members will determine how long you should spend talking to them.

If you know them well, you may want to stand with them for longer. However, if you are not as close with them, a polite acknowledgement of your sympathy such as “I’m so sorry” or a hug will suffice so they can have the opportunity to talk to others. Often it isn’t the words but merely the ‘being there’ which brings comfort to people.

After the funeral…

The grieving process doesn’t end at the funeral. It can be a lifelong process for many; therefore support in the days, months and years after the funeral is imperative. Here are some ideas about what to say to someone after a funeral;

How are you feeling today?

The ‘today’ part of this question is essential. It avoids any vagueness and infers to others that little steps, in any direction, is ok. It is also an easier question to answer than ‘how are you?’, for which many don’t know how to answer honestly when it comes to grief.

I’d like to…

This is more specific than “we’re here for you if you need us” and makes it easier for the person to accept your offer of help. “I’d like to take you for a coffee”, “I’d like to help you with …” or you can even ask “What do you need?” – the practical help you can offer may take some of the burden away from your friend or family member.

Remember whatever you say, it is important to say something. Stay in touch, send a card, give them a hug. The support and acknowledgement from friends and family in the difficult time plays an incredibly important role in easing the suffering of bereaved.