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Funeral Etiquette: Visitation, Funeral Service, & More

Proper Funeral Etiquette

Dealing with a death of a family member, friend, or acquaintance is never an easy thing to accept or go through. At times it may be difficult to know how to conduct oneself, what to wear, and what is an appropriate condolence gift to send. Here are some traditional guidelines that should shed some light on funeral traditions as well as provide guidance on proper funeral etiquette.

The Visitation or Wake

The visitation or wake, typically occurs a day or two before the funeral. It is a time to express sympathy and may also provide closure for grieving loved ones. This ritual is common among Catholic and Protestant faiths, and those that attend include close family and friends, distant relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances. When entering the visitation, be sure to approach the family and pass on your sympathies for their loss during this trying time. If there is an open casket, while not mandatory, it is a sign of respect to view the deceased and offer a silent prayer. Guest books are usually on a table at the roomís entrance and should be signed so the family has all names and addresses when it comes to writing thank you notes. If you live out-of-town and/or unable to attend, a short phone call or email (in the case of acquaintances) should be made or sent to express condolences, and it's very common to send flowers ahead of time with a personal message.

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The Funeral or Memorial Service

The immediate family, close relatives, and friends typically attend this ritual. Depending on the faith, the funeral or memorial service may be held at a church, temple, funeral home, or even the residence. Usually the immediate family has reserved seating towards the front followed by close friends, distant relatives, and acquaintances. Arrive 15 or so minutes before the service is expected to start, and if you are late, sit in the back row to avoid any interruptions.

The Burial or Service

For burials that immediately follow the funeral, all attendees are asked to join; however, for those burials that are on another day, typically only the deceasedís closest family and friends attend the burial service. For burials right after the funeral or memorial service, a procession of cars will drive to the specified location, and afterwards, the family may invite attendees to join them for lunch or dinner or another kind of reception, whether at a restaurant or at their home.

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What to Say

Knowing exactly what to say to someone at a time when he or she has just lost a loved one may seem daunting, but most often, a simple ďIím so sorry for your lossĒ is enough. More than anything, you want to express that you are there for the person and his or her family throughout this hardship. Sharing a special or memory of the deceased or an endearing quality about the deceased can also be appropriate.

Proper Attire at Rituals

Black is perhaps the most well-known color to wear, however dark blue and gray are also acceptable colors. Women should wear dresses, long skirts or dress pants, with shoulders covered. Men should also follow the semi-formal style in a suit and tie, and perhaps a jacket as well. Nowadays, more non-traditional memorials also exist, featuring shirts of the deceased.

What to Send: Funeral Flowers Etiquette

When it comes to sending an appropriate condolence gift, the most common is to send flowers as a small or large bouquet, planter, spray, or wreath. Flowers represent growth and new life and can give a sense of beauty and comfort to an otherwise somber environment. Floral arrangements can be sent to the family home, the church (or another place of religious worship), or the funeral home. However, if a family requests that a donation be made instead, these wishes should be respected.

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