Grief Etiquette: The Dos and Don’ts of Attending a Visitation and Funeral
Funerals and visitations can feel confusing and overwhelming, but this list will provide the dos and don’ts of grief etiquette.
Issues like death, grief, and mourning are all around us. We hear about them on the news, and we experience them in our own lives. Yet, many of us struggle with discomfort and anxiety when attending a funeral or visitation hours to support a friend, family member, or coworker who is navigating a loss. Though we are well-meaning and want to show we care, many of us worry about saying the wrong thing, dressing the wrong way, or feeling anxious about participating in a death ritual.
If you often find yourself feeling lost or confused about grief etiquette and attending a funeral or visitation, read on for a helpful list of the dos and don’ts.
Visitation Hours Etiquette
If you’ll be attending visitation hours, often called calling hours, these are the things to keep in mind.
DO Pay Your Respects to the Deceased
As you enter the room, make your way toward the coffin or urn. Note whether there is a line so that you won’t accidentally cut in front of another mourner. When it’s your turn, approach the coffin or urn, and don’t be surprised if one or more family members are standing very near it. Approach somberly, stand in front of the coffin or urn and bow your head with your eyes closed. If there is a kneeler in place, use it. You may say a prayer if you’d like.
DO Be Brief
Attending visitation hours often means standing in a long line and waiting your turn to pay your respects to the deceased person and their family members. It can be a very trying day for the family, as they will be speaking to possibly hundreds of people during a very emotional time. When it’s your turn
DO Dress Appropriately
It is no longer necessary to wear all black to calling hours, though you certainly can. Gray, navy blue, or another dark color is also acceptable. If the family has requested that mourners wear a particular color to honor their loved one, as is often when a young person passes away, be sure to participate with at least an accessory in the desired color.
More important than color is the cleanliness and neatness of your attire. Wear clean clothes, iron out wrinkles, and try to avoid looking disheveled. Be mindful, too, of any perfume or cologne you wear. Heavy scents can cause other mourners to feel dizzy or queasy as they pay their respects.
Note that this guidance also applies to attending the funeral.
Do NOT Neglect to Greet the Family
When you’re finished paying your respects to the deceased, approach their family to offer your condolences. If you knew their loved one well, you might even choose to tell an anecdote or share a brief memory. If you have never met some of the family members previously, introduce yourself and say briefly how you knew their loved one.
Funeral rituals are different, depending on things like the family’s wishes and cultural or religious influences. However, the below guidelines will apply to the vast majority of funerals you will attend.
DO Consider Whether You Should Bring Children
Taking your children to a funeral for the first time is an important step in their development, but children should not attend if they don’t yet understand the concept of death. Even if they do, seeing a deceased person in a coffin for the first time is an experience that will stay with them forever. Be thoughtful and deliberate if you decide to bring children, and prepare them beforehand for what they will see.
DO Respect the Rituals in Place
It’s quite possible that the deceased shared a different religious tradition than what you practice personally. If you’re unsure and want to be prepared, ask a family member beforehand about the rituals that will be observed. The most important thing, however, is to respect the rituals that are in place. You never want to be seen as eschewing or disparaging the beliefs of the deceased’s family.
DO Ask How You Can Help
Families need all types of assistance on a funeral day, though they might not volunteer the information. If you’re able to help with things like child care, transporting flower arrangements to the family’s house, providing a homemade meal for the mourning family, or anything else you feel could be of assistance, ask. Speaking up lets the family know they can count on you. It’s also helpful to suggest a specific way you can help. Many people will say things like, “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” which puts the onus on the family. If you can assist in some way, be forthright and specific to make the family’s day a bit less challenging.
DO NOT Be Late
While visitation or calling hours allow for friends and family to arrive during a specified time span to pay respects and offer condolences to the family, a funeral begins at a precise time. Arrive 15 minutes early and wait in your car. Spend a few moments collecting your thoughts, then enter the church or funeral home with a quiet and somber disposition. If you happen to arrive late, do your best not to interrupt the proceedings.
If you tend to feel anxious about death and dying matters, you’re not alone. However, it would be best if you didn’t fear the unknown keep you from attending visitation hours or a funeral. Not only will you have the opportunity to pay your respects to the deceased person and their family, but you can also offer to help or support during a very challenging time. Use the above tips to take some of the mystery out of visitation and funeral etiquette and ensure you meet the family’s expectations.