Metro-East Living

The do’s and don’ts of funeral etiquette center around what’s best for the family

Fallen St. Louis County police officer is laid to rest in Godfrey

Hundreds turned out Thursday to honor fallen police Officer Blake Snyder, who was buried at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in Godfrey, Illinois. Snyder, 33, was shot after responding to a call just after 5 a.m. last Thursday. He had served with t
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Hundreds turned out Thursday to honor fallen police Officer Blake Snyder, who was buried at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in Godfrey, Illinois. Snyder, 33, was shot after responding to a call just after 5 a.m. last Thursday. He had served with t

My column today is devoted to funeral etiquette, but from a different perspective.

Over the years, I have received many varied funeral etiquette questions, such as: What one should say to the relatives of the deceased; what to wear; whether flowers should be sent to the deceased man’s wife, or to the funeral home, or both; whether one should attend both the visitation and the funeral; whether donations can be made to a charity other than the one named by the family; how long after a funeral can a sympathy card be sent, etc.

I have provided answers to those questions based on my experience, expertise and collaboration with other published etiquette experts. However, today, I will be providing funeral etiquette observances and advice from the funeral director’s perspective. Having had a discussion with a truly best-in-the-business funeral director friend of mine one day recently about a funeral etiquette question, it became quite clear how important it would be to share some of their observances of and experiences with funeral etiquette.

As a result, several local funeral directors met and have provided me with a list of their Top 10 funeral do’s and don’ts, and I would like to thank them very much for not only taking the time to do this, but for their caring, professionalism and the respect they provide to each deceased person and their families.

Their preface: “Realizing it is uncomfortable for many of us to attend a funeral or wake or visitation, if you have ever been “in their shoes” (the family of the deceased) you realize how meaningful your presence is for the family. You may also recall how some things may have struck a nerve when well-intentioned friends and family said or did something that just didn’t sit quite right with you. We’ve created a few tips for the attendees, hoping these will add to the meaningfulness of the event:”

1) Before bringing in your grande, double shot, soy only ... mocha latte, topped with whipped creme, consider if perhaps you could live without it for 15 minutes and leave it in your car. Likewise, ditto for the 44-ounce, 500-calorie soda from the corner convenience store. Demonstrate to the family that, at that moment, the only thing that matters is them.

2) Standing in line, waiting to reach the family member you wish to speak with, consider what you will say. Avoid commenting on how long your wait in line was, how bad the traffic is outside, or what the baseball score is. Keep it simple and focused: “I’m sorry for your loss. I always enjoyed being around your dad.” or, “I didn’t know your sister, but I’m sure she meant a lot to you.”

3) If the obituary indicates “in lieu of flowers, send....,” please abide by their wishes. Although flowers are a beautiful traditional sign of sympathy, the family usually has a solid reason for making this request. Perhaps a family member has an allergy, or plant-eating cats at home, or they reside in a one-bedroom apartment and have no room for them, or they flew in from California for the funeral and can’t take a potted plant or vase of roses from you on the plane. Consider the family’s suggestions before sending a gift or flowers.

4) Read the obituary thoroughly or check the funeral home website for service details, location, schedule or survivor’s names. Families often invest $200 or more publishing this insight; read it carefully. Or go one step further and clip the obituary, and then send it to the family. If you have specific questions, instead of bothering the family over details, consult the funeral home for guidance.

5) Children should be included in planning and should attend the visitation and funeral. However, once they’ve been drained of all patience, it’s time to let them go home with a friend or neighbor. If little ones are restless, jumping on and off the furniture, drinking soda while left unattended, running in and out the doors, consider that they’ve done their time. It’s important to validate children’s feelings and nurture them in their grief, but once their behavior interferes with your own opportunity and ability to focus, consider letting the little ones go home with a friend.

6) While it is true that your presence is most important and appreciated, consider your dress when coming to a visitation or funeral. Certainly, sometimes a visitor is coming straight from their late-night kid’s soccer game, but if there’s really not a valid reason, then dress appropriately. Out of respect for the deceased and the immediate family, ditch the flip-flops and leave your ball cap in the car.

7) Don’t ask the funeral home staff or the family what the cause or manner of death was. If you don’t know the deceased or the family well enough to know if the deceased person was facing a terminal illness, or it’s not in yesterday’s headlines, then it is inappropriate to ask. The cause and manner and circumstances of the death are confidential information and are none of our business.

8) Unless you’re an on-call neurosurgeon, consider leaving your cell phone in your car. Loud, obnoxious ring tones are inappropriate anytime — but more so at a funeral. If you bring your phone with you, silence the ringer.

9) If you’re offering to do something for someone who has lost a family member, that’s very kind of you. Instead of saying, “Call me if you need anything,” try this: “I’m swinging by the grocery store on my way home from work, can I grab some fresh strawberries, soda, or paper plates for you?” Offering a specific suggestion makes it easier for someone to accept your help.

10) When you see the event (whether it is an evening visitation or a funeral luncheon) coming to a close, consider that the family may actually be ready to head home. If the family is actively engaging their guests, by all means, keep them company. But if the family is yawning, checking their watches or gathering their belongings, take that as a sign that, in fact, they may be exhausted following an emotionally draining few days. The family typically won’t leave if guests are still lingering, so be mindful of what’s best for the family, and responsive to their needs.