Proper Etiquette for Funeral Messages

Written by debra pachucki
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Proper Etiquette for Funeral Messages
Say a quiet prayer or reflection at the casket to convey a message of respect for the dead. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

The death of a loved one is a trying time, of course, with emotions such as shock, denial and great sadness hitting survivors. Family and friends also can be overwhelmed by funeral arrangements and disruptions to daily life. Although religious and personal beliefs often determine the proper etiquette for funeral messages, sympathy can be expressed in non-denominational ways that offer comforting words to grieving family members no matter what their spiritual beliefs are.

Messages With Flowers

When sending flowers to a funeral home, it is proper etiquette to keep accompanying messages short and brief. The act of flower-giving in itself expresses your sympathy, so signing a message card with a simple acknowledgement such as "with deepest sympathy," "our warmest condolences" or "sent with love and remembrance" will suffice. Don't include personal or long messages on a flower card. If you'd like to write a personal, heartfelt message to the bereaved, do so in a sympathy card instead.

Verbal Messages

When greeting grieving family and friends at the funeral home, be sincere and sympathetic about their loss. Also be brief, unless engaged in further conversation by one of them. You might feel like expressing deep sorrow for the family's loss, inquiring about how everyone is doing and asking if there is anything you can do; remember that this is a difficult time for survivors and they might not feel up to conversation. Feeling disconnected and even shocked is a natural part of grief, and close friends and family might feel run down or simply uninterested in socialising. Stick with short expressions of sympathy and be precise about offers to help. Instead of leaving the bereaved to decide how you might be of assistance, offer to do specific tasks, such as picking children up from school or running specific errands for the family. Doing so conveys the message that you are concerned and available but relieves the bereaved of having to think about what tasks to assign to people who want to help.

Sympathy Card Messages

Simply writing "I'm sorry for your loss" is an acceptable sympathy card message. Add another simple statement or two to personalise your message and show appreciation for the deceased, or at least appreciation for what the deceased meant to loved ones. Include a line such as "Joan was always a good friend and will be missed," or "The love that you and Craig shared is everlasting and eternal" to express sincerity and understanding. Don't include negative or sorrowful comments such as "You must be devastated" or "I can't imagine the pain you're going through." Your sympathy message should be comforting and reassuring, not grim or morose.

Sympathy Gift Messages

When sending any sympathy gift -- such as fruit baskets or flower arrangements -- include a simple acknowledgement as you would with flowers. "Your family is in our hearts and thoughts" or "our hearts go out to you in your time of sorrow" will suffice. Because sympathy gifts sent to the home are personally accepted by the bereaved, it is acceptable to include a slightly longer message with your gift, such as "Please accept our most heartfelt sympathies for your loss. Our thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time." Avoid negative, pessimistic or long-winded comments, and do not make any requests of the bereaved, such as "call me if you need anything" or "let me know if there is anything I can do." The grieving have enough to do at this difficult time.

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