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Funeral Etiquette

The funeral is a ceremony that has proven worth and value for those who mourn. It provides an opportunity for the survivors and others who share in the loss to express their love, respect, grief, and appreciation for a life that has been lived. It permits facing openly and realistically the crisis a death presents. Through the funeral the bereaved take that first step toward emotional adjustment to their loss.

Before the funeral

It is a common gesture for close friends of the bereaving family to visit the family’s home to offer sympathy and assistance – this is sometimes referred to as a condolence visit. With the bereaving family having to ensure that all the arrangements are looked after, a close friend(s) may become very helpful with food preparation and childcare. The visit can take place any time within the first few weeks of death, and may be followed with one or more additional visits, depending on the circumstances and your relationship with the family.

In addition to expressing sympathy, it is appropriate to relate to family members your fond memories of their loved one. In some cases family members may simply want you to be a good listener to their expressions of grief or memories.

Even though common sense and good discretion are always the best guides to proper funeral etiquette, a few principles still apply. The information below has been prepared as a convenient reference for modern funeral practices and customs.

Visitation (Wake)

Your presence at the visitation demonstrates that although someone has died, friends still remain. Your presence is an eloquent statement that you care.

Visitation provides a time and place for friends to offer their expression of sorrow and sympathy.

If you attend a Visitation you should approach the family and express your sympathy. As with the condolence visit, it is appropriate to relate your memories of their loved one. If you were only acquainted with the decedent (and not the family) you should always introduce yourself.

It is customary to show your respect by passing the casket. You may wish to say a silent prayer or meditate about the decedent at this time. In some cases the family may escort you to the casket.

The length of your stay at the visitation is a matter of discretion. After visiting with the family and viewing the deceased you can visit with others in attendance. Normally there is a register book for visitors to sign so the family may use as a reference.

Sympathy Expression Examples

When a person attends a visitation at the funeral home, shaking hands, an embrace, or a simple statement of condolence can express sympathy, such as:

• “I’m so sorry.”
• “My sympathy to you and your family.”
• “It was good to know Frederick (
name of the deceased).”
• “Frederick (
name of the deceased) was a fine person and a friend of mine. He will be missed.”

Response Expressions Examples

The family member in return may say:

• “Thank you for coming.”
• “Frederick (
name of the deceased) talked about you often.”
• “I didn’t realize so many people cared.”
• “Come see me when you can.”

Encourage the bereaved to express their feelings and thoughts, but don’t overwhelm them.

Children at visitations and funeral services

At a very early age, children have an awareness of and a response to death. Children should be given the option to attend a visitation and the funeral service. It is important that they are aware of what will take place at the visitation, the proper behavior (showing respect to the family, no running, shouting, etc…) and what they will see. By talking with the child, it will prepare them before they arrive and help to put them at ease.

While we want to protect our children from feeling hurt or sad, it is part of the life cycle of all creatures great and small. A funeral service can be shared as a celebration of life by encouraging them to discuss their loss, what they are feeling and to share their precious memories while saying good-bye.

Children are very resilient; their presence often will be a bright light during this difficult time.

Please keep in mind, for the toddlers, staying for a complete six to seven hour visitation, will often be too long for them to bear. There is a children’s room with books, toys and videos. Again we ask that all children are supervised.

At Hitzeman Funeral Home, Ltd., we require all children under the age of 14 be accompanied by an adult at all times.


As with other aspects of modern day society funeral dress codes have relaxed somewhat. Black dress is no longer required. Instead, subdued or darker hues should be selected, the more conservative the better.

Wearing colorful clothing is no longer inappropriate for relatives and friends. Persons attending a funeral should be dressed in good taste as to show dignity and respect for the occasion.


Everyone grieves differently. There can be a number of emotions that can take place all at once, especially once you arrive at the visitation to see your loved one, family member or close friend. No matter how you are feeling, be respectful of your surroundings, language, and behavior. Our staff is here to help the family of the deceased throughout this time of mourning.


Sending a floral tribute is a very appropriate way of expressing sympathy to the family of the deceased. Flowers express a feeling of life, beauty, and offer much comfort to the family by letting them know they are not alone. The florist places an identification card on the floral tribute. At the end of the visitation, the funeral home staff will remove the cards from the floral tributes and will give them to the family so they may acknowledge the tributes sent. You can send flowers to the funeral home prior to the funeral or to the family residence at any time. Please keep in mind, Hitzeman Funeral Home, Ltd., will not disclose the address of the family. If flowers arrive after the service was conducted, they are no longer accepted by the funeral home.

Mass cards

Mass cards can be sent either by Catholic or non-Catholic friends. The offering of prayers is a valued expression of sympathy to a Catholic family. A card indicating that a Mass for the deceased has been arranged may be obtained from any Catholic parish. The Mass offering card or envelope is given to the family as an indication of understanding, faith, and compassion.

Memorial donations

Gifts in memory of the deceased are often made particularly when the family has requested gifts in lieu of flowers. A memorial contribution to a specific cause or charity can be as appreciated as flowers. A large number of memorial funds are available; however, the family may have expressed a preference. Memorial donations provide financial support for various projects. If recognized as a charitable institution some gifts may be deductible for tax purposes.

Even if you do not make a gift, a note or card to the deceased’s family expressing your thoughts of the deceased is a welcome gesture, especially if you weren’t able to attend the funeral. Hitzeman Funeral Home, Ltd., will not disclose the address of the family, but will forward your note or card upon your behalf.

Sympathy cards

Sending a card of sympathy, even if you are only an acquaintance, is appropriate. It means so much to the family members to know they are in your thoughts. The card should be in good taste and in keeping with your relationship to the family or the deceased.

A personal note of sympathy is very meaningful. Express yourself openly and sincerely. An expression such as “I’m sorry to learn of your personal loss” is welcomed by the family and can be kept with other messages.


A member of the family, clergy, a close personal friend, or a business associate of the decedent may give a eulogy. The eulogy is not to be lengthy, but should offer praise and commendation while reflecting the positive life of the person who has passed. Understandably, giving a eulogy can be very emotional and challenging. Please keep in mind that explicate language and superlatives should not be used. Any written or spoken word should be age appropriate, in good taste, and can be shared in front of all members of the audience. Respect for the family that has lost their loved one should be the main concern.

Funeral procession / cortege

When the funeral ceremony and the burial are both held within the local area, friends and relatives might accompany the family to the cemetery. The procession is formed at the funeral home or place of worship. A funeral home staff member will supply the necessary flags and stickers for each vehicle. The funeral director will advise you of the traffic regulations and procedures to follow while driving in a funeral procession.

After the funeral

The family should acknowledge the flowers and messages sent by relatives or friends. When food and personal services are donated, these thoughtful acts also should be acknowledged, as should the services of the pallbearers. The funeral director has available printed acknowledgment cards that can be used by the family. When the sender is well known to the family, a short personal note should be written on the acknowledgment card expressing appreciation for a contribution or personal service received. The note can be short, such as:
• “Thank you for the beautiful roses. The arrangement was lovely.
• “The food you sent was so enjoyed by all. Your kindness is deeply appreciated.”

Grief recovery

It is healthy to recognize death and discuss it realistically with friends or relatives. When a person dies, there is grief that needs to be shared. Expressions of sympathy and the offering of yourself to help others following the funeral are welcomed. It is important that we share our grief with one another. Hitzeman Funeral Home, Ltd., will help your family and friends locate available grief recovery programs in our area.

When the funeral service is over, the survivors often feel very alone in dealing with their feelings. It is important that they know you are still there. So, keep in touch.