Speaking to a family member gives you an opportunity to offer your services and make them feel you really care. If they wish to discuss their recent loss, don't hesitate to talk to the person about the deceased. Be a good listener. Sending a telegram expressing your sympathy is also appropriate.
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, rather than awkwardly approaching the subject at the office, supermarket or social activities. The obituary/death notice will designate the hours of visitation when the family will be present and will also designate the times when special services such as lodge services or prayer services may be held. Persons may call at the funeral home at any time during suggested hours of the day or evening to pay respects, even though the family is not present. Friends and relatives are requested to sign the register book. A person's full name should be listed e.g. "Mrs. John Doe". If the person is a business associate, it is proper to list their affiliation as the family may not be familiar with their relationship to the deceased.
Friends should use their own judgement on how long they should remain at the funeral home or place of visitation. If they feel their presence is needed, they should offer to stay.
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. Keep in touch.
When a person calls at the funeral home, sympathy can be expressed by clasping hands, an embrace, or a simple statement of condolence, such as:
"My sympathy to you."
"It was good to know John."
"John was a fine person and a friend of mine. He will be missed."
"My sympathy to your mother."
The family member in return may say:"Thanks for coming."
"John 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.
The family should acknowledge the flowers and messages sent by relatives and 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 may have available printed acknowledgement cards which 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 our family. Your kindness is deeply appreciated."
In some communities it is a practice to insert a public thank you in the newspaper. The funeral director can assist you with this.
Children at Funerals
At a very early age, children have an awareness of and a response to death. Children should be given the option to attend visitation and the funeral service. The funeral director can advise you on how to assist children at the time of a funeral and can provide you with additional information and literature.
It is healthy to recognize death and discuss it realistically with friends and 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. Your local funeral director can help family and friends locate available resources and grief recovery programs in your area.
Help a Grieving Friend
Be a listener
Grieving people often find they need to talk about what's happened and how they feel about it. You don't have to fix their grief or cheer them up, but you can share the load just by being there to listen.
It's all right to cry
There's no need to say "be brave" or "be strong." Crying helps emotions to be released so they won't get bottled up. To give permission for tears, anger or any other emotions will let your friend know you aren't uncomfortable with their grief.
Stay in touch
Remember that grief doesn't go away in a few short weeks. Even one year may not be long enough to adjust to changes in your life. So, a friend who calls in 3, 6, or 12 months time may be one of the few who still asks how things are going. Special days like birthdays or Christmas may be just the time to pick up the phone and say, "I was thinking of you today."