Although common sense and good discretion are always the best guides to proper funeral etiquette, a few principles apply.
Condolence visit. Upon learning of a death, close friends of the bereaving family, if possible, should visit the family's home to offer sympathy and assistance – this is sometimes referred to as a condolence visit. It may include helping with food preparation and child care. 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, if desired, to relate to family members your fond memories of the deceased. In some cases friends and family members may simply want you to be a good listener to their expressions of grief or memories of the deceased. In most circumstances it is not appropriate to inquire as to the cause of death.
Show your respect. It is customary to show your respects by viewing the deceased if the body is present and the casket is open. You may wish to say a silent prayer for, or meditate about, the deceased at this time. In some cases the family may escort you to the casket.
Visit with others. The length of your stay at the visitation or funeral/graveside service or reception 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 for visitors to sign and the family generally appreciates it if you would sign it. The families that Cypress Fairbanks Funeral Home serves receive free online memorial pages that include a guest book where tributes can be posted.
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. After the funeral the family often receives invited visitors to their home for pleasant conversation and refreshments.
Send flowers. You can send flowers to the funeral home prior to the funeral, or to the family residence at any time. In some cases flowers may also be sent to Protestant churches. Flowers generally are not sent to Jewish synagogues and Catholic churches.
Charitable gifts in memory of the deceased are often made, particularly when the family has requested gifts to be made in lieu of flowers. The family is notified of the gifts by personal note from the donor or by the charity or other organization. In the latter case the donor provides the family's name and address to the charity at the time the gift is made.
It is usually acceptable to send flowers even when the obituary or death notice states, “in lieu of flowers, please make a contribution to …”. Flowers at the funeral service not only add warmth and life to a somber event, they are a tangible tribute. They let the bereaved know, visibly, how much their loved one touched the lives of others. Just as we would not send sympathy cards, offer assistance, or donate food when asked to make a financial contribution, flowers are always appropriate and appreciated.
Send flowers after the funeral. It is also a thoughtful gesture to send flowers several weeks after the funeral service to show the bereaved that you are thinking of them and they are not as alone as they might feel.
Send a note or card. Even if you don’t send flowers or make a charitable contribution, a note or card to the deceased's family expressing your thoughts of the deceased is a welcomed gesture, especially if you weren't able to attend the funeral. It is important to let the bereaved know you are thinking of them.