Funerals and memorial services honor the deceased and acknowledge a sense of loss. Customs vary depending on locale and religion. The memorial service can vary in ceremony and procedures according to the community and religious affiliations. A memorial is distinguished from a funeral by the fact that the body is not present. Often, however, public visitation is held prior to the memorial service. Burial or cremation may take place prior to or following the visitation for funeral itself. Really a service of remembrance, the memorial service can be scheduled at any time Ė often weeks or months after a death has taken place.
One of the most challenging dilemmas people ask is what to say to the person who has lost a loved one. Sympathy to someone in deep mourning can be hard. Whatever you chose to say, keep it simple. Express your sorrow for this personís loss. A hug or a handshake and recalling a memory of this person is fine. Simply stating, ďIt was good to know him or herĒ is considerate. Or ďshe will be missed.Ē Avoid proclaiming that you know how they feel or proclaiming your spirituality.
Everyone needs help and at this particular time those most impacted at this loss need assistance and just "being there" more than ever. So make yourself available if at all possible. Be specific when offering to help. Offering to make dinner, run errands or babysit are nice gestures. Just let them know that you are thinking of them and available to assist. You can also just bring food, linens for the extra guests, do the dishes and assist in a general way. Paper supplies are also appreciated. Be sure to label any food containers you bring with itís contents and identify that itís yours. Disposable containers are appropriate.
Even if you did not know the deceased but know the person who is grieving, a sympathy card is appropriate. Sending a sympathy card is a good practice and is meaningful to the family. You can also call the residence. Out of respect, however, itís important to keep your conversation as brief as possible.
Itís common to give flowers to the bereaved. You can send them to either the home of the person who is grieving or to the funeral home. Almost any kind of flower or plant is fine. Floral crosses and wreaths are beautiful and can often be sent by a group. A fancier arrangement can be specifically designed for the deceased featuring a photo or something which represents the deceasedís interests. Refrain from giving a casket arrangement, however, as they are usually provided by close family. In lieu of flowers or food, sometimes there is and opportunity to remember the deceased through contribution to a memorial fund.
Because memorials are somber occasions, attending would call for somber, respectful clothes. Women should wear a dark dress or a dark suit. Men will be appropriate in a dark suit or dark pants and a jacket. Although wearing colorful clothing is no longer inappropriate, keep in mind the person who has died and the people who are mourning their loss the most. A funeral is not the time to show up and parade your individual personality. Itís an opportunity to show dignity and respect to the deceased.
Relatives and friends will be requested to sign the register book. Your full name and address, if requested, should be listed by you. If you are a business associate and the family may not recognize your name (even if youíve met on more than one occasion), it is proper to list your affiliation to the deceased.
The type of service conducted for the deceased is specific by the family. Protestant religious services are held either at the church or the funeral home with the body of the deceased present. This service varies in ritual according to denomination. It is customary to let the family and clergy decide what procedure will be followed. The Catholic funeral Mass is held in the deceased's church under the direction of the priest. For the Mass the casket is closed and draped with the religious pall. A wake or prayer service is often held prior to the Mass. The Jewish funeral usually is held in the synagogue or funeral home. It is customary not to send flowers to the funeral home. Friends and relatives are encouraged to visit the residence. A period of mourning (Shiva) follows the burial. Usually the mourning period is preceded by a memorial service at the residence which is attended by the family and friends. In today's society there are two families who prefer a non-religious service which is termed "Humanist." In this type of funeral, the same respect is paid to the deceased and condolences are sent to the family.
A pall is the heavy cloth that is draped over a coffin. Etiquette stipulates that relatives, friends, church members or business associates can serve as a pallbearer. A pallbearer is a funeral participant who helps to carry the casket of the deceased person from a religious or memorial service or viewing either directly to a cemetery or to and from the hearse.
A eulogy is often part of a funeral or memorial service. If you are asked to do a eulogy, itís most likely because you either knew the deceased well, are well spoken or a combination of both. If you are asked to speak during the eulogy, itís alright to decline if you are too upset. If you accept, plan carefully what you would like to say. The eulogy should last between two and ten minutes. Explain how you knew the deceased but speak beyond just your relationship with him or her. Be sure to emphasize their best qualities.
The above covers the basics for attending a funeral and how to assist someone you know through a very difficult time. When dealing with this time in peopleís lives, patience and understanding are key. Grief is so overwhelming and loss is so deep. Many people simply cannot do this alone. If you were a friend, you should attend the memorial. Because you are distraught is no reason to not attend. Everyone in attendance is at a loss and this is an opportunity to support each other, not leave them alone. Hopefully this will assist you in taking care of remembering someone who made a difference in your life.