When someone you know loses a loved one, it can be an incredibly awkward experience if you want to express your condolences to the bereaved and his or her family if you don’t know how. Death and grief are complex issues, and it’s all too easy to misstep completely accidentally, so here are some things to keep in mind if you want to be as respectful as possible in the face of someone you know suffering a terrible loss.
Cards and Flowers
Once people hear the news of someone’s passing, their first inclination is almost always to contact the bereaved to offer condolences and support. However, in the early days when the loss is still fresh, sometimes this can be seen as an intrusion on a very personal, very emotionally charged period of time. In these cases, it can easily be much more respectful to send a sympathy card or some other memento like flowers.
Sympathy cards are typically sent directly to the address of someone you know who has suffered the loss. With these, the sooner you send one the better and more appropriate – if you wait until after the funeral, this can often renew grief or sadness, so do your best to send one as quickly as possible. It doesn’t have to be fancy, either – a straightforward expression of sympathy, right from the heart, is often the most appreciated.
However, when it comes to flowers, the most appropriate time to send them would be in time for the funeral service. Many will send flowers directly to the church or the funeral home, which means the best way to arrange for this is to contact the funeral director to learn if the family has any special requests. In many cases, the bereaved will request no flowers but instead for well-wishers to donate to a memorial fund set up in the name of the deceased. In cases such as these, it’s considered best to take the money you would have spent on flowers and donate to the fund instead.
Finally comes the memorial service. Whether it’s a wake, a funeral, or both, it’s always appreciated by the bereaved if you can attend at least one. Attending more than one is of course unnecessary but will go far to show you just how much you care about the survivors of the deceased. Offering your condolences to the family of the deceased and keeping your tone positive is the best way to show your respect.
Lifting the spirits of the family can oftentimes be as simple as sharing a memorable story about the deceased, as long as it’s in good taste. Additionally, if the family has invited visitors into their home after the memorial services, do your best to be there long enough to offer your support, but know when it’s time to bow out and provide the family some privacy – around 45 minutes to an hour is usually considered ideal unless in very specific situations. Any longer and you could be putting a strain on your hosts – any less and you could be considered rude and disrespectful.
As with everything else when it comes to grieving and loss, it can be difficult to strike a good balance when paying your respects, so use your judgment and err on the side of caution. Your efforts will be appreciated by the bereaved.