Having lost my mother several years ago, I know how difficult saying goodbye can be—no matter how much you have prepared for it.
What to Expect at the Funeral
Different families and cultures have different ideas and settings for their funerals. Some are more formal and sombre, while others are focused on celebrating and remembering the good times. No funeral is the same, but it's helpful if you know beforehand what to expect before attending.
If you're worried about losing your composure, put it out of your mind. Everyone will understand how you're feeling. It's hard to say goodbye, and the closer you are to the family of the deceased, the harder it is going to be for you. Keep a few tissues in your pocket and pull them out if you need them.
Comforting words and hugs are helpful throughout the service, but be mindful of people who are just trying to hold it together. Sometimes a simple hug is enough to express your condolences, while words will only make it worse for that person.
How to Dress for a Funeral
Times have changed, so don't worry about having to dress up in your best attire. Look nice and remember that the first priority is to support the family members of the deceased and to show respect to the dead. Dress appropriately, but don't fuss about looking perfect.
Be a Part of the Service
If you can find some way to be involved with the service, it can really help you feel like you've done something for your loved one. Whether it's arranging flowers or reading a bible reading, you'll feel better knowing that you did something.
How to Prepare for a Close Friend or Family Member
If you're a part of the deceased's family, such as a child or spouse, this is going to be a hard day for you. Don't worry about controlling your emotions; everyone will understand how you're feeling.
The time leading up to the service might be easier if you're distracted worrying about the flower arrangements and setting everything up. However, after everything is done and you're left to greet people, this is where it's the hardest. Try your best to keep it together. There are going to be certain people who talk to you who will be more choked up than you. If you need to take a break, do so. If you have a brother or significant other to help support you, let them comfort you as best they can.
For me, the funeral for my mother was two months after she passed, so I had already gone over a million ways of how it would go and how I would react. The ways I imagined it going were worse than they actually turned out to be. If you can, try not to stress out about the service beforehand, but know that you will get through it. It'll be hard, but after it's over, everything comes to a close. You'll have closure and will then be able to start healing and doing your best to move on.
For a Distant Relative or Friend
For a distant relative and friend, the same is true for close family members or friends. Some people will be more emotional and hurt than others, even if they didn't know the person very well, and some people will be alright. It's best to just let everyone work out their own feelings. Show support with hugs and smiles, but be respectful.
You're not a bad person if you're laughing and singing to the radio before the service. Your job is to support the deceased's family and let them know that you are there for them and that you will miss the deceased.
The Car Ride to the Funeral
This doesn't have to be a somber trip. It's certainly not considered a crime to be laughing on your way there or singing along to the radio. Different people deal with this time in their own way, so if one person wants to be more somber, let them work it out in their own way.
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For close family, I remember we just listened to the radio for my mom's funeral, and since we were bringing all of the flowers, ashes and picture frames, we were occupied with setting up before everyone got there.
What to Say to the Deceased's Family
During this hard time, there are really no words that you can say to relieve any of the pain that the family will be feeling at the time. Just let them know that you're there for them, ask if they need anything and maybe a simple word about how the deceased will be missed.
I remember preferring the comments about what a great person my mom was and how missed she would be to the general "I'm so sorry for your loss" comments. It is tricky to find the right words to say. Sometimes just admitting you don't know what to say are the best words.
If you're worried about not having anything to say. Here's a list of what I remember being said at my mother's funeral and how it made me feel. Some phrases I became numb to hearing, and they borderline annoyed me at certain moments (which I've noted in the table with a -> negative connotation).
List of Condolences and Phrases
I'm sorry for your loss
Neutral -> Negative
You have my condolences.
No words, just a hug.
No words, just a hug.
You're [loved one] will be missed, he/she was a kind person.
A simple nod or thank you.
A simple story about the deceased.
Happy, rememberance (may be harder for some people)
Others have gone through this at your age (if you're young)
Polite thank you.
Neutral -> Negative.
What to Do After the Service
After the service, if there is food and an invitation to gather somewhere to talk and mingle, feel free to stay for just a short while to get something to eat, say a few words and then head on your way.
The service is a time for crying and memories. Afterward, it's helpful to catch up with the family, see how they're doing, if they would like any meals brought to the house and anything like that.
How to Help Others
Depending on the person, certain family members may need to step out to compose themselves. It's usually best to let this person's close family or significant other be with them until they are feeling better. Asking if they want a glass of water is helpful, but don't pressure them into talking until they are ready.
Once you've said your goodbyes and have paid your respects to the deceased, the rest of the day can be spent with family members (if any flown in from out of state or out of town). Remember the good times you had with the deceased and be grateful and appreciate the time you have with the ones you care about.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Jack Hagan from New York on July 15, 2015:
My friend's mother passed away and I really felt sad for him. I wanted to help him and provide my assistance to him at the funeral ceremony but I was unable to do so because I was not familiar with his other family members and relatives. It really hurts me to think about that and I wish I could have been there and shown my sympathy for his loss.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on July 24, 2013:
It helps to talk about these things ahead of time, especially when we are anticipating the death of a loved one. When my brother passed away, I was a teenager, and since then, have not had a close family member die. It is very different going to the funeral of an older friend versus a family member. I appreciate your advice on the comments that were helpful.