"Sell the stuff."
Maggio indicates that the best thing to say is, "I am sorry, what can I do for you?" Mention advice the deceased might have given you, a virtue he or she had, or anything for which they will be remembered. Also, in most circumstances, it is inappropriate to ask the cause of death.
No matter how you express your sympathy, make sure you clearly identify yourself to the family. If you make a donation to charity in memory of the deceased, include your name so that the charity can send acknowledgement of the donation. Also, according to leading etiquette author Letitia Baldrige, this acknowledgement does not take the place of a personal thank-you note from the family.
Is an e-mail message OK?
In today's high-tech world, e-mails are becoming more accepted, and they do offer a way to immediately express sympathy. In fact, many e-mail addresses indicating where to send condolences are included in the obituaries published in this newspaper. However, while this may be acceptable, it should not take precedence over a handwritten note.
Visitation and/or funeral
The visitation or wake provides a time to pay respect to the deceased as well as provide support for the family. It also provides a time and a place to express sympathy to the bereaved instead of at an awkward time such as running into them at the grocery store or during other social events.
Expressions of sympathy can be a simple clasping of the survivor's hands, an embrace or a short statement of sorrow such as, "I am so sorry for your loss."
If you are an acquaintance of the deceased who might not have met the family, then introduce yourself and tell them how you know their loved one. For example, "My name is Jane Doe. We've never met, but I used to work with your mother years ago."
How long you stay is up to you. Unless you believe your presence is needed, visit 15 minutes or so, express your condolences to the family, sign the register and leave. Give your full name when you sign the registry book. For example, signing Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Doe is more appropriate than Biff and Buffy Doe. Some of the family members might not know you by your nicknames.
In general, you should follow the customs of the family, but don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or is against your own beliefs. If the casket is open, it is expected that you pass by to pay respects; however, if you feel uncomfortable going by the coffin, then don't. It is not mandatory. If you would like more information before attending a funeral of a different religion, Beleifnet.com offers a section on the spiritual and religious beliefs about death in various cultures.
Many parents struggle with deciding whether children should attend a visitation or funeral. Even young children have some knowledge of death. Regardless of the child's age, their maturity level and ability to understand and to deal with death is paramount. Most funeral directors can provide literature as well as additional information to help guide parents through this difficult decision.
Also, it is an honor to be asked to be a pallbearer. Therefore, if asked, make every attempt to comply.
When flowers are sent to the funeral home, someone usually removes the accompanying card after the ceremony and gives them to the family so they may acknowledge the tribute. It is a good idea to have a friend of the family collect these cards and write a brief description on the back of each so that a thank-you note can be written about the specific arrangement. Example, "Thank you for the beautiful display of red roses, they were Dad's favorite."
After the service
Don't forget the bereaved after the service. Keep in touch and check on them from time to time. Make a note on your calendar to call them a few days after the funeral just to check on them. Mark additional dates to touch base or to offer any assistance needed. Try to remember them on special occasions such as the deceased's birthday or wedding anniversary. While others go on with their life, the bereaved are left to think of their loss daily.
What are the responsibilities of the bereaved? The family should acknowledge gifts of food, flowers and donations made to charity. If a request of "no flowers" was ignored, they should still be acknowledged.
Don't forget those who provided personal services such as the funeral director, clergy and pallbearers.
According to Baldrige, if the funeral is large, acknowledgements may be made with a preprinted card. Still, personal services performed for the deceased or the bereaved should be personally recognized.
It is a good idea to keep a notepad beside the refrigerator to write down who sent food to the home of the bereaved so those people can be acknowledged after the funeral.
Finally, Baldrige recommends that if divorced at a time of mourning, a truce should be called on both sides of the family. Death supersedes all disagreements.
These are situations with lessons typically not taught until confronted with tragedy.
While this is not a pleasant topic, it is a part of the circle of life. The death of a family member or friend is extremely difficult. Knowing some form of decorum may offer a bit of helpfulness in the time of loss.
Pam Harvit, MS, is a certified corporate etiquette and protocol consultant. She is employed by Merck and Co. and lives in Charleston. E-mail her at phar...@suddenlink.net.