“After the Funeral” Etiquette
There are plenty of guidelines that tell us what to wear to a funeral, how to send condolences to the family, what we need to know about buying funeral flowers, and how to act once we arrive. After all, we all want to make sure that we do our best to honor the deceased and support the family in their time of grief.
However, grief does not end after the funeral is over. In fact, for many people, those first weeks and months are the most difficult to get through. That is why your etiquette after the funeral might be just as important—if not more—than how you approach the funeral itself.
Thank You Notes
Good funeral etiquette dictates that the family of the deceased write thank you notes for donations, flowers, and other services provided for the funeral. However, writing these notes may seem overwhelming to those who are dealing with loss. Although you should receive a note for form’s sake, you do not need mention it or complain if one isn’t forthcoming. There may be several reasons for the delay, most of which are personal and quite possibly painful. In fact, instead of asking after your thank you note, make the offer instead to help write and send them out.
Care of Ashes
Almost everyone knows how important it is to show respect for the body of a loved one, and great care is likely to be taken with the remains until they are safely underground. When a family opts for cremation instead of burial, it is just as important to treat the cremated remains with love and care. If the family chooses to keep the ashes, treat the urn or other vessel as you would treat a headstone. If they opt to scatter them, wait until you are invited before you make plans to attend the ceremony. And if you are offered some of the ashes for whatever reason, only accept them if you are willing to care for them as you would any other item of value.
Visiting the Gravesite
Paying your respects to the grave of a loved one is a great way to show your love and to support a grieving family. It is important to remember that it takes weeks (if not months) for the headstone to be finalized and put up, so do not worry if you arrive to find that the grave is still unfinished. Always check with the cemetery rules before you bring flowers or other decorations, and if you do bring them, consider returning after a few days to remove the withered buds. (This way, any family member stopping by won’t be obligated to do the clean-up for you.) Always treat both the grave and the cemetery with respect, and follow any posted guidelines.
As time goes on, you may wish to pay continued visits to the deceased’s family and/or provide gifts of food, bereavement packages, or even money. Although it is typical (and expected) for guests to stop by unannounced during a wake, open house, or even during the first few days of grieving, avoid the urge now. Always call ahead or make advance arrangements before you descend upon the family, and do not drop by if they give any indication that they’re not currently welcoming visitors. Take your cue from them and adjust your expectations accordingly, as their grief takes precedence over your desire to help.