Deciding Whether or Not to Participate in a Funeral
One of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to the death of a friend or relative is, “Should I attend the funeral?”
From there, other questions fall along similar lines. People often ask things like, “Is it appropriate for me to send a condolence card?”, “Should I send funeral flowers?”, or “Is it okay for me to reach out to the deceased’s family?”
Although there are exceptions, the answer to these questions will almost always be YES.
Should I Attend the Funeral?
A loved one’s funeral literally happens only once. If you miss the funeral (because of work obligations, financial restrictions, or personal issues), there will not be another chance to attend. For this reason and this reason only, it is recommended that you do whatever lay in your power to be there.
Not only will attending the funeral help bring you closure, but it will bring comfort to the family, as well. Even if there was a strain between you and the deceased (or between you and the deceased’s relatives), now is a good time to set that aside and focus on what really matters.
Note: The only exception to this is if there is a possibility that your presence will cause more harm than good. If you are uncertain whether or not you will be welcome, ask an unbiased third party to help you decide.
Is It Appropriate for Me to Send a Condolence Card?
Condolence cards are one of the easiest and least offensive ways to show your sympathy. This is an ideal way to participate in the funeral even if you cannot be there in person (it is perfectly acceptable to send one if you are there in person, too). It does not matter if you knew the deceased very well, or if you only knew of them by reputation—a heartfelt card will go a long way in helping ease the family’s pain.
The only time it is inappropriate to send a condolence card is when the family has specifically requested that you do not send anything.
Should I Send Funeral Flowers?
Not everyone can send funeral flowers, and that’s okay. Although your gift is likely to be appreciated no matter how well (or not) you knew the deceased, the costs can be prohibitive. If you want to send funeral flowers and have the means to do so, you should feel free to go ahead with your plan. This is even true if there was a strain between you and the deceased (or the family), since flowers can be seen as a peace offering.
Once again, the only time you will not want to send flowers is when there’s a specific request for “in lieu of” donations, or if there are religious/cultural restrictions. (For example, for a Jewish funeral.)
Will It Be Okay for Me to Reach Out to the Deceased’s Family?
This question can be the trickiest, since it will depend on your relationship to the deceased and your motivations for reaching out. If you simply want to make an offer to help or to show your sympathy, then making contact with the family is fine (although you should do it via card, phone, or email rather than stopping by unannounced).
Other motivations for reaching out—curiosity about the death, an interest in the will, the personal need to make amends—will dictate whether or not your actions are appropriate. Many of these questions can be better answered by someone who’s not suffering right now (namely, a lawyer or a newspaper article), or can be put off until a later date when the feeling of loss is not so raw.