As a mourner, you will likely be confronted by many questions and just don’t know the proper etiquette for handling certain difficult situations.
One of the reasons why people are so uncomfortable at a Memorial Ceremony or wake is because they are not sure about what to say when offering condolences. While death maybe an extremely uncomfortable topic, the worst thing that you can do is to ignore it when it occurs in the family of a friend or colleague. Doing nothing, or pretending it didn’t happen, is not good etiquette.
Whether you are offering condolences by calling, sending flowers, sending a card or visiting, the important thing is to make a gesture that lets the family know you’re thinking of them and that you share their sorrow.
It is appropriate and kind to let the family know how much you will miss the deceased, how dear she was, how they made the world a better place, or what an inspiration he was. Use your own words to convey messages like these:
“I/We are thinking of you. I/we wish there were words to comfort you”
“I/We are shocked and saddened by your loss. We care and love you deeply.”
He/She was such a fine person.”
“What you’re going through must be very difficult.”
“It’s too sad he/she died. I will always remember him/her.”
“He/she lived a full life and was an inspiration to me and many others.”
Be a good listener – focus on the survivor’s needs. Refer to the deceased by name and acknowledge his or her life.
Don’t try to take control of the situation; don’t bring up other people’s needs, and; don’t expect things to be “back to normal” within a certain time frame.
Avoid clichés like:
“It’s probably a blessing”
“I know just how you feel”
“he/she is at peace now”
“At least he/she is no longer suffering”
“It was his/her time”
Keep in touch with the bereaved – be there for them when they are ready.
As a grieving family member, be prepared to hear words that are intended to comfort but are awkward or seem inappropriate, such as, “You’ll get over it,” “It was her time,” or, “I know exactly how you feel.” While these types of questions may be bad etiquette, understand that many people just aren’t sure what to say or how to say it.
Expect many questions regarding the circumstances of your loved one’s passing, especially if it was sudden, unexpected, or involved an accident. Be prepared with a brief response and remember that you aren’t obligated to tell the entire story. Most people simply want to give you an opportunity to talk.
Above all, if it is possible, be gracious to all who express sympathy, regardless of how inconsiderate or unfeeling their remarks might appear. They will someday be in your place and understand what is and isn’t inappropriate.