What to Say at a Funeral
Kind and comforting condolences
When we attend funerals, our intention is to honor the person we have lost and to provide support and love to the family. It is a human instinct to want to comfort and offer kind and loving words when you see others grieving. The ability of individuals to come together is an important part of the healing and processing journey.
Preparing your thoughts before attending a funeral or memorial service can help you find the words to honor the deceased and show your support in helpful, comforting, and loving ways. Here are some things you’ll want to consider when speaking at a funeral.
When You Are In the Receiving Line
A funeral receiving line is a formal way for funeral-goers to greet the family and close friends of the deceased and to offer personal condolences, although these do not appear at every kind of service. There are several important things to remember when speaking to the family in the receiving life to ensure the process runs smoothly.
They Will Be Missed. This is a traditional condolence because it is deeply true. The memorial service is the opportunity to share stories, love, and memories of a person. You will miss them, and stating so shows the family that they are not experiencing their grief alone.
Here’s a Story. You’ll want to keep any conversations in the receiving line short to avoid overwhelming the family, but if you have a particularly special memory or short story, you can share it. Reference times you spent together or how they were loving, generous, or creative. This will help to make your condolences more personal.
I’m Bringing Over Food. You’ll want to judge your relationship with the family before deciding whether this is appropriate. But if you are offering to help, then it’s important to make the offer rather than putting an undue burden on the family by asking how you can help.
You may want to consider giving them options, like childcare, cooking, or offering to help with the estate. When you ask, “how can I help,” it requires them to delegate and organize. Instead, simply offer how you’re able to help and allow them the opportunity to decline.
My Family Is Thinking of You. You may find yourself in a situation where you are representing a branch of your family or friend group at a funeral. Let the family know that you speak for your entire family when you share your condolences and that your family is available to listen, support, and comfort when and if they need it.
If You Are Speaking
Giving a eulogy or speaking at a funeral can feel extremely overwhelming. It is also an opportunity to honor a person you have loved and to share their memory with others. The day of can be very challenging to navigate, especially if you are part of the immediate family. Planning in advance is a helpful way to reduce your pressure and share your story. Here are some things to consider when planning and speaking for a funeral.
Prepare in Advance. You may be excellent at speaking off the cuff on any normal day, but loss can leave us unfocused and distracted. Even if your speech goes off well without any prior preparation, you may find you forgot to share a favorite story or memory. Preparing a eulogy in advance can help ensure that you include the most important parts and that you feel more comfortable and confident in what you’re going to say.
Keep It Focused. You will have opportunities to speak with friends and family throughout the day to share stories and memories. Giving a eulogy is your chance to honor a person’s legacy, but it’s a good idea to focus your ideas and share cohesive and important stories. This will help keep you and the audience from getting overwhelmed and ensure the best parts come through.
Remember That Emotions Are Okay. It’s entirely expected that emotions will be high on the day of the funeral. That doesn’t necessarily mean only sad emotions, either. Your eulogy may make you and the other funeral-goers cry, but if you want to share a story that makes them laugh and smile, that’s more than okay. Good memories help to honor a loved one with positivity and hope.
Make It Personal. While a eulogy can briefly touch on the larger picture of a person’s life, service, faith, and impact, the closer-to-home stories are often truer and more important. Share your own personal experiences with the deceased, funny memories, a shared habit, their supportive and loving nature, their sense of humor. These are the memories that truly make a person an individual and allow you to celebrate and honor them to the fullest.
Share Poems and Songs. You may feel uncertain about sharing personal memories, or you simply feel overwhelmed on the day of the funeral. That’s okay. Loss can have an enormous effect on our ability to concentrate, remember, and be productive. Instead of writing a eulogy, you can also share poems or songs that you feel well-represent the person you are honoring.
What to Remember
Introduce Yourself. If you are not close with the family or have not been previously introduced, share your name and connection to the deceased when you offer your condolences. Grief can impact memory and make it challenging to focus, so don’t be offended if they don’t remember you from previous encounters. They will be grateful you have shown up to share your support.
Keep It Short. As a guest, the receiving line is not the appropriate place for long conversations or your personal grief. Instead, it’s the opportunity to show your support and solidarity for the family, which is why you’ll want to keep your condolences short. The family will be meeting and speaking with many people over the course of the day, which can be emotionally challenging. Share your love and allow them to move onto the next.
Remember, It’s About Them. Grief doesn’t go away at inopportune moments. But when you are speaking with the family of the deceased, you’ll want to be sure that you’re focusing on their needs and how you can be kind and supportive. Listen, share stories, and offer your support and love, but the receiving line is not an appropriate place to ask them to comfort you.
Avoid Making Light. It's a natural instinct to want to relieve the pain that our friends and loved ones are experiencing that may lead to statements about how a person is “in a better place” or “no longer suffering”. While the intention is good, the statements can come across as dismissive of the loss or inappropriate.
The truth is, loss is terrible. Grief lasts a lifetime, and we find ways to navigate through it. But we cannot put the pressure on a few simple condolences to help heal our grieving friends and family in an instant. Instead, honesty and openness can help to alleviate some of the pressure of maintaining appearances and show true solidarity.
Rather than sharing statements that try to alleviate pain and grief, offer condolences that acknowledge it. Your friends and family are managing their loss, and it is a challenging and difficult experience that you recognize and support them on.
Skip Gossip or Commentary. Likely, gossip isn’t intended to be harmful, but rather a way to provide humor and lightness. That said, it can come across as mean or insincere and cause further grief to the family you are trying to support. It can be difficult to remain serious and to honor the person, as it sometimes makes the whole experience feel more real and undeniable. But feeling sad is okay and avoiding a scene is better for you and the family.
Keep It Personal. The deceased and the family of the deceased are individuals. If there are specific ways to approach them, be it with humor, stories, or even photos, go ahead and do. While you want to maintain respect on the day of the service, you also want to provide support and comfort in the way that best fits those who need it.
Speaking at a funeral can feel overwhelming at times, whether you’re giving the eulogy or simply greeting the family in the receiving line. Preparing in advance, keeping your comments simple, honest, and positive, and offering personalized support to the family help show the family the love and support you share with them. With that, you honor the memory and legacy of your friend or loved one.
If you’re struggling with the best way to prepare for a funeral or to deal with your own personal grief, Lantern is here to lend a helping hand.