Sticky Situation: Modern Etiquette For Death And Mourning

Sticky Situation:

Following the tragic events of Nov. 13, 2015, death and mourning are repeatedly heard on the radio, the television and in social media.

Popular? Yes. Uncomfortable? Definitely.

Although real and even natural, these words bring discomfort and several questions of what to do in such a sad and, in this case, tragic situation.

Faced with death, no matter who you are, you know you need to be on your Sunday best; benevolent, polite, kind and empathetic.

But what do funeral rites sound and look like in modern times?


Inspired by this universal drama in which we all, again and unfortunately, lost our innocence on what should have been a fine Friday night that quickly became black, I have put together a short funeral guide.

What to wear?

It is no longer necessary to exclusively wear black. Gray, navy, or any other dark color will do.

But one thing is for sure — your outfit should be somber and clean.

If you have not worn those clothes for some time, be sure to freshen them up and to iron them.

Occasionally and usually when the deceased is young, the family may ask you to wear a certain colour, such as pink. Do it. Wear whatever colour is requested, even if it is just an accessory.

Beware of perfumes; less is better. Wearing too much cologne could give nausea or cause allergic reactions.

When should you arrive at the funeral?

Arrive early, about 15 minutes before the start of the ceremony, without going in. Relax. Breathe. Collect your thoughts and enter solemnly at the announced time.

Leave your phone in the car or turn it off. It is not even appropriate to place it on its vibration mode. I insist. Turn off your phone!

How to behave during visiting hours or during the service?

Offer your condolences to family members with a visit to the funeral home.

Enter and walk towards the coffin or the urn. Don’t be surprised if a family member joins you there. Bow, close your eyes, pray and/or meditate. If there is a prayer kneeler, use it.

Then go to the deceased’s loved ones and offer your condolences. Greet the people you know. The duration of your visit is at your discretion. It depends on your level of intimacy with the deceased.

When there is a funeral register, sign it.

Traditionally, you may be invited for a light snack after the service. Go. This is often the most appreciated moment for the relatives.

What to say and how?

Warning: we do not offer our sympathies. We offer our condolences with sympathy. One offers his condolences with deep sympathy. Condolence is a name while sympathy is an emotion; an expression of benevolence.

If you have never met the relatives, introduce yourself by shaking hands with your first name, last name and by indicating your relationship to the deceased.

If you knew the deceased well, you can tell a story or even an anecdote. Be brief, especially when there is a long line behind you.

“My condolences. Paul was a really nice man. I remember well his infectious laughter.”

“Mary was an important woman in our business community. She made good and beautiful things. She will be greatly missed.”

A handwritten condolence card is always welcome. According to the customs of the bereaved, a virtual card may be appropriate.

To lighten the task of thank-you notes for the relatives, add the following note in your card:

It is not necessary to acknowledge receipt of this card.

Flowers or a donation?

Families usually specify what they want. Check in the obituary.

If you send flowers, ask the florist what is best, especially when you are sending them to loved ones who practice a religion that is different than yours.

A nice gesture is to send flowers a week or two after the funeral to the home of the bereaved.

And the children, should we bring them?

It depends.

To be able to provide comfort to your child, you should first be comfortable in that setting. If you are not, consider not bringing your little one or make sure that another adult will accompany you to support him/her.

The child that accompanies his parents must be able to understand death as well as the customs and rituals that he will observe.

And if the deceased adhered to a religion other than ours?

Find out from the church, the place of worship, the officiant, or the funeral home personnel. Respect whatever rituals are in place.

How can we help?

If you are close to the family, offer to:
Prepare a meal or a frozen dessert.
Go shopping and run errands.
Bring children to their activities.
Share the news to other networks; co-workers, members of a committee or group.

The possibilities are as varied as the needs, so be attentive and ask before doing.

Don’t let terror take over. Smile, hold a door and say hello to strangers.

Peace, courage, light and love to Paris.

You have a sticky situation at work or at home? This is your forum. Write to Julie and she will reply promptly. Want more solutions to sticky situations? Go to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or order your autographed copy of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Planning a conference? Julie happily travels coast to coast and beyond, to present customized activities. With Julie’s help, farewell faux pas and embarrassment. Hello confidence & credibility!


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About Julie Blais Comeau