Hosting a Funeral or Memorial Service

There is no rulebook on what to do, say, or how to behave when we grieve. To lessen some of the burden and sadness, we need to feel free to deal with our emotions in our own way, even when comforted by others' love and support. Because there is no single way to grieve, there are no guidelines on how to behave at any point in time, including when one is hosting a funeral or memorial service.

But how can we effectively host a funeral or memorial service? Just as people grieve differently, everyone faces the role of host in his or her own way, too. Some might actually find that planning and hosting a funeral or memorial service is a welcome diversion. Others may feel so overwhelmed about being a host at such an occasion that they don't know how they're going to manage. Whatever the case, it makes sense to recruit assistance. Help with hosting duties is an appropriate job to give to friends who ask, "What can I do for you?"

Tips for planning a service

Plan the service from a guest's perspective, too. It's a good idea to have a bulletin or service program printed (for the funeral or memorial service). Include the order of what will happen at the service and relevant information, such as religious or cultural aspects that might be unfamiliar to any of the attendees. The program may also include information about burial or interment of ashes, if either follows the service. If there is a reception after the service, the program can mention those details, too ("all are invited afterwards to a reception at…" with the address and directions).

Plan for guests' comfort. Attending a funeral or memorial service is almost always uncomfortable for the visitor. A key goal of the host (and helpers) is to make every effort to make guests feel comfortable and at ease.

Arrange for help with hosting. Plan with those who will be helping you. Line up one or two greeters. Ask someone to oversee a guest book (if there is one) for visitors to sign. If someone has offered to provide refreshments after the service, be grateful and let them take the lead.

Greeting and introducing guests. Along with visitors you see often and know well, it's also common for old friends and people you may not know to show up. As guests enter the room, have someone greet them, make introductions, and direct them to the receiving line. The seemingly small details of being greeted and escorted to the family will help the visitor feel more at ease. These steps can also save family members from introducing themselves to someone they already know but haven't seen in a long time.

Graciously thank guests for their kind words. So many people are apprehensive about what they'll say to the family; sometimes they say things that are not as helpful as they'd hoped. Most people don't know what to say to a grieving friend. In fact, a guest might think his or her words are comforting, while they may actually come across as insensitive. Your guests may not know how to express themselves. Try to focus on their concern and on the fact that they are present to offer their condolences.

Don't apologize for your emotions. However you are feeling is acceptable. You may - or may not - manage to remain composed as you greet and visit with guests. You might find that you need privacy. That's OK; your guests will understand if you retreat to a more private area.

Thank guests for joining you. Whenever possible, either you or someone helping you can thank each guest for paying their respects. If there was no opportunity to thank them that day, you can tell them later that you appreciated their coming to the service.

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Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition
By Peggy Post
Peggy Post