Thoughtful Sentiments to Say to the Family at a Funeral

Outdoor shot of funeral
Keep your sympathy expressions brief and appropriate when you talk to family members at a funeral. RubberBall Productions / Vetta / Getty Images

Have you ever felt awkward when attending someone's funeral because you aren't sure what to say? If so, you are not alone. Most people are uncomfortable when they approach someone in mourning because they don't want to make the situation more painful than it already is.

In fact, not knowing what to say at a funeral plagues most people who want to go and show their respects. You want to offer comfort and a kind word or two, but you don't want to take a chance that you might trigger a painful emotion.

This is one of those times when knowing the proper funeral etiquette is essential. 

Question:

I'm always uncomfortable at a visitation and a funeral. Is it absolutely necessary to talk to the family of the deceased? If so, what should I say? I don't want to upset them more than they already are.

Answer

Even if it's uncomfortable, stifle the urge to avoid talking to the family members of the deceased. You should say something when you attend a funeral or visitation, but it doesn't have to be much. It is always appropriate to extend your sympathy for the family’s loss. Remember that no one expects you to be witty or sharp. All you need to do is offer a few sympathetic and kind words in an even tone. 

Examples of What to Say

If you don't have the gift of coming up with spur-of-the-moment comments that are appropriate, learn a few expressions before you go. Here are some comments that might help.

 Tweak them to make them fit the situation.

Examples of appropriate things to say to family members of the deceased:

  • I am so sorry. Your uncle was loved by many.
  • He was a wonderful man and a talented musician.
  • Know that you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.
  • I have such fond memories of your aunt. She will be missed by many.
  • When you're ready to talk, please feel free to call me. I'm a good listener.

What Not to Say

You never want to say anything negative or disparaging at a funeral. This is not the time to gossip, tell jokes, or call attention to yourself. This is the time to employ your speech filters. The family is already grieving, so don't make it worse during the funeral or visitation.

You also don't want to make light of the person's death. Some people do this, thinking that it makes it easier for those in mourning to deal with it, but it doesn't. All it does is makes you seem insensitive and uncaring.

Here are some examples of what not to say:

  • He's in a better place. 
  • You're better off without him.
  • I know how you're feeling. I lost a great-uncle a few years ago, and it was awful for a while.
  • You'll feel better soon.
  • Now that he's gone, you can get on with your life. It's time to start having some fun. (after a lengthy illness)
  • Do you think you might remarry? (to the widow)
  • At least he died in his sleep and didn't have to suffer much. 
  • You'll get over it soon.

How Long to Talk with Family Members

The length of time you should spend talking to the family members will depend on how well you know them. If you are close, you may stand with them longer.

However, if you don’t know them well, you should express your sympathy and politely move on so others will have an opportunity to talk to them.

After the Funeral

One of the saddest times for the family members who just lost a loved one is the time after the funeral. This can be days, weeks, months, or even up to a year. At first, they have to get used to not having the person around. And then they have to celebrate holidays and deal with birthdays and anniversaries that they once celebrated with the person who is no longer with them.

Here are some things you can say and do later to offer comfort:

  • Call a couple of weeks after the funeral and invite the person over for coffee.
  • Bring a plant or tree that can be put in the yard in memory of the deceased.
  • Send a "thinking of you" note.