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What to Bring to a Funeral or Memorial Service

If you’ve never been to a funeral service or memorial service before, it can be difficult to know what’s expected to you. Do you have flowers delivered before you arrive? Should you bring the family your home cooked meal at the service itself? What’s the protocol? Here’s what you need to know about what to bring when showing up to a memorial service or funeral.

What to bring to a funeral viewing

Funeral viewings are usually smaller affairs meant for those close to the deceased to view the body before the cremation or burial takes place. Due to the brevity and intimacy of this part of the funeral services, it’s not required (or really recommended) to bring anything to the funeral viewing. Showing up on time, dressed appropriately and expressing your sympathy and condolences to the family is generally what’s expected of you at a funeral viewing.

What to bring to a funeral, memorial service, or celebration of life

  • Flowers. Sending flowers to a funeral service or memorial service is fairly standard when a family loses someone. Keep in mind that some religions and practices aren’t interested in flowers or specifically discourage large displays. Funeral flowers can come in many different styles and variations with many flowers having their own meanings. Some families may request donations or another type of gift in lieu of flowers, so check their memorial website or printed obituary before purchasing an arrangement.
  • Sympathy card. A handwritten sympathy card that expresses your condolences and shares your support for the family is a common and appreciated gift at funerals, memorial services, funeral receptions, viewings, and celebrations of life.
  • Family photos. Families often miss out on photos that others have taken of their loved one so gifting photos the family may not have seen is an excellent gift idea.
  • Food. Food can be gifted at a funeral (or other memorial event) if it’s requested, but gifting food when it’s not requested can put a burden on the family to appropriately handle the item. If it isn’t specifically mentioned, you can always ask the family if you can drop off a meal for them at some point.
  • Donation. Some families request that donations be made to a cause, in lieu of flowers. Families will often make this request known at the end of an obituary or will make it known on their memorial website. You can also donate to a favorite cause in the name of the deceased, even if the family doesn’t specifically request this. Letting the family (politely) know of your contribution as part of your sympathy card, or on the memorial website, is a good way of showing them know how you’re honoring their loved one.

What to bring to a funeral reception

The reception is usually held at the family home, a public or private venue, or the funeral home following the services. The reception is a time to support those close to the deceased and to speak with others who knew the person who passed away. Families will often serve food and drinks at the funeral reception without the help of their friends and family, so you’ll only want to bring food if it’s asked or if it’s a potluck style reception.

Funeral etiquette: Flowers

While sending flowers is a common occurrence after someone loses a loved one, you should know what goes into sending an arrangement and the meaning behind your choice.

  • Type of flower. The type of flower or arrangement you choose can vary depending on your personal preference, budget, and availability. The most popular flower types to send to a funeral include lilies, carnations, chrysanthemums, roses and orchids. Traditionally, pink and white flowers are meant to express sympathy, but this can change depending on the cultural background of the family you’re sending flowers to.
  • Cultural background. The colors of the flowers sent can express different sentiments depending on the culture of those you’re sending the arrangement to. For example, in Chinese culture, red is the color of happiness while yellow and white symbolize grief. Sending a large bouquet of red roses to a traditional Chinese funeral would be in poor taste.
  • Religious background. The appropriateness of sending flowers will vary depending on the religious background of the deceased and their family. For example, sending flowers to a Roman Catholic, Mormon or Protestant funeral is considered appropriate and acceptable. In contrast, sending flowers to a Jewish funeral or bringing flowers to a Hindu funeral is not appropriate.

For a full guide on funeral flowers, their meaning, and what to expect check out this article.

Send flowers

Funeral gift ideas (instead of flowers)

You may find yourself in a situation where flowers aren’t an appropriate gift, or you’re just not sure you want to express your sympathy that way. This is totally acceptable and there are plenty of alternative gifts you can consider:

  • Memorial stone. A memorial stone is a smooth, usually flat and customized stone that includes a short saying or quote about the deceased as well as some personal information (such as their name, date of birth, and date of death). Memorial stones can be placed anywhere and make a great memorial gift.
  • Memorial jewelry. Memorial jewelry can be personalized with names and saying, can come in a variety of types and is available in many different types of metals. You can find beautiful and affordable memorial jewelry by shopping online.
  • Photo album. A photo album full of pictures and photos of the deceased with their family is an excellent idea for a memorial gift, especially if some of the photos are photos the family was unaware of or hasn’t seen before. You can make a scrapbook photo album yourself or you can have one professionally made.
  • Sympathy gifts. A sympathy gift or sympathy basket usually includes different types of food and gourmet treats for the family to share. Sympathy baskets can also include full meals so that the family doesn’t have to worry about cooking during such a difficult time. A sympathy basket is a unique and great way to show your sympathy to a family and start out on Ever Loved at $99.
  • Offer to help out. Spending just a bit of your time helping the family with household chores, tasks, babysitting, cooking, dog walking -- or anything they may need help with after losing someone can be immensely helpful to the family during their time of need. If you prefer to show your sympathy and support by doing something for them, let them know you’re there and offer up what you’d like to help them with.

Find a memorial gift

Funeral etiquette: Donations

Many times a family will request donations be made in lieu of flowers and donating to their chosen cause is the perfect way to show your support. Families who have set up a fundraiser on Ever Loved are easily able to accept donations and are immediately notified whenever someone contributes to their cause. If you donate elsewhere, you can let the family know of your contribution privately, in the form of a sympathy card.

  • Amount. When donating to a cause, individuals can find themselves unsure of how much is an appropriate donation. What counts as too much? Too little? Is there a proper condolence money amount most people should strive for? The general rule of thumb is to donate what you’re comfortable with donating. Families are often just appreciative you thought of them or their loved one during their time of need. If you’re uncomfortable with the amount of money you donated and don’t want others to know, you can always mark the donation as Anonymous if you’re donating through an Ever Loved site.
  • Acknowledgement. Depending on the site you use to donate or the organization you’re donating through, you can choose to have an acknowledgement sent or posted regarding your donation. If you donate to a cause unbeknownst to the family, you can let them know in a sympathy card that you’ve donated in their loved one’s honor.
  • Cause. If the family hasn’t designated a specific fund or cause they’d like donations sent to, you can always donate on behalf of the deceased to any cause you feel is appropriate. If you’re unsure where to start, try thinking of hobbies or favorite pastimes that the person who passed away enjoyed. Once you have those in mind, do a quick search online to see if there are any local communities that are involved in those and need donations.

Start a fundraiser

Memorial service etiquette

Attending your first memorial service can be jaunting given the importance of the event, but remaining respectful and cognizant of the tone isn’t too difficult to do. Here’s some etiquette to keep in mind when attending a memorial service:

  • Arrive on time. Do not arrive late to a memorial service or funeral. Memorial services often have speakers or ceremonies associated with them and arriving late to these can be distracting to the speakers, the family, and the attendees.
  • Dress appropriately. Funerals and memorial services are generally formal events that ask that attendees wear more formal attire. You’ll need to check if there are attire instructions available before going the traditional route, since some families do request something more casual or related specifically to the deceased’s interests. If there are no instructions provided, men should generally wear a suit and tie or a collared button up shirt with a tie, belt, loafers (or dress shoes) and slacks. Women should usually wear an appropriate dress, dark skirts uit or pantsuit, and appropriate footwear. If you’re wearing heels to a funeral service, be sure to wear shoes that can traverse any graveside service if there is one.
  • Do not eat during the service. Families often hold funeral receptions where food and drink are served to those attending. Eating in the middle of a funeral service can be considered rude, so it’s best just to wait until the reception itself.
  • Allow family space to grieve. While funerals are difficult for everyone involved, they’re especially hard on the family. Containing your emotions at a funeral can be tough, but try not to distract the family or others by making the loss of someone else about your experience of it.
  • Be mindful of your time spent talking to the family. Funerals often have a large number of people (which is why you should be careful when attending one during COVID-19), that the family speaks with. Due to this, it’s important to be mindful of the amount of time you’re taking up when expressing your condolences to the family. Keep your condolences brief and respectful so as not to take up too much time.

While you may feel the desire to bring a gift or show your sympathy in the form of something tangible, it’s not an expectation that you show up to the funeral with something in hand. Many families rely on their friends, family, and community for support after losing someone and oftentimes just being there is enough.

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Last updated February 23, 2021
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