10 Things You Should Never Say at a Funeral or Wake

funeral etiquette 10 things you never say

Don’t say these things at a funeral – ever

Not long ago, I had the occasion to attend the funeral of a schoolmate’s wife. She passed after a lengthy battle with alcohol-related liver disease. She was only 45.

While the events surrounding her death were certainly sad, that’s not the real focus of this post. Instead, it’s about some of the insensitive remarks made by attendees – both men and women – during final services.

Funeral Etiquette

At its core, what we’re talking about is funeral etiquette. That’s a $10.00 term used to describe the customary protocol people adhere to when attending the memorial services of the deceased.

Before we dive too far in, I recognize the content on this page may make some feel uncomfortable. After all, we’re talking about the topic of death – something that is still somewhat taboo in our society.

But given the nature of this website and its goal of providing answers, I figured Guy Counseling would be as good a place as any to share this material.

It’s not like I haven’t written about such topics before. It wasn’t that long ago I told readers about my experience of buying a coffin online from Costco for my aunt.

At any rate, what follows are 10 things you should never say at a funeral. Some of these will seem like common sense. Others may make you pause and reflect. I encourage you to read them all to gain better insight.

Where possible, I’ve tried to include alternatives to help you show support.

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1. Did she leave you any money?

This is an extremely rude question, isn’t it? But you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard this whispered into a survivor’s ear by an attendee during a wake or funeral.

Why is it important you know this? If you do require this information, does it need to be asked during final services?

Wise approach: Don’t bring up the topic of finances at all.

2. She had become nasty towards the end

Honestly, why is it necessary to make a personal observation like this at a funeral? Moreover, how do such comments help a family member or friend work through their pain?

Sometimes, when a person is in the process of dying, they can become irritable. It’s very normal. But what’s not normal is to call a dead person out on it to their loved ones.

Wise approach:  Find something kind to say about the deceased. If you can’t come up with anything, it’s best to not say anything at all.

3. All of us are better off he’s dead

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone make this kind of comment at a wake, I’d be rich. Well, maybe not rich but certainly well-off.

Usually, people who say these types of things had a dispute with the deceased. Typically, it’s an in-law or extended family member. It really doesn’t matter. The point is it just shouldn’t be said during a funeral.

Wise approach: Simply say the person will be missed. Even if you don’t believe it. Remember, you are there to show support. Not be a jerk.

4. They are in a better place now

I realize this one somewhat “iffy” because many people find solace in believing in the afterlife. In fact, folks who dream about the death of a loved one will often claim they had a vision of the person going to heaven before their passing.

Here’s the problem with this one. The individual who has died may very well be in a better place but those left behind are not.

When you make these types of comments, you run the risk of causing survivors to feel worse. That may not be your intent but it has the same effect all the same.

Wise approach: Simply share a pleasant memory of the deceased. This will help others recall something meaningful and encourage healing.

5. I couldn’t lose my wife – you must be devastated

Yep, the person just lost his partner in life. He is going to be absolutely devastated. But does your reinforcing this reality help with his recovery?

I get it. You want to show your support and empathy. But trying to emotionally join the person at a funeral isn’t wise. Moreover, the loss they have experienced is about their pain and not something you may hypothetically feel.

Wise approach: Better to say: “I recognize this is really a difficult time. I’m here for you. Anything you need – I am here.”

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6. Now you can meet someone new

I seriously heard some bozo say this at the funeral for my buddy’s wife. I know the guy who made the comment wasn’t trying to be hurtful. Honestly, his heart was in the right place. But wow – what a messed-up thing to say.

When someone is going through the grief process, you must recognize they aren’t looking to “replace” a significant other. Instead, they need to walk-through the process of loss with the love and support of others. In this way, they bring meaning to the experience.

Wise approach: Just don’t say something like this at all.

7.  I know exactly how you feel right now

Really, do you? Are you sure? Because last time I checked, each person’s process of grief was unique. While there may be similarities, they are never the same.

Moreover, this type of comment makes the loss about you and not about the person you are there to support. Yes, your heart may be in the right place but the remark itself minimizes the feelings of another.

Wise approach: “I know that when I lost [fill in the blank] I really needed support. Anytime you want to talk, please feel free to call. If it’s OK with you, I’d like to check in with you next week – just to see how you are doing.”

8. At least your burden has been lifted

I know there are some reading this who are thinking, “Nobody says that!” I hate to break it to you but they most certainly do. I’ve heard it said at three different funerals over the past 10-years.

Regardless of what circumstances may have existed prior to the person’s passing, funerals are not the place to make such remarks – or anytime to be brutally honest.

Wise approach: Avoid saying anything like this. Instead, simply be there for the person. Give them a hug or hold their hand.

9. You will heal soon

Honestly, how do you know this? People who make these kinds of statements obviously have never experienced the loss of someone close – like a grandparent.

Believe it or not, I heard a man say this to a group of grandchildren at a service for their grandma. After making the comment, I can still remember others cringing.

The truth is these kinds of utterances come off as insensitive and condescending. They also dismiss the emotional loss of loved ones.

Wise approach: Simply say you are sorry for their loss. Recall something pleasant about the deceased. If the survivor is religious, you can even give them a sympathy card that includes a supportive spiritual passage. Just avoid telling them when they will heal.

10. You’ll have another baby

I’ve listed this final one last because it is the most horrendous. Yes, I have overheard these kinds of comments made to a grieving mother who just lost her child.

Talk about unhelpful. This kind of remark does nothing but make the bereaved feel like their baby didn’t count – like it was an insignificant cosmic mistake.

If you’ve ever said this at a funeral, be it to a mother or father, you really need to get some help. How would you like it if someone made this kind of dispassionate remark to you? Think about it – what kind of reaction would you have?

Wise approach: Find some other way to show support, like buying flowers, holding their hand or letting the bereaved cry on your shoulder. Keep all speculation about what the future may hold off the table.

Wrap Up

When we attend the funeral service of a friend or loved one, it’s only natural to want to offer words that heal. But sometimes, comments are made that can make the person grieving feel worse.

If you aren’t sure what to say, it may be best to simply offer your heartfelt condolences. An example might be: “Truly, I am sorry for your loss. [Fill in the blank] will be missed.”

Image credit: Pixabay

About John D. Moore 328 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Follow him on LinkedIn