Attending a funeral isn’t always easy. Funerals are a chance for the family to come together to mourn and remember a loved one. Paying your respects is a way to show your support. However, feeling unsure of the words to say at a funeral is a common experience. How do you approach someone who’s mourning a loss? How do you avoid saying the wrong thing?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Say If Your Loved One Died
- What to Say to Close Family and Friends at Their Loved One’s Funeral
- What to Say to Acquaintances, Colleagues, or Clients at Their Loved One’s Funeral
- Quick Tips for Public Speaking at a Funeral
These answers aren’t always straightforward. Offering your condolences is an integral part of the funeral process, but it’s also one of the hardest things to do comfortably. Understanding proper funeral etiquette goes a long way towards helping you know what to say. The better prepared you are, the easier it is to find those perfect words of sympathy.
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What to Say If Your Loved One Died
If you’re close to the deceased, you might find yourself the center of attention at the funeral. Guests usually reach out to the close family to offer words of kindness and support, but these aren’t always easy to handle.
What do you say if your loved one died? How do you avoid being overcome with emotion? Because this is often a challenge, follow these tips below:
- Practice makes perfect - Don’t be afraid to practice what you’ll say in advance. Practice with yourself and with other close family members. The more you say what you’ve prepared, the easier it will be.
- Make sure you have the right tech for online guests - If you chose to use a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can still speak to your online guests. Coordinate with your planning team and ensure you have the right AV equipment.
- Keep it short and sweet - Avoid the pressure to say more than you need to. Keep your comments quick and to the point.
- Set boundaries - It’s okay to have boundaries about what you’re willing to talk about. You don’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions or say more than you feel comfortable with.
- Find your support system - Lean on close friends and family at the funeral for support. It’s okay to distance yourself from those you don’t wish to speak with right now. This is your time to grieve.
Tip: Figuring out what to say is just one of the many challenges you can face when someone you love dies. Our post-loss checklist can help you face and overcome those challenges, whether they're legal, financial, or personal.
Examples of what to say
Since words aren’t always easy to find, it helps to have a few examples of what to say. Again, short and simple is almost always best. Here is what to say to your friends and family if your close loved one died.
- This is a difficult loss. I was very close to [Name].
- [Name] a large part of my life. I’ll never forget their kindness.
- [Name] will be missed by the entire family.
- We are all so sorry for this loss. [Name] was loved by many.
What to Say to Close Family and Friends at Their Loved One’s Funeral
If you’re attending the funeral to support friends and family in their time of need, it’s a good idea to give thought to what you plan to say. Offering sympathy to those you’re close to might mean the world to them. Yet, knowing what to say to someone who lost a parent or a close relative is difficult.
If you haven’t experienced a similar loss for yourself, you might have a hard time understanding what he or she is going through. Follow these tips to stay courteous and respectful:
- Practice your tone - Again, this is a situation where practice makes perfect. Aside from practicing what you’ll say, practice your tone. You want to make sure you sound sincere but not overly emotional. An even tone is ideal.
- Don’t overly sympathize - If you’ve never experienced this type of loss, don’t try to compare your situation to someone else’s. Keep the focus of your sympathy messages on them.
- Avoid the afterlife - Even if you know someone’s religious background, it’s best to avoid talk of the afterlife in what you say. That means avoiding phrases like “he’s in a better place” or “she’s in heaven now.” Again, limit your comments to the person you’re speaking to and not on what’s happened to the deceased.
- Don’t make light of the situation - Keep from telling jokes or making light of the situation. Grief affects everyone differently, and everyone is entitled to their own feelings.
- Give a gift - If you’re not good at finding the right words, offer a gift instead. Funeral flowers, a sympathy gift basket, or other kind gestures are other ways to be respectful.
- Let them grieve - Last but not least, let your friend or family member know it’s okay to grieve. Be the emotional support they need.
Examples of what to say
It’s best to have your best speech filter on when attending a funeral. Be mindful of your words and how they come across. When in doubt, say one of these sympathy messages below.
- I’m sorry for your loss.
- [Name] was a loved community member. We will all miss them.
- Your family is in my thoughts and prayers at this time.
- Let me know if you need anything right now. I’m here for you.
- I have fond memories of your [relationship to the deceased].
What to Say to Acquaintances, Colleagues, or Clients at Their Loved One’s Funeral
What do you say when you’re not very close to someone who lost a loved one? If your acquaintance, colleague, client, or other relation recently suffered a loss, it is polite to offer sympathy. Since you don’t know this person well, keep things simple. You don’t want to overstep.
Fumbling over your words isn’t uncommon when you’re faced with someone else’s grief. These tips will guide you in being respectful and kind:
- Timing matters - Your condolences should be given at the time that’s best for the individual, not you. If you wish to say something to a coworker, for example, the end of the day is usually best.
- Don’t bring it up yourself - If you know someone recently suffered a loss, saying something unprompted might bring up painful feelings for that person. If you decide to check in with their wellbeing, do so carefully.
- Join with others - If you don’t know the person very well, it might be better to offer sympathy in a communal way. For an office, having everyone sign a card is a gentle way to give support. The recipient still knows everyone is thinking of them in their time of need.
Examples of what to say
It’s better to say something than to avoid saying anything. Though it might be uncomfortable, don’t let these feelings get in the way of this person’s grief. Here are some polite things to say when the timing is right:
- “I’m sorry for your loss.”
- “My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.”
- “Is there any way I can help?”
Quick Tips for Public Speaking at a Funeral
It’s common for the family to ask if any guests wish to speak at the funeral. Speaking at a funeral is a great way to express your feelings about the loss of a loved one, particularly if you were close to this person.
You also might give a speech if you’re close to a family member of the deceased. He or she might ask you to speak on their behalf or to talk about their relationship with their loved one. However, public speaking when emotions are running high isn’t always easy.
No matter your comfort level with talking in front of others, this is an intimidating situation. You want to handle the situation with grace and confidence, even if you have to fake it until you make it. These tips will help you with public speaking at a funeral.
1. Write what you’ll say in advance
The best way to prepare is to write what you want to say in advance. For this, learn how to write a eulogy. Eulogies are a type of praise honoring someone who’s passed away. By writing a eulogy or other speech, you make sure you don’t leave anything out during the delivery.
While writing down your speech is a great idea, avoid reading directly from the paper. Jotting down notes or practicing in advance gives you more confidence.
2. Tell a story
When in doubt, tell a story. As humans, we communicate through stories. This is a sure way to gain the audience’s attention while expressing something significant about the deceased.
For example, you might share how the deceased helped you in a time of need or a special trip you took together. Either way, keep the focus on the deceased and the family.
3. Don’t speak for too long
While a speech is an amazing way to pay respects to a loved one, you don’t want to take too long. The ideal time frame for a funeral speech is between three and five minutes. Anything more than that risks losing the audience’s attention.
You also don’t want to take away from the rest of the service or anyone else's opportunity to say a few words.
4. Do calming exercises
Public speaking is intimidating under the best of circumstances. When also dealing with a loss, it’s hard to stop feeling overwhelmed. If possible, perform calming exercises before speaking. These put you in the right frame of mind to speak. Here are some tips to help you feel calm and help you to hold back unwanted tears:
- Take deep breaths
- Rely on a friend or family member for support
- Drink water
- Go for a short walk in the hallway or nearby
5. Address the family
When giving your speech, make sure you’re addressing the family. Speak to the front row. These are the ones who were closest to the deceased, and they’re the ones who listen the most attentively.
When addressing someone directly, such as a close friend or family member, look at them. This makes your speech much more personal.
Discover the Right Words of Sympathy
While it might seem insignificant, how you express your sympathy to those you love really matters. Those words and gestures might mean everything to them in their time of need. Yet, finding the right words to say isn’t always easy. Funerals are often uncomfortable or even awkward because of this.
These events don’t have to be this way. But, you’ll never be in the dark about what to say if you use these tips and tricks above.
Have you given much thought to your own end-of-life planning? There are tons of options, from having a virtual funeral service to turning ashes into a cremation diamond. Thinking about how you’d like to be remembered might inspire you to offer kind and generous condolences to your loved ones when they need it.
Post-loss tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, the emotional and technical aspects of handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.