Many of us struggle with what to say at a funeral. Often, we feel like our words of sympathy aren’t enough and we struggle to find the perfect thing to say that somehow makes everything better. The reality is that there is no one right thing to say and no magic words that will necessarily ease someone’s grief. The most important words to say at a funeral are ones that are honest, kind, and compassionate.
What to Say to the Family
You may have several opportunities to speak to the family of the deceased at the funeral or during a visitation, viewing, or reception. Many people are unsure of what to say at a funeral to the family, as well as when to speak to them. The visitation, whether held at the funeral home or in the family’s home, is a good time to express your condolences. During the funeral itself, it’s best to wait until after the service to speak to the family, unless they are greeting people before the service.
If you don’t know the family well, be sure to introduce yourself and explain how you know the deceased. Keep your condolences brief and sincere, keeping in mind that other people are probably waiting to speak the family as well. If you know the family, hugs are often welcome.
Knowing what to say at a funeral can be difficult, but remember that the act of speaking to the family is often as important as what you say. Speak honestly and from the heart, as well as with kindness. Consider the following funeral sayings:
- “I’m so sorry about your loss. [The deceased] was a good man and he’ll be very missed.”
- “Please accept my deepest condolences for your loss.”
- “[The deceased] was a wonderful person and I’ll miss him very much.”
- “My name is [your name] and I worked with [the deceased] for several years. He was a great coworker and contributed a lot to the company and our team. He’ll be sorely missed.”
You may also want to share a happy story or memory about the deceased, but remember to keep your remarks brief.
What Not to Say to the Family
Remember that everyone grieves differently, and you may not really know the relationship that the family had with the deceased. Appropriate words to say at a funeral should never include a judgement of the family or the deceased. Save the jokes and embarrassing stories for another time.
Avoid the following types of statements:
- Don’t tell the family that they’ll get over their grief with time.
- Don’t tell a husband or wife that they’ll meet someone else.
- Avoid mentioning any negative interactions that you had with the deceased.
- Never mention it if a family member isn’t crying or doesn’t seem sad. Different people grieve in different ways.
- Don’t ask about how the person died.
The main point is that you should always be respectful in what you say during a funeral. Be kind and avoid difficult topics. Even if you had a challenging relationship with the deceased or his or her family, leave all of those negative thoughts at home.
What to Say in a Eulogy
If you’re invited to give a eulogy at a funeral, it is important to prepare in advance so that you’ll know the right things to say at the funeral. Take some time before the service and brainstorm ideas – think about favorite memories of the deceased, what effect they had on your life, and how you will remember them. It’s best to focus on one or two main points in your speech to create a cohesive eulogy. Think of a few words that describe the person and tell stories that illustrate those points. You might focus on a story that illustrates the person’s generosity, for example, or their love of fishing and the outdoors.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing a fun or happy story during the eulogy, especially if it highlights the person’s sense of humor or personality. Leave out anything too embarrassing, however, and avoid any negativity. You’ll also want to consider how long the eulogy should be; if several people are speaking, you’ll need to keep your remarks shorter. Aim for about 5 minutes, unless you’ve been asked to speak longer.
Once you’ve written your speech, don’t forget to practice. This will help you be more comfortable on the day. Keep your notes with you or your full speech written out in case you’re overcome with emotion on the day. And always remember to breathe – speaking honestly, kindly, and from the heart is what’s most important.
What to Say if Invited to Speak
In addition to a formal eulogy, guests are sometimes invited to stand during a funeral service and say a few words or share a story about the deceased. If you do decide to speak, it’s a good idea to have a few ideas of what to say at the funeral in mind before the service. Keep your words brief, clear, and specific. As previously mentioned, the funeral is not the time to share off-color jokes or an embarrassing story. Talk about how much you’ll miss the deceased and how much the person meant to you. You may want to share a short story about an accomplishment or kind act that you witnessed, but keep your remarks to just a minute or two.
For more information about the different types of funeral services and proper behavior, please read Funeral Visitation and Wake Etiquette Tips.