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Funeral Reception Etiquette: What to Expect, Say, and Do

Funeral Reception Etiquette Guide

Wondering about proper funeral reception etiquette? The answer is probably “yes” if you’ve just attended the service of a loved one, and now you’re on your way to the reception.

Perhaps you’re at a loss for words following the emotion of the day, and you’re not sure what to expect at the reception. You think it’s going to be a bit more laid back than the funeral, and you’re probably right.

But you still might have some questions about what to say and do at the reception. And of course you need the answers fast. We’re here to help with our funeral reception etiquette guide.

Below, we quickly yet thoroughly explain just what you can expect at the funeral reception, as well as what you should say and do once you get there.

Quick Funeral Reception Etiquette Guide

  • What should I expect at the reception?
  • What should I say?
  • What should I avoid saying?
  • What should I do?

What Should I Expect?

People Visiting & Socializing

Generally speaking, right when you walk in, you can expect for everyone who is already there to be standing around or sitting at tables, simply visiting with one another.

Food & Beverages

Receptions are defined by two things: 1) people gathering together, and 2) food. So you’ll probably see a table or two with food and drinks.

It may be a potluck (that would be mentioned on the invitation or social media post invite), or the family may have arranged simple appetizers, dessert, or a full meal with a catering service. So plan on coming ready to eat, but don’t always expect a full meal. Check your invitation for specifics.

Less Solemn Atmosphere

The air of solemnity that was so heavy at the funeral will most likely be somewhat dissipated by now. People are beginning to talk, tell stories and jokes, get reacquainted with old friends and family members, and enjoy food and drinks.

There may be a group of people standing close and offering comfort to the deceased’s next of kin and other family members.

No Casket

The decedent’s casket won’t be there. Following the funeral service, the body is typically buried or transferred to the cremation facility.

If cremation already took place prior to the funeral, the cremation urn may be in the reception area, perhaps on a decorated memorial table.

Common Funeral Reception Events

Besides the aforementioned, and depending on the funeral reception’s location, the following events may also occur at some point:

  • Sharing. Attendees may be invited to share any warm memories they have of the deceased. Don’t worry, you don’t have to speak in front of everyone if you don’t want to.
  • Photos. A photographer may take family photos. If you’re part of the immediate family, you’ll probably need to be in the photos. Otherwise you can decline any invitations to be photographed.
  • Special Mini-Events. Many receptions have a slideshow playing on a screen; occasionally they will dim the lights and conversation pauses to watch the slides or video. A family member or officiant may say a few words. There may be an activity such as filling out “My special memory of you” cards. If the reception is being held at an outdoor venue, a dove, butterfly, or balloon release may be scheduled.
  • Prayers. A minister or family member may say a prayer, or there may be a brief time for prayer and reflection. If you are not of the same faith tradition, you won’t be required to participate. However it is always respectful to stop talking, pay attention, and perhaps bow your head when prayers are occurring.

What Should I Say?

Now that we’ve gone over what you can expect, we can focus on your personal funeral reception etiquette.

Soon after you arrive at the venue, it’s a good idea to offer your condolences to the deceased’s family. This is especially important if you didn’t get a chance to at the funeral or visitation.

Along the way or afterward, you can also make conversation with anyone else you happen to know who’s also there. If you see someone you don’t know (and you’re a social butterfly), it’s perfectly appropriate to introduce yourself and ask them how they knew the deceased or the family.

If you’re not a natural social butterfly, don’t worry if speaking with others there feels awkward at first. Everyone feels a little strange at funeral events, including the ones who are in mourning.

It’s natural to worry over what to say to those who are grieving. Just make sure that you are sincere and your words come from a sympathetic place. In other words, be authentic.

If you need help figuring out exactly what to say at the reception, here are some ideas:

  • “I’m so very sorry for your loss.” (A hug may be appropriate here.)
  • “Is there anything I can do for you today or in the coming days?”
  • “I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now, but I’m here for you.”
  • “If you need anything at all, I’m just a phone call away.”

Keep in mind that in some instances, there are no words that you could say to ease the pain. Sometimes a long hug and cry together is what someone who’s grieving really needs. Read more tips on what to say to someone who is grieving here.

What Should I Avoid Saying?

On the other hand, there are just a few things that you’ll want to avoid saying to the family at the reception:

  • “I know exactly how you feel.” This sentiment may come from a good place, but not everyone will understand or appreciate it. No one but the bereaved know exactly how they are feeling.
  • “He/she is in a better place now.” Again, this may seem like a common thing to say at a funeral or reception. But it only serves to remind the bereaved that their loved one is no longer with them, so you should avoid saying it.
  • “You’re managing everything so well, I don’t know how you’re doing it.” While they may appear strong on the surface, the person you are talking to may just be trying to keep it all together until they’re alone and can truly begin to grieve.

Find out more about what not to say in What Grieving People Wish You Knew.

What Should I Do?

We’ve hopefully already answered this question with the information above, but let’s just break it all down for you here:

  • Be present. Simply showing up to the funeral reception shows respect for the deceased and their family.
  • Offer your condolences. Let the family know that you’re sorry for their loss, and that you’re here for them if they need anything at all.
  • Introduce yourself to those you don’t know, and share together your memories of the deceased.
  • Remember what to say and what not to say (see above).
  • Be yourself. Does it goes against your nature to make small talk with everyone in the room, or to display great emotion when talking with anyone? You certainly do not have to. Do you like to make people smile? By all means, be friendly and even tell jokes – but keep with the spirit of the occasion and don’t go overboard.

You were searching for “funeral reception etiquette” when you stumbled across this article… But maybe what you were really searching for was the confidence that comes with knowing what to expect, say and do once you arrive at the reception venue. We hope that this article has provided you with it.

Have you ever been to a funeral reception that was really unique, or that had different events than those outlined above? We would love to know the details, so be sure to share them with us in a comment below.

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What to expect at a funeral reception
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Funeral Reception Planning Guide (w/ Checklist)

Funeral Reception Planning

Welcome to our funeral reception planning guide, where we will walk with you step-by-step as you plan (and totally pull off!) a beautiful reception.

If you have been tasked with hosting or planning the funeral reception, you probably have a lot of questions.

  1. How exactly do I plan a funeral reception? What’s the first step?
  2. What are some great funeral reception ideas? How can I implement them?
  3. Do I need to serve food at the reception? What are some appropriate menu options?
  4. Where can I plan to have the reception? What are my options?

Today we’re going to be answering these questions and more. Our goal is to help you create an event that is both memorable and fitting to the memory of your loved one and who they were in life.

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17 Best Funeral Songs for Child Loss (Infants, Children, and Teens)

Funeral Songs for Child Loss

Today we’re going to be sharing with you 17 funeral songs for child loss. This is part of our series on the best and most popular funeral songs. You can read the master list here.

Once when I was small, an extended family member had passed away. It got me thinking, for the first time in my young life, about the fragility of life. I remember asking my mom what she would do if something like that ever happened to me.

Her response: “I would cry and cry and never stop for as long as I lived.”

If you have suffered the loss of a child, you understand this statement better than anyone. And when you now have to plan for your child’s funeral, including thinking of the right songs to play at the service, it can make the grieving process that much more difficult.

Parent to parent, we hope that with this list featuring the best funeral songs for child loss – including songs for infants, children and teens – we can take away that burden just a little bit.

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21 Most Uplifting Funeral Songs

21 Most Uplifting Funeral Songs

The 21 Most Uplifting Funeral Songs is part of our series on the best songs for funerals. Read the main article here. In that article you will find a list of the top 100 funeral songs, music sorted by genre, and much more.

When you lose someone you love very much, your heart is broken. It seems as if there is nothing in this world that could possibly lift your spirits when you are grieving. But music has a way of doing just that! Sometimes all it takes is finding the right songs.

Are you looking for an uplifting song to play at the funeral of your loved one? If you and your family would be blessed to hear a happy, upbeat song rather than a sorrowful one, then check out the list below.

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What is a Mausoleum? 9 Things You Need to Know About Mausoleums

9 Things You Need to Know About Mausoleums

What is a mausoleum? What do you need to know about a mausoleum to get a grasp of its history and purpose?

Today we’re answering these questions and more from an objective point of view. We’ll take an in-depth look at the different types of mausoleums (yes, there’s more than one), the meaning and function of a mausoleum crypt, and much more.

So whether you’re new to funeral service, thinking about future planning, or simply curious, you’ve come to the right place to learn more.

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10 Best Funeral Songs for Your Husband

Best Funeral Songs for Your Husband

The 10 Best Funeral Songs for Your Husband is just one part of our comprehensive series featuring the most popular funeral songs ever recorded. To discover even more amazing songs, see here for the main post. Keep reading below to discover the top funeral songs specifically for your husband.

Dealing with the loss of a beloved spouse is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, experiences one will ever endure. Added to this grief is the stress of planning for the funeral. One aspect of funeral planning is, of course, choosing the songs for the service.

This by itself can be a daunting task; you want to pick the best songs…songs that will represent not only your husband, but also the life the two of you shared for so long.

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10 Best Funeral Songs for Your Wife

Songs for a Wife's Funeral

This list of the 10 Best Funeral Songs for Your Wife is a part of our series highlighting the most popular funeral songs of all time. If you would like to see our main post, which features hundreds of funeral song ideas, please click here. Keep reading below to discover the top funeral songs for your wife.

Search the World Wide Web for “funeral songs” and you’re bound to found page upon page of song ideas befitting of a final goodbye. While it’s great to have so many options, when you’re in the middle of grieving the loss of your beloved spouse, it can be overwhelming to comb through them all.

We’ve taken the stress out of your search by collecting the 10 best funeral songs we could find that are fitting for the loss of a wife. Whether she loved country music, soft pop, or big band-era sounds, we’ve got you covered.

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How Long After Death is a Funeral Held?

How long after death is a funeral?

Today we are going to help you with the question, How long after death is a funeral held?

You have just received a call from a family member informing you that a loved one has passed away. They are in contact with the funeral director and he or she is already making arrangements to have your loved one transported to the funeral home. They have promised to take care of things from here.

Everything seems to be happening so quickly, in the blink of an eye. But now what? The family starts calling with their condolences and asking when they should come for the service. You don’t even know when that will be! Three days, two weeks?

You probably have many questions. How long after death is a funeral held? How about cremation? What is the best day of the week for the funeral, or time of day? Can I plan a funeral on a Sunday?

Let’s take a look at these questions.

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Eulogy Template (Free Download) + Outline & Tips

Eulogy Template (Free Download)

If you are looking for a eulogy template, you’ve come to the right place.

Some eulogy templates exist online for you to consider, but we’re going to make it easy for you. We have included everything you need to create your best eulogy right here. Authored by a professional eulogy writer, these two eulogy templates will help you honor your loved one with a simple outline and easy writing process.

In this article we will provide you with:

  • A simple eulogy template for you to easily download, fill in the blanks, and print. Once you fill in your answers, it will be (just about) ready to read. Keep in mind that this template is for an adult, and extremely general. You may want to tweak it more toward the personality of your loved one before speaking it at the funeral.
  • A detailed eulogy outline. This “template” is not for copying and filling in answers, but rather it contains descriptions of the different parts that are usually included in eulogies. The writing will still be up to you, so this option is much more personal. If that’s what you’re looking for, we are just glad we can help!
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