A funeral and memorial service both serve the same purpose – to honor, celebrate, and acknowledge the life of your loved one with friends and family.  The term “funeral service” refers to a gathering where the body of your loved one is present, giving family and friends the opportunity to say a final goodbye in person.

A “memorial service” is held without the body present, and can be held at the convenience of the family weeks or even months after the death has occurred.  Memorial services can be held prior to or after the cremation takes place, or after the burial takes place in a private or public ceremony.  Sometimes more than one memorial service is held if a large number of family members or friends live out-of-state, or if the deceased had special ties to another community.

A ceremony is a time for family and friends to gather and pay tribute to your loved one. While nothing can take away the pain of your loss, it can be comforting to see the impact that your loved one had on friends, classmates, co-workers, and others in the community. In difficult times, it can be consoling to rely on traditional expressions of grief and loss that a funeral provides. Watching the memorial video and listening to speakers and favorite music allows you to focus on your loved one’s life, rather than their death.

It is often said that the funeral service is really for the living. A ceremony serves not as a clichéd point of closure, but as a milestone in your life after the passing of your loved one.

A formal visitation provides a time and place for you to offer the family your expression of sorrow and sympathy. Visitation is typically held at the funeral home, and the deceased is typically present so that you can pay your last respects.

When you arrive, go to the family and express your sympathy. If you were an acquaintance of the deceased, but not well-known to the family, immediately introduce yourself. Conversation about the deceased is natural, as is crying.

If offered by the family, it is customary, but not mandatory, to show your respects by viewing the deceased and, if you desire, spending a few moments in silent prayer and reflection.

Always sign the guestbook using your full name, and if you were a business associate of the deceased, note your company affiliation.

Children who were close to the deceased should be given the option to attend visitation and the funeral service. Death has become somewhat of a taboo subject in our society and there is a tendency to not discuss it. Often, because we know the pain and sadness, we want to protect our children, sometimes to the point that we don’t tell them about a death.

But, there is no question that a death disrupts a family’s life, and all family members are affected. Children can sense that something is wrong and they will experience grief in their own way. Attending the funeral or having the funeral process described to them by a parent or close family member involves them in what the rest of the family is experiencing. Most children can understand that a funeral is a time to say good-bye.

If a child attends a funeral, an explanation of what will happen before, during, and after the ceremony is important. Children should also be made aware that they will see people expressing a wide range of emotions in expressing their grief.

This type of service is generally held for family members and close friends, and is by invitation only. Sometimes a visitation is held for friends and other associates to come and pay their respects. Cards and other expressions of sympathy are always appreciated, and should be sent to the funeral home or the family’s home. Offering a condolence online is a great way to share a favorite story, offer sympathies, and let them know you are thinking of them.

The amount of time that you spend at a visitation is discretionary.  Once you have expressed your sympathy to each member of the family and spoken a few moments to those you know well, it is acceptable to leave, although you may wish to stay longer.

It is no longer necessary to wear black when you go to a funeral.  Dress should be conservative and should be selected to indicate dignity and respect for the family and the deceased.

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