Expressing Your Condolences

July 14th, 2016

Funerals are hard.  Finding the right thing to say to the grieving family is an intimidating task.  Religious and cultural differences can add to this difficulty.  Here are a few ways to appropriately express your condolences at a funeral.  

“I’m sorry for your loss.” –  This is the classic thing to say when you don’t have the words to express your sympathy.  It allows the person to know you are thinking of them and grieving with them.

Share a memory- Sharing your most fond memory of the deceased person can be a great way to express your condolences.  It also allows the grieving person to have a positive moment during a tough time.

“I’m thinking of you and your family.”- This lets them know that they are at the forefront of your thoughts.  

Some people will feel differently about how you express your condolences than others, so remember to always be respectful of the deceased and the family.  Sometimes a hug or handshake is the best way to express how you feel, because there aren’t always words.  Depending on your relation to the deceased, you may feel the loss as strongly as the immediate family.  
For someone you did not know very well or never met, express your condolences by letting the family know how much you knew that person meant to them.  You can tell them that you know their lost loved one had a large role in shaping them into the person they are. Let them know that you are there to support them in anyway they may need.  “My heart goes out to you and your family at this time,” is a great phrase to use in this type of situation.

Losing a loved one is never an easy thing.  Just your presence at the deceased’s service will mean more to the family than you could imagine.  Being supportive of the family and offering a few kind words will go a long way.         

Who Receives The Flag At Funeral?

May 19th, 2015

Ask The Funeral Expert:

Jill – If parents are divorced and the father dies, who should the flag be presented to at the cemetery?

Funeral Expert Reply:

I believe protocol dictates that the flag go to the current spouse. If there is not a spouse it goes to the oldest child.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if I can assist with anything else.

In Lieu Of Flowers Or Celebrate With Flowers?

February 3rd, 2014

brilliant-sympathy-wreath-funeral-flowers2.198Occasionally an obituary will include the term “In Lieu of Flowers,” or “Please Omit Flowers.” For many, this request causes confusion, embarrassment and even resentment (since it is often interpreted as a how to for expressing sympathy). For the family, it is often used as a way to direct family and friends to a cause the deceased held in special favor or that the family feels is an important way to memorialize their loved one.

Flowers or Charity

So, which is right?  Should it be, “In Lieu of Flowers,” or “Celebrate With Flowers?” The simple, yet ineffective, answer is both. Life isn’t simple, however, and without proper thought and execution, someone may be left feeling more than just the sorrow of losing a loved one.

The Best Of Both Worlds

Each side can still have it his or her way if one simple change in the obituary is made. Simply remove the words “In Lieu of Flowers,” and replace with, “For lasting memorials, the family asks that consideration be given to …,” or, “Should friends desire, contributions may be sent to…” This wording change lets the family express their desire without a disparaging remark toward any other form of condolence. This will allow the person to choose their preferred expression of sympathy without feeling wrong for doing so.

Why Funerals Should Be Celebrated With Flowers

When it comes to flowers and funerals, a long-standing tradition has been well established. Flowers were once used to mask the natural smell of the decomposing body. For a variety of reasons, the practice evolved into more of an emotional comfort and an acceptable way to express sympathy and support for the givers.

To really understand how and why funerals should be celebrated with flowers, we must understand what flowers can mean to those left to grieve. The Texas Florists Association created a great video demonstrating the significance of flowers at a funeral. Hopefully once you watch the video, you will be able to decide for yourself whether you prefer celebrating with flowers or another form of expressing sympathy. After all, the the best form of condolence is one that comes from your heart.

Permission to use the Celebrate Life With Flowers video granted by the Texas Floral Association.

How Can I Pay Tribute?

June 14th, 2013

Each year hundreds of men and women who serve and protect our communities are lost in the line of duty. Police officers and firefighters put the safety and well-being of their neighborhoods first when they go to work everyday and some pay the ultimate price. Tragedy strikes the entire community when public servants fall. Families and friends must come to terms with the difficult meaning behind a loved one’s service to the world. And a good community has a debt to pay to these everyday heroes.

It is in these situations that you ask “How Can I Pay Tribute?” There are many different ways to show sympathy and respect to fallen service members.

Remembering FirefightersSending Flowers

At the time of the funeral, sending flowers is a wonderful expression of heartfelt respect. They provide a focal point and natural beauty in a trying circumstance. Flowers are an easy way to reach out and are viewed in many different customs and cultures as a sign of sympathy.

Moment of Silence

After a community has experienced loss, normal activities often have to resume quickly. If you are in a leadership position in an organization, big or small, it can be timely and comforting to suggest a moment of silence to remember the fallen. At the next ball game, church service, or even at your book club, publicly acknowledging these events and offering a moment of collective reverence can mean a great deal to everyone.

Candlelight VigilCandlelight Vigil

Organizing a simple meeting in a public space where people light a candle as a symbol of hope can bring peace and solidarity in an uncertain time. This is not the time for involved conversations or providing elaborate refreshments. Maintain an air of decorum and select a place that was meaningful to the lost or holds significance to mourners.


Offering support to families is a way to honor the deceased in a very real and tangible way. A collection for funeral costs or, on a larger scale, for a public memorial can be a way for an entire community to help pay tribute. Often involving a local bank to accept the donations in the name of the lost can simplify the process for the donors and the recipients.

Bring About Awareness

You may not be able to change a bad situation but you can encourage others with a positive awareness of good deeds. Whether it is wearing an awareness ribbon dedicated to the cause or  creating an opportunity for others to acknowledge lost members of the community, small deeds can be appreciated by those suffering.

An uplifting example includes two young girls in Houston, Texas, who gave the profits of their lemonade stand to benefit local firefighters who perished in a 5-alarm fire. This collection may have been financially small but was huge in bringing about community awareness.

When tragedy reaches into our lives, often it is helpful to the grieving process to reach out to those around you.

There is great strength in numbers and
it is always an appropriate gesture for a community to honor those that serve it.

Japanese-American Funeral Customs

October 18th, 2012

Japan is a country steeped in tradition. Many Japanese-Americans still follow these traditions especially those revolving around the major stages of life: birth, marriage, and death.

In Japan, the most common funeral services follow the Buddhist faith. The Buddhist ceremony consists of four parts: a wake, cremation, burial, and memorial services.  Japanese-American funeral services follow the same elements although in varying degrees. To understand Japanese-American funeral services, you must first understand the funeral customs and traditions of Japan.

An Offering at a Buddhist Funeral Ceremony

The Wake

At the wake, the body is placed in a casket with the head facing north. Traditionally guests of Japanese funerals wore white, but today it is most common to wear formal black attire. At the wake a Buddhist priest will read a sutra. The priest will be carrying a prayer bead called a juzu. Guests may also be given a juzu upon arrival. Family members will then offer incense before the deceased. Traditionally, condolence money will be offered to the family to help with funeral expenses. People paying their respect will give the family an envelope called a koden which will contain anywhere from fifty to three hundred dollars. At the end of the wake all guests will be given an appreciation gift. Following the wake, close relatives will stay overnight with the deceased.

The Cremation Service

The day after the wake is the day of  cremation. The traditional Japanese cremation service differs from traditional cremation in America. In Japan, the casket is taken to the crematorium, and the family watches as the casket is placed inside. The family members then  leave and wait for the completion of the cremation. After the cremation is competed the family returns to transfer the bones of the deceased into an urn. This is traditionally done using chopsticks. Family members will pass the bones from chopsticks to chopsticks and into the urn. The order in which the bones are moved is important.  The bones must be picked up starting with the feet to the head in order to ensure the deceased is not placed upside down.

Japanese Burial Options

After the cremation service, family and friends may travel directly to the family grave – haka in Japanese – or keep the urn at the family home for several days. Traditionally, the entire family will eventually be buried in a chamber beneath the family grave. Today, it is becoming  common to keep the urn or to scatter the ashes in a symbolic location. If the deceased is buried in a family grave, family and guests may leave flowers, water, and incense in front of the site.

Japanese Memorial Customs

Japanese memorial customs depend strongly on family traditions. Generally, the first forty-nine days are very important for the soul of the deceased, since it is believed that the soul does not enter heaven until the forty-ninth day. A common custom is to hold a memorial service every seventh day until the forty-ninth day. At the memorial service, a Buddhist monk will chant a sutra, either at the family’s home or at the local temple. The family and friends will then place fresh flowers and burn incense at the family grave. Everyone will join together for a meal.

Finally, it is very important to understand the religious beliefs of the person who has passed.  Japanese Americans vary in traditions and beliefs. The first step in planning a funeral ceremony for a Japanese-American is to consider the beliefs of the deceased. For example, a Christian may want a funeral more similar to the traditional American style. Also, if family still lives in Japan, they should be contacted. They could help shed light on family customs. Lastly, it would be most appropriate to contact a Buddhist temple if attempting to conduct a Buddhist ceremony.  They may aid the funeral home in properly performing the Buddhist funeral ceremonies.

Buddhist Offering photograph from  acdme on Flickr.

The Military Funeral’s Flag Folding Ceremony

October 11th, 2012

Each funeral service is unique to those experiencing the loss of a loved one and also serves as a special tribute to the deceased.   Military funerals have elements not found in civilian funerals which allow those in attendance to recognize the veteran’s service and patriotism. One symbolic practice at the funeral of a veteran is the flag folding ceremony. The giving of the flag is a special element of the funeral service which honors the service of the deceased and their family.

Taps Being Played at a Military Funeral

What is Said When the Flag is Presented

Every branch of the military makes a unique set of remarks during the presentation of the American flag to the family.

U.S. Air Force

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of (Service Member’s rank and name).”

U.S. Army

“This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

U.S. Coast Guard

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to Country and the Coast Guard.”

U.S. Marine Corps

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to Country and Corps.”

U.S. Navy

“On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to this Country and a grateful Navy.”

Some families may also want to add “God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America.” This will depend on the belief system of the family.

Proper Treatment of the Presented Flag

The flag used in a military funeral should never be flown again. The American flag should stay in the tri-fold shape and be placed in a display case. The display case will ensure that flag will remain in good condition.

Other protocol for a military funeral includes the playing of “Taps” and a seven man firing squad.  No matter which elements are used, they are all honorable manners to recognize the deceased’s service. If you wish to honor your deceased veteran with a military funeral, contact your funeral home director and inform them that the deceased has earned military honors. They will be able to make the appropriate contacts and ensure that the service is properly performed.

Taps photograph from  Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

Navigating Social Media and Funeral Etiquette

October 8th, 2012

When someone passes there is more left behind than just their physical property. The importance of social media profiles have given many individuals a strong online presence which remains after death. For those trying to settle the estate of a lost loved one, you should be aware of the power of social media and the options available for managing these accounts. FSN Funeral Homes would like to share some of these options and the proper etiquette of using social media in the event that someone you love passes.

Deactivating the Deceased’s Social Media Accounts


With Facebook, you have two options:  permanently delete the profile or memorialize the profile. For more details, check out this FSN Funeral Homes post.

Google Accounts

There are Many Ways to Settle the Deceased’s Online Affairs

To gain access to a Google account, whether to delete it or perform upkeep, you need to submit the proper forms (this includes the death certificate, a copy of your driver’s license, a copy of an email from the Gmail account you wish to access.)  This applies to Gmail, Google+, YouTube and other Google applications.  For more information on how to deactivate the deceased’s Google account, read here.


Twitter accounts of the deceased may be deactivated by an authorized family member. Twitter requires a death certificate, your driver’s license, an obituary, and a notarized statement of intent. Visit the Twitter support page for more information.


If a Flickr account becomes inactive, only the last 200 photos will be visible to the public. Flickr does reserve the right to remove these inactive accounts, but typically don’t. If you wish to deactivate a deceased relative’s account, contact the Yahoo! Legal Compliance team at (408)349-3687 for instructions and options. A death certificate will be required.


To notify LinkedIn of a deceased contact profile, you must submit a Read Instructions and Access the Verification of Death Form which will then be processed by the site.

Proper Etiquette for Memorializing with Social Media

Be Informative

If you choose to memorialize or maintain your deceased loved one’s profile, make sure you remain informative. Too many status updates or posts will fill friends’ pages with reminders of their lost loved one. Though some may appreciate this, others may find the constant reminder painful. Use the profile to inform the deceased’s friends about funeral arrangements and allow them to leave encouraging posts and stories.

Report Inappropriate Content

The greatest risk which comes from leaving a profile open to the public is the posting of inappropriate statements. The deceased should be honored through these sites, not criticized or disrespected. If you see any inappropriate, rude, or offensive post on a profile, immediately report it to the social media site. They should be more than willing to handle the issue.

In the case that a video is posted on YouTube of your deceased loved one while in critical condition or after death, fill out an online form to remove it.

Be Clear

When a profile is not properly memorialized, some people may not be aware that the individual has passed. Make sure all who visit the page are informed that the profile is in memorial.  If you do not, some may unknowingly send messages or post on their page expecting a response. This can be embarrassing and painful for all parties involved.

Pre – Planning and Social Media

Today, there are several social media pre-planning options which allow individuals to ensure their online presence is properly handled after death. These services provide everything from allowing access to online banking or email to a specified individual, deleting or memorializing accounts, and sending tweets upon death. The United States’ government advises that every individual create a social media will in its blog.

Though handling your deceased loved one’s online affairs may seem difficult, please do not underestimate the importance of settling these online accounts. Social media serves to connect people and can be a valuable resource for informing the public of an individual’s passing. These online friends will appreciate that you took the time to inform them and you will have the opportunity to connect with other individuals who care for your lost loved one.

What Should I Send to a Funeral?

July 6th, 2012

Funeral flowers are a beautiful way to show sympathy.

When it comes to expressing your sympathy to someone who has recently lost a loved one, you want to be sincere and, most importantly, let the individual know you care. The expression of condolences becomes tricky in a country famous for its cultural and religious diversity. Don’t let yourself become flustered when all it takes is a little familiarity with funeral etiquette to overcome such unneeded stress.  To help you out, FSN Funeral Homes has composed this  guide to maneuvering funeral gift etiquette, giving you one less thing to worry about.

Your Relationship with the Deceased

Your relationship with the deceased is a crucial aspect to consider when determining what to send to a funeral.  If you were not close to the deceased, it is appropriate to send the gift directly to the friend or family member you are closest to.  If you were close to the deceased but not to the family, include a card with whatever you send explaining your relationship to the deceased and explaining how important they were to you.  Whether or not they recognize you, they will appreciate knowing that someone else cared for their loved one.

When do You Send Your Condolences?

Depending on the placement and type of funeral service, it may be difficult to determine when to send a gift.  Typically, flower arrangements should be sent prior to the visitation for a traditional funeral service, but funeral directors should accept them for some time later than that.  Contact the funeral director to find out when would be the best time to send funeral flowers. If you find out about the services late, it is appropriate to send flowers to the grave or family’s home. If you wish to send something upon receiving the news, flowers are a good option, but a note or phone call may be more appropriate until closer to the funeral services. After some time passes, many will have moved on in their mourning, but those closest to the deceased may still be grieving.  Sending a sunny bouquet of flowers after the funeral will let them know they are not forgotten in their grief.

The Recipient

Everyone is unique so the gift for a deceased’s mother will not be the same for a child affected by the death.  Keep this in mind when deciding what to send.  A young child will not understand the thought behind traditional flowers, but if you add a stuffed animal to cheer them up or a keepsake which they can appreciate later, the gift will be more appropriate.  You can also tailor any flower arrangements you send to fit the personality of the recipient.  Work with your local florist to make sure he or she incorporates the recipient’s favorite flowers or colors and that the size of the arrangement is appropriate for its destination.  Also, depending on the recipient’s intimacy with the deceased, a more personal gift may be more appropriate.  For instance, a locket with the deceased’s picture or a simple memorial frame may be the perfect keepsake to console the individual.

The Deceased

The deceased should also be considered when deciding what to send to a funeral.  If the deceased would have preferred donations made to his or her favorite charity, then by all means follow their wishes.  At the same time, remember the deceased would also appreciate that their loved ones be comforted at this time, so flowers or a memorial gift would be a great way to extend this sentiment in the deceased’s honor.

Read more about what to send to a funeral

Should Children Attend A Funeral?

December 19th, 2011

When a family member or friend passes away, should your child attend the funeral? What age is appropriate? — The truth is, there is no right answer. It depends on the maturity level of the child and their capacity for understanding and dealing with death.

Ask: Will Your Child Understand?

It’s likely your child has never attended a funeral before, and therefore cannot fully understand what’s going on. Talk to your child about funerals and funeral traditions; if they are unwilling or unable to understand, it may be best to find other arrangements or alternatives for them.  Here are a few tips for talking to your child about funerals:

  • Explain to your child prior to attending exactly what to expect and how they should act.
  • Be sure they understand they have to be quiet and respectful during the event.
  • If they are going through the questioning phase, make sure they know they can ask them after the funeral.

Continue reading “Should Children Attend A Funeral?” »

Jewish Funeral Customs and Traditions

August 26th, 2011

Judaism teaches that traditional funerals are to be within the days immediately flowing death. There are certain circumstances, such as waiting for traveling family members, that are often allowed, but not encouraged. Cremation is often avoided in the Jewish faith, as to not disturb the natural decomposition of the body. The beliefs and customs taught here by Judaism are based on the Torah. The Jewish philosophy is that one should embrace life and accept death. And that living a praiseworthy life will prepare you for the afterlife.

Funeral Preparation

Dating back to Biblical times, earth burials have become the most commonly practiced burials in traditional Judaism. A Viewing of the deceased is not a custom that Judaism allows. It is thought that looking at person who cannot look back is disrespectful, which is why most Jewish funerals are closed casket services. Unless local laws require embalming, it is often avoided. A simple wood casket made from pine or walnut wood containing no metal is used to carry out the earth burial.

A purification of the deceased body is done by The Chevra Kadisha. This is a sacred society made up of a group of men and women who perform the ritual of cleansing and preparing the body for burial. A white gown with no pockets or decorations, called a Tachrichim, is worn for burial. It symbolizes that when mortals leave this world they take nothing with them, and judgment from God is based on merits and good deeds, not materialistic belongings.


In Judaism a mourner is considered to be Kaddish related. This means that the mourners are obligated to observe and conduct the rites of mourning. Parents, spouses, siblings and children of the deceased are considered mourners and it is their responsibility to make sure that proper Jewish funeral rites are carried out.

The Service

Traditional Jewish funerals take place in a temple, synagogue or graveside. Funeral guests dress conservatively. Men wear a head covering called a kippah or yarmulke, and most often a suite and tie. Women are not required to wear head coverings, however, they do not wear short sleeves, short skirts or open toed shoes.

You will notice that most Jewish funerals will not have many flower arrangements other than one or two small casket tributes. Most Jewish funerals ask that a charitable donation be made instead of sending flowers.
Family members (mourners) will more than likely be in a waiting room or in a vehicle prior to the service. This is because it is disrespectful to talk to the mourners before the burial. No condolences are to be offered until after the service is over.

Traditional Jewish services usually last about 20 minutes and consist of several Scripture readings, Psalms, prayers and a eulogy. The Rabbi will lead the congregation through the service beginning with the cutting of a black ribbon. Participation is encouraged throughout the prayers.

Prior to or after the service the mourners perform the ritual K’riah. It is an ancient custom, traditionally tearing garments, but has now evolved into attaching a black ribbon to the outside of the clothing worn by the mourners. A special prayer is said during the cutting of the ribbon: ‘Dayan Ha’emet‘ meaning ‘Blessed is the judge of truth’.

  • The ribbon is worn on the left side if they are mourning a parent.
  • It is worn on the right side for all other Kaddish relatives.
  • The ribbons are traditionally worn for 7 days. However, the mourners of a parent wear it for 30 days.


Chairs surround the burial site for the mourners to sit. Friends and family will stand or sit surrounding the family during the burial. Prayers are said along with Chesed Shel Emet which is considered the greatest act of kindness to the departed. Where mourners and guests take part in the burial by placing a handful or shovel full of dirt or rocks in the grave.

A Shura is then formed by the guests at the service. It is a double line facing each other forming a pathway for the mourners to pass through and receive words of condolences. This will be the first time that mourners will receive any comforting words from guests at the service. A traditional expression often said to the family during the Shura is “‘Ha-Makom yenahem etkhem b’tokh sha ar aveilei Tzion v Yerushalayim’ meaning ‘May the Omnipresent comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem’.

  • Washing your hands when leaving the cemetery is customary in the Judaism. You may do this at home or before you enter the Shiva home.

Shiva Home

Following Jewish tradition a Shiva is held at the home of the mourners. This is one of the most meaningful traditions in the Jewish faith. The community will offer a meal for the mourners at their home. Family and guests will attend to console and express sympathy to the family.

  • The Shiva is a seven-day period for mourning beginning the day of burial. Mourners will stay home during this time. The only time a mourner will leave home is on Shabbat to attend a service in the Synagogue. Everyday during the seven days there will be three prayer services at the home when the mourners will recite the Kaddish prayer.

During the seven days of Shiva it is appropriate to visit the home of the bereaved. You may notice that mirrors are covered, candles are lit, men are unshaven and women are not wearing makeup. This is a tradition that symbolizes the great disruption the death has brought to the family.