Many of us do not attend funerals regularly, so it can be hard to know what to say and do to comfort friends or family in their time of need. Here are some frequently asked questions about funerals, visitations, and expressing sympathy.

What is the difference between a funeral & a memorial service?

A funeral and memorial service both serve the same purpose – to honor and celebrate 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 guests and family the opportunity to say a final goodbye in person. This service is normally held within a week of the death.

A “memorial service” is held without the body present, and can be held at any point after the death. Memorial services can be held after cremation takes place, or after burial takes place in a private 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.

Why should I have a ceremony at all?

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 special 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.

What do I do at a visitation?

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.

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

Should children attend funerals?

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 talk about 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 one way or another. 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 feelings.

For more information on helping children with grief, please see our Grief Support section.

What does it mean when the funeral is “private”?

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.

How long should I stay at a visitation?

The amount of time 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.

What is appropriate dress for visitations and funerals?

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.


These resources are here for you to help you for the days immediately following your loss.

What to bring with you to the funeral home

There are a number of items that you will need to bring to the funeral home in the days before the funeral service. Bringing as much as possible with you to the arrangement conference will help with the planning process.

  • A photo of your loved one to use in their online obituary.
  • Paperwork:
    • General information about the deceased (birth date, city and state of birth, Social Security number, parent’s names, educational institutions, marital status)
    • Copies of life insurance policies
    • Military discharge papers (DD 214 form) if applicable
    • Cemetery paperwork if applicable
    • Funeral prearrangement paperwork if applicable
  • Personal effects:
    • Clothing, undergarments, shoes, glasses (if applicable) and jewelry for your loved one
  • Photos for the Life Story memorial video tribute to play during the visitation and before and after the service. Please bring 20-45 photos.
  • Special memorabilia: For the visitation and service, you may want to set up memory tables with framed photos, memorabilia, awards, handcrafts and framed photos for guests to view at the visitation or before or after the service.

What to expect at the funeral arrangement conference:

The funeral arrangement conference is the primary planning session for the funeral services for your loved one. Our staff will be in communication with you during the days leading up to your services, to finalize many details, but the majority of decisions will be made at this conference.

You can expect to be at the arrangement conference for approximately one and a half to two hours. During this time we will assist you in creating a service that truly reflects and honors the life of your loved one. We will also help you with selecting merchandise and developing an online memorial to your loved one. Finally, we will discuss your wishes regarding cemetery property and a marker or monument.

Some families choose to have one or two family representatives attend the conference, while other families prefer that everyone be present. We can accommodate whatever meets your needs. If you plan to have more than six family members attending, please let us know in advance so we will be prepared for your arrival.

Many of the details covered in the arrangement conference can be taken care of in advance. Our staff is available to sit down and discuss your wishes ahead of time, whenever is convenient for you. Often, when a death is considered to be imminent by medical professionals, a family will come in to the funeral home and make their selections, reducing the number of decisions that need to be made after the death occurs.

Applying for benefits

Our staff will file a notice with Social Security that your loved one has died. Please provide your funeral director with your loved one’s Social Security number to begin the process. After the notification, you should contact Social Security to discuss benefits for you and your family. They can be reached at 1-800-772-1213. To speak with a representative, please be sure to call between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Benefits vary by a number of conditions, including the age and relation of the surviving family members, and can also change over time. Please review the information and instructions at the Social Security website, for the most up-to-date information.

Veterans, please see our Veterans Benefits section.

Filing paperwork with banks, utilities and more.

After the death of a loved one, many families are surprised by the number of individuals and organizations that must be notified in order to claim benefits, change billing addresses or end services

Some of these entities include your loved one’s bank, credit card provider, church, accountant, attorney, estate executor, home, life and health insurance providers, utility companies, phone company, home maintenance providers, physician, dentist, newspaper and magazine subscription offices and government agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the US Postal Service, Veterans Administration and the voters’ registration office, and many others.

This can be an overwhelming task, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Our staff can provide you with a Resource Guide with sample letters to all of these entities to assist you in the notifications. The Guide is available in paper or CD format. It will help you work through all of the notifications in an orderly manner, streamlining the process.

You will need a certified copy of your loved one’s death certificate in order to make many of these notifications. Our staff will take care of ordering the certificates from the Office of Vital Statistics and notify you when they are ready. A photo copy of the certificate is often enough for many organizations, but we recommend obtaining several certified copies as a precaution. We can also order more copies to you in the future if necessary.