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Answers to Your Funeral-Related Questions


You may have been to a funeral in the past and wondered about that person in the dark suit who seems to be in charge. Or perhaps you’ve read an obituary and been confused by some of the terms used in it. Maybe you’ve looked at your wardrobe prior to attending a funeral and asked yourself if anything hanging there was appropriate.

Well, wonder no more. We’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions concerning the funeral industry and, more importantly, have delivered some answers to help you understand some of the many things that are involved in caring for the deceased and providing support for families.

What do funeral directors do?

By New Jersey law, funeral directors are tasked with the preparation of a body for burial or cremation. They are also licensed to arrange for funeral services for the deceased, which can include everything from working with a church to scheduling non-religious services to providing transportation to and from the place of disposition. But the job is much more involved. Funeral directors exhibit great care and compassion while providing families with a way to memorialize the deceased. They help to arrange for obituaries to be published, either in a newspaper or online. They help to fill out death certificates and obtain copies of the documents for the family. They also prearrange funerals for those looking to plan in advance.

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

The difference has to do with the presence of the deceased’s body. A funeral service is when the deceased’s body is present at the location where the service is being held. When a person’s body is donated to science, cremated or buried first, the gathering that occurs following without the deceased’s body present is referred to as a memorial service.

Both services, despite what they are called, offer opportunities for families and friends to gather and honor the memory of the deceased. No matter the location of the service, funeral directors can assist in creating a space that reflects the life of the deceased by incorporating photographs, videos or other mementos. These items may seem even more relevant when the body is not present.

What does the phrase “in lieu of flowers” mean?

“In lieu of flowers” is often the phrase used in an obituary when the family of the deceased requests that mourners memorialize the deceased in a way other than sending flowers. A common request is that a donation be made in the memory of the decedent to a listed charity or benevolent society. This request is often made because the funeral director has indicated that the cemetery, crematory or mausoleum will not allow or limit funeral flowers to be delivered to their location.

What is appropriate funeral attire?

Gone are the days of scouring your closet for an all-black outfit, dress or suit to attend a funeral. That being said, deciding what is appropriate can still be tricky. Depending on the cultural preferences of the deceased and his or her family, the color of your attire may matter and white or red hues may be completely acceptable while black is not. Or take in to consideration where the service will be held. If the funeral will be held at a place of worship you might decide to dress more conservatively. On the other hand, if you are planning on a memorial service at the beach, a more casual attire may be more suitable. The family hosting the service may even ask that attendees wear a certain color or outfit. Common sense can go a long way in these situations, but if you are still unsure don’t be afraid to ask the funeral director for some advice. 

Should I bring my children to the funeral?

As a parent, you have a natural instinct to protect your child from harm. So if your gut reaction to “Should my child attend the funeral?” is “No,” it’s understandable. However, excluding children from the memorialization process denies them the opportunity to mourn, be with others who are hurting and grieve. Ultimately, children should offer their own input as to whether or not they attend a funeral. To help children decide, they will need information about what is going to happen. Read our blog post, Should Children Attend Funerals? for more detailed information that can help you decide if including your children in the memorialization process is what is best for them.

How long should I stay during visitation hours?

You do not need to stay long. What’s important is that you voice your sympathies and show your support to the deceased’s family. You can also reach out to other mourners while you are there, share a story or two and feel free to leave whenever you want. Remember that just because a visitation is scheduled for two hours, doesn’t mean you need to be there for the whole time. Those two hours are for everyone to express their sympathies.

One note of caution: Try not to monopolize the family’s time. There will be others waiting to share a word and a hug with them.

Why are obituaries so expensive?

Unfortunately, funeral homes have no control over the costs associated with publishing an obituary in the newspaper. Typically, newspapers charge by the line and the inclusion of a photo of the decedent can cause that fee to go up. Steps can be taken to shorten the notice in an effort to lower the overall fee charged by the newspaper. Oftentimes, funeral homes offer the free or reduced cost placement of an obituary on their website which can then be shared through your social media accounts. 

For more information, read our blog post 4 Reasons to Publish an Obituary.

When is it appropriate to send a sympathy card?

Sending a sympathy card is one of a number of ways to express your condolences to family and friends of the deceased. Usually, cards are sent within two weeks of someone’s death, but that is not a firm rule. If, for example, you did not find out about the death until later, you can still send a card expressing your sympathies. There is no need to explain the delay. Your words will provide some measure of comfort no matter when they arrive.