Whether you’re attending the funeral of a close family member or an acquaintance, knowing what to say to others in attendance can be a challenge. The truth is, no one really knows what to say to each other in times like this. If you can’t come up with the right thing to say, it’s always useful to have a couple of example sayings at the ready.
No matter what part of a funeral you’re attending, who you’re speaking to, or how you knew the deceased, these general condolences are appreciated. The best thing to do is express your sincere condolences as simply as possible. Your goal is to let others know you care about their feelings and you cared about the deceased.
We will always remember them fondly.
This must be a very difficult time for you.
There are no words to describe how sorry I am for your loss.
I’m glad we can all be together today.
Today is going to be a hard day, it’s good we’re not alone.
I’m sorry for the occasion but glad I get to be a part of celebrating their life.
If you want to go beyond the generic, consider saying something that expresses the closeness of your relationship to the deceased. From the wake or viewing to the time before and after the funeral service, these standard sayings work for most funeral events.
If the person was your close relative: “I still can’t believe they’re gone. Our family won’t be the same without them.”
If the person was your close friend: “I’m not really sure what to say. Just know that I’m here to listen if you need me.”
If you knew the person well (e.g. distant family member or neighbor): "I'm so very, very sorry. They were such a wonderful person."
If you knew the person in a specific context (e.g. teacher or coach): "They meant so much to me, especially when I was younger. I use their lessons to this day."
If you knew the person through someone else (e.g. friend of your mom): "They meant so much to our family. They were always there for us."
If you were close to the deceased for a while, then lost touch: "Thank you for inviting me. We hadn't been in touch for a while, but they've always been in my heart."
If you knew the person more distantly (e.g. your boyfriend’s college best friend): "My friend has had nothing but good things to say about [name of deceased]. They had a huge impact on their life."
Depending on your comfort level and the comfort level of the person you’re talking to, you can shake hands or hug as well. Keep in mind that the loved ones of the deceased probably aren't going to remember many of the specifics of what you say or do because they’ll be talking to a lot of people. They'll just remember you were there, and that’s what matters.
There are some cliché funeral sayings that might immediately come to mind, but most of these should be avoided. Try not to say anything that takes away from a person’s grief or could be misconstrued as insensitive.
They were great while they were here. (Aren’t they still great wherever they are now?)
They are in a better place now. (Maybe, but that doesn’t take away the sadness others feel.)
The grief will go away eventually. (Will close family members ever not feel grief?)
You’ll feel better in time. (Feeling better might mean we stop remembering them.)
I know exactly how you feel. (This isn’t really supposed to be about you.)
It’s all part of God’s plan. (Should I be mad at God?)
Stay strong. (Is grief really a sign of weakness?)
Writing a eulogy, or speech given during the funeral, is a whole different process from simply offering condolences. You should be given advance notice if you’re expected to deliver a eulogy. This will give you time to either write an entire speech to read word-for-word or create a keyword outline you can refer to as you speak from the heart in real time.
Put together a few anecdotes of the times you and the deceased had that were funny and memorable. Anything that celebrates the loved one and opens the door to the mourners' fond memories of their life will be well received. Now is not the time to recall any family feuds or angry moments.
While every eulogy should be personal and specific to the recently deceased, seeing an example can help you figure out how to write your own.
Kris was one of the best people I've ever known. I've always thought of her as a role model, and I know many people here felt the same way. In one way or another, lots of us have thought in our lives, "What would Kris do?" That's Kris's legacy, I think, that so many of us will remember her as an inspiration in our lives.
Even for those of us who didn't know Kris well, she always put herself forward to engage and help. When I lost my last job, Kris came to the house that very day with Chinese takeout and two bottles of wine. Until then, we had only known each other through Daniel. That's the kind of person she was. If you were hurting, she was there to help.
That might be the best way to remember Kris. If she were here right now, she might be bawling, but she'd also be looking after the needs of every last one of us. Now we only have her example, so we have to take care of each other.
When it comes to conversing at a funeral, the anticipation is almost always worse than the event. In the end, though, you're all there for the same purpose: to pay your respects to someone who mattered to you. As long as you keep your focus on the life and character of the deceased, you'll honor their memory and provide comfort to their loved ones.