Q. "Karen, what is considered proper etiquette for funeral visitation? Is the immediate family supposed to form a receiving line so callers can speak to everyone as they approach the casket? What if you only know and want to speak to one family member? Is it improper to cut in line? What is the proper order for such a receiving line? What about when there are ex-spouses, stepchildren, etc.? In lieu of a receiving line, is it appropriate for family members of the deceased to spread out in the room rather than clustering in front of or around the casket? And finally, if you do have a receiving line, how do you politely move along a chatty caller when the line of visitors is stretching out the door?"
A. A lot of things have changed over the years, when it comes to calling for someone deceased and the funeral itself. More times than not, there are photos displayed on easels and a slide show running on a screen as people pass through the line. All good things, I think, to help personalize and add meaning to what is a very sad time for family members.
Forming a receiving line is a personal choice. But if one is formed it is best to go through it, instead of cutting in to speak with just one family member. A simple introduction of yourself and explanation of your relationship to the deceased or a particular family member is all that is needed. If the family is spread out, seek out the individuals you'd like to speak with and move on.
If an ex-spouse is present, that probably means things are pretty amicable for all involved. If you know them, greet them. However, an ex-spouse should not overshadow the current spouse. And stepchildren should be greeted as well.
Some other things to keep in mind are:
*Be brief with your comments to family members. This is not the time to share all of your news. A simple, "I am sorry for your loss" and a word about the deceased is all that is needed. Don't hold up the line of people behind you. If you are close to a family member, save a longer visit for after the funeral, when life settles down a bit. They will appreciate your attentiveness.
*If someone is getting too chatty with the family members, it would be okay to gently nudge the person to move on in the line. A simple, "thank you for coming" and I look forward to hearing more about your news at another time," would be a polite, but direct way to move someone on.
*Do be on time for the calling. Showing up 20 minutes early to avoid a long line is inconsiderate of the family. And showing up at the last minute after the family has greeted a large number of people is equally rude.
*Sign the book that is available as you walk in. This allows family members to review who came to the calling. And if an address is asked for, put that down as well. This helps with addressing thank you notes after the funeral.
*Most important, remember that the calling and funeral are not about you. it's about paying respect to the deceased and the family.