Regardless if the deceased is someone you barely know, or the family member of someone you are close to, it is only polite to show your respect at the funeral. The question is, what’s the best way to show your condolences while being sensitive and genuine?
When it comes to Chinese funerals, some of the customs in place make it less daunting to show your care to the bereaved. You can offer some words of condolences, contribute a small amount to the donation box, and just let your presence do the work. Here are a few more tips on how to be respectful in giving your condolences at a Chinese funeral.
1. Mind your words
Familiarise yourself with some condolence well wishes before heading to the wake or funeral. You don’t want to be caught off-guard not knowing what to say when you arrive. Typical condolences messages like ‘I’m sorry for your loss’, and ‘My thoughts are with you during this time’ are quite safe. In Chinese, you can say something like ‘jie ai shun bian’.
Apart from the actual condolence wishes, you might find yourself having the opportunity to chat with the deceased family members. It is best to be careful about what you say – if the deceased’s death happened under unnatural circumstances, it is advisable to avoid talking about it. Instead, you can talk about their memories with the deceased, or show your concern to ask how they are coping.
2. Offer a condolence gift
Most of the time, guests are not expected to bring gifts to a Chinese funeral. However, it is customary to offer some cash to the family of the deceased as a condolence donation. This cash helps the family cover some of the costs of the funeral. You can place the cash in a white envelope and label it with your name and amount enclosed, or simply drop off the cash with one of the family members and record the amount in a notebook at the reception.
If you would like to, you can send a flower wreath to the wake as a condolence gift. Funeral-appropriate flowers are chrysanthemums and lilies in white or yellow. Businesses and organisations most commonly send flower wreaths. However, if you are unable to attend the funeral for any reason, or if you are someone close to the family, you can also send it to the wake.
3. Your presence is the best gift
During this difficult period of time, what the bereaved needs most at this time is your support and understanding. Simply being present is often more than good enough. If any of the bereaved are people you are close to, you can even ask them directly how you can help – would they prefer to talk about something light-hearted, or perhaps appreciate you helping them to grab a snack or drink for them?
At most Chinese funerals, it is a tradition for the family to keep vigil overnight for at least one night of the wake duration. If you are willing to, you can also stay at the venue a little longer to keep the family company and occupy them while they stay up.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that people grief and receive comfort in different ways. While these are very general gestures you can do to show your condolences at a Chinese funeral, genuine and personal actions often go even further to make the bereaved feel comforted.
Here at Buddhist Funeral Services, we provide families with comprehensive guidance to those who require Buddhist casket and funeral services. Contact us to discuss your funeral planning and we will be ready to lend you our assistance.