A Question of Etiquette: Simple is best with condolences

What are you supposed to say when you go to a visitation at a funeral home and there is a receiving line, both when you knew the deceased and when you didn’t, but know family members who are there?

This is not a time when you need to be creative or original, nor is it a time for a lengthy discussion. When you knew the deceased but possibly not his family members, you introduce yourself. “Hello. I’m Dan Brown. I worked with Fred for 10 years at Acme and he was a wonderful colleague. I’m so very sorry.” When you didn’t know the deceased but are there out of respect for family members, you say, “Mary, I’m so very sorry. From people who knew George I’ve heard that he was a generous and caring man and this is such a sad loss for you.” Then you move on. Keep it short and heartfelt. Save reflections and stories to share at another time or in a sympathy note.


My father has remarried. His wife is a very nice woman and I like her, but I am 45 years old and somehow just can’t think of her or refer to her as my stepmother. This is a problem for me when I’m introducing her to my friends. What do I call her?

If you feel you need a label, simply say, “Sarah, this is my friend, Ginny Doe. Ginny, this is Dad’s wife, Sarah Smith.”


I have a friend who not only uses social media to post that she’s at the gym, or off to the grocery store (who cares?), but she also uses it to post personal things about others, including me, on social media. These posts can be about plans to get together, or pictures taken at a private event, or even continuations of conversations we have had. This really bothers me. Can I say something to her?

Of course. There are a few very clear rules about social media when it comes to posts. First, she must determine whether her posts should be directed to her entire friend list or whether they are intended for just one, or just a few people. If the latter, social media is not the place to talk about them. Next, don’t invade others’ personal space. Don’t post photos of others without their permission. Don’t use the medium for personal conversations. Save those for email or the phone. It may be that your friend doesn’t realize that these are the rules, so it would be thoughtful to alert her to them. After you have done this, be specific. Tell her you do not want her to post pictures of you without your permission and don’t want to have private conversations with her in public. You might also tell her another good rule: Don’t over share. Do 300 of her closest social media “friends” really care or need to know every day that she’s going to the gym? Probably not.

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