April 17, 2019 Beyond The Dash

How Does a Receiving Line Work at a Funeral?

Everything you need to know about navigating a funeral receiving line

How Does a Receiving Line Work at a Funeral?
A funeral receiving line is an opportunity for arriving guests to greet those who are hosting the funeral. (Getty Images)

Like families, all funerals are different. As a funeral guest, it's a good idea to understand the beliefs and death practices of the hosting family before attending the funeral. In North America, it's not uncommon for a funeral to include a receiving line, for family to greet guests. 

What is the purpose of a funeral receiving line?

The day of a funeral is a draining and emotional day for the hosting family, to say the least. On top of last minute arrangements, dealing with the funeral director and fighting back tears, the family must greet mourners as they arrive to the funeral. 

The receiving line is the chance for the family of the deceased person to receive guests to the funeral. Usually those who were closest to the dead person, by blood or bond, will stand in a receiving line at the entrance of the location where the funeral is to be held. Members of the receiving line will greet guests as they arrive.

At its root, this is a funeral ritual is a practical gesture. Those who were closest to the dead person probably won't have time to speak in depth with every cousin, aunt, uncle, colleague or acquaintance in attendance. Most people tend to stick to those with whom they are closest at a funeral, as they seek support and safety during this time. But it is still important to spend a moment, however small, with all who made it out in honor of the person who has passed.

Receiving line etiquette 

Though a brief moment has been carved out of the day to shake hands and thank guests for their attendance, this doesn't mean the receiving line is a place to stop and chat. Many times the people in the funeral receiving line won't know every person in attendance, so this is an opportunity to quickly meet people who will share in their mourning. 

As a guest, it's important to approach the receiving line and go through the motions of meeting the hosting family. This is likely the first thing you will do upon arrival at the funeral. Though the formality of a receiving line can be daunting for those who've never participated in one, the encounter should be very brief. 

Guests who are not acquainted with the hosting family should introduce themselves by stating their name and relationship to the deceased person. After offering a brief condolence and a hand shake, they should move along the line of receiving family members without stopping to chat for too long. 

Guests who already know the hosting family should also move through the receiving line to offer condolences. Condolences should be kept brief, but there may be an opportunity for a longer chat after the service or at the reception. 

The takeaway

Be respectful of the day, the hosting family and all in attendance by moving through the receiving line with a gentle introduction and concise condolences. This is the best way to keep the line moving, while being supportive of others.

A funeral day is likely to be a long day. Like any planned event, there is room for connecting with loved ones, but there is also a schedule that ought to be respected. Taking up too much time in the receiving line could end up cutting more important moments short, like eulogies or moments of communal prayer. 

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