When should I visit?
Immediately upon learning of a death, intimate friends of the family should go to the home of the mourner to offer sympathy and ask if they can render any service. There are many ways you can be helpful, by providing food or assisting with child care, making phone calls or answering the door. You can make a condolence visit at any time before the funeral or after, especially in the first weeks following the death. If you call early you may certainly pay another visit to let the bereaved know they remain in your thoughts.
You may prefer to visit the family at the funeral home. This setting may be more comfortable for you and the family, as they are prepared for visitors. The newspaper will provide information about calling hours, or you may call the funeral home for instructions.
How long should I stay at condolence call or visitation?
You need not stay long; fifteen minutes gives you enough time to express your sympathy and offer your support. Of course, if the bereaved indicates they would like for you to remain for a little while, take your cue from them and stay longer. If you feel your presence is of comfort, offer to stay as long as the family needs you and are able to stay.
What should I say?
Using your own words, express your sympathy. Kind words about the deceased are always appropriate. Depending on your relationship to the family, you may say something like; "I am so sorry about John. He was a good friend, and I will miss him very much."
If the bereaved wants to talk, they usually simply need to express their feelings; they aren't necessarily looking for a response from you. They may say things that seem irrational or pose question that have no answer, and the kindness response is usually a warm hug, and a sympathetic, "I understand."
What should I not say?
Do not ask the cause of death; if the family wants to discuss it, let them bring it up. Don't give advice. The family should be allowed to make their own decisions without influence from well meaning friends.
Don't make comments that would diminish the importance of their loss. Comments such as "you are young, you'll marry again," or "he was suffering so much, death was a blessing," or "I've been through this myself," are not comforting to the bereaved.