Large funerals or memorial services often include a formal receiving line of close family members, which allows them to greet the extended family, friends, colleagues, and other guests, and gives the guests the opportunity to express condolences and exchange sentiments. While a receiving line seems like a simple enough component, there are a number of considerations that should be worked out in advance to ensure that everything progresses smoothly.

  • Should there be a receiving line? If there are several family members present and the guests are not expected to be numerous, it’s acceptable to not have a formal line. Family members can circulate among the guests and accept their condolences on behalf of the entire family.
  • Who should be in a receiving line? Generally those who were closest to the deceased by blood or bond would be in the receiving line, but it can be difficult to determine where exactly to make the cut off. The size of the family, number of guests expected, size of the space, and time allocated, are all factors. “Family” doesn’t have to be restricted to people related by blood, and the issue becomes even more complicated with multiple mates, spouses, and children from multiple relationships. The important thing is to be clear about who will participate (or not). Since feelings can be hurt by not being included, it’s often helpful to ask a second tier of family members to be spread out in the reception room to greet guests less formally.
  • When and where will the receiving line be? Typically the receiving line will stand at the entrance of the funeral location, greeting guests as they arrive. But it is also possible to have the receiving line after the funeral, before the procession. In this case, it’s helpful for the funeral officiant to give a few words about the receiving line to let the guests know that there will be a formal way for the guests and family to exchange sentiments, and where it will be.
  • Will there be name tags? When there are many guests, family name tags (including the family connection) can help people prioritize whom they will greet, especially if their time at the gathering is limited, and reduce embarrassment at having to ask who someone is. If name tags seem too informal for the event, another possibility is to have family members wear black elastic armbands help guests find and identify them.