Bob’s grandmother passed away last week. Her funeral is today. It is also Bob’s birthday today. I am attending the funeral. Obviously, I offer him condolences, but do I wish him a happy birthday too? What is the proper etiquette to follow in a situation like this?

Both Bob and his grandmother are related to me, but I wasn’t close to either one. I would see them like once a year at events like weddings and funerals. Since I don't visit Bob to celebrate his birthdays, I don't know if Bob is even celebrating his birthday, given the circumstances.

My own location is Netherlands, and I am agnostic. But an answer from any cultural background is appreciated.


2 Answers 2


From my own experience, my Father was very ill and died the day after my nephew's 21st birthday, what is important is to demonstrate care for the bereaved person, rather than to wish them a happiness which might seem inappropriate in the moment.

To wish someone a happy day at the funeral of a close family member, as you clearly understand, has potential to be inappropriate, though the degree of inappropriateness would to some extent depend upon your existing relationship with Bob and the delivery of the wish.

Something else which may be relevant is to think about what age Bob is. Is the birthday a significant one? Is he being 21, 30, 42? Any birthday which is in someway significant in your culture, or if Bob is still quite young, will seem like a bigger deal to be missing than a random birthday for a middle-aged person (I say this as a 53 year old, we're over the excitement of birthdays for the most part)

The fact that you understand that and don't want to say the wrong thing shows that you do care for Bob, so it would be appropriate to find a form of words which recognises the fact of his birthday without wishing him present joy.

This lets Bob know that he has not been forgotten but also understand the respect that you are showing to him and his Grandmother.

The words you use will very much depend on your own personality and your relationship with Bob, but after you have generally expressed condolences, something along the lines of this would cover those points.

...and on top of how much we're all going to miss her, I wanted to say how sorry I was about the timing of everything and to let you know that I still remember that it's your day too.

It is is a significant birthday that he's missing you could follow up with planning to meet up at some later stage (even if you wouldn't generally do that for his birthday you might want to this year as part of reinforcing family bonds and recognition of the horrible timing - but only if you actually would enjoy meeting up and it isn't wildly impractical due to travel times or something), or you could make a point of sending him a nice letter or a small gift in the following days.

In the end only you can judge what would work in the relationship between you and Bob, but remember you can recognise his birthday without wishing it to be 'happy'.


Traditionally, tragedies override joyful events in European cultures, especially the loss of a loved one.

Wikipedia writes about Mourning:

Those most affected by the loss of a loved one often observe a period of grieving, marked by withdrawal from social events and quiet, respectful behavior.

So Bob is supposed to grieve for his grandma and not take part in any festivities or unrespectful behavior for a while, even if he himself doesn't follow any religion. In the past, the period of mourning was either set by religious and cultural rules, or indicated by the affected person by wearing a black mourning attire. Since mourning people are supposed to withdraw from social events, it's in turn inappropriate to invite them to such events.

Many people feel that those rules are historic now and don't follow them as strictly as a few decades ago, but the gist of "you shouldn't celebrate when someone died" still applies today.

In that context, it would be inappropriate to wish him a "happy" birthday, especially at a funeral. You can choose other words to convey your meaning, as indicated by Spagirl's answer, but anything implying "smile and have a party" is inappropriate.

  • 3
    Why does the fact that wikipedia says that something is 'often' the case lead to a conclusion that Bob is 'supposed' to behave this way rather than it just being a possibility the OP should consider, which the OP is clearly already doing, hence their question?
    – user9837
    Jul 10, 2019 at 9:43
  • "Tragedies override joyful events" says who? Wikipedia certainly doesn't. People should be sad when their grandma dies. They should be happy when it's their birthday. The question is about what happens when both happen together.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 23, 2019 at 17:40

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