A guide to funeral etiquette

Funerals are emotionally charged events, it’s a chance to pay your final respects and to say goodbye to your loved one.  Traditions and social standards at funerals are ever changing and it is the last place anyone would want to disrespect a member of the family or other mourner.  Below, we have provided a few pointers to help.

Funeral Etiquette

Unless the family have asked for a private service and if you knew the deceased, you are welcome to attend the service.  Private services must be respected, and if you want to pay your respects, it is best to attend the grave or memorial site at another time.  There can often be a private service followed by a more open service or wake and this should be respected.  If you are unable to attend the funeral, always let the family know this.  It’s a good opportunity to express your condolences.

Children are always welcome at services, unless specifically stated otherwise by the family, but you should consider whether this is right for the child in question.  It can be a very uncomfortable time for a child and so sitting down and explaining the situation before you go is advised.  Very young children can also be disruptive and fidgety so please consider this before bringing them to the funeral.

Black is still the most worn funeral clothing but bright coloured clothing is being ever popular to symbolise the celebration of their life.  It is always advisable to check with the family and if unsure, play it safe.  This is not an occasion where you want to upset anyone.  Whatever the colour, you should usually dress smartly unless otherwise announced, with men typically wearing suits and women dresses or suits.  Guests should avoid casual clothing but the most important thing to remember is to be comfortable and dress for the weather.  Churches and cemeteries can be very cold places. Specific dress codes or colour schemes will usually be announced in the funeral notice in the newspaper or online on the tribute site.

Traditionally, the seating at the front is reserved for the close family of the deceased and this should always be observed.  The remaining seats can then be filled but remember it’s best to start from the middle so the close family are not left at the front of their own.  If you are running late for the service, it’s also advised to not come in and make a noise. Stand quietly at the back and avoid squeezing past people to get to a seat.  Arriving early and in time to show support is a good way to show your respect to the deceased and their families.

In our ever-connected world, a funeral is a good chance to turn off your phone.  It’s a time to switch off from the news, work and our daily lives and reflect, show some attention and respect.  Taking pictures at a graveside is also considered disrespectful and unless the immediate family want this done should be avoided.  As a rule, do not post anything on social media.

When attending a funeral, there are a few items you might want to take with you.  Tissues are advised for emotional moments.  If you have not sent a sympathy card already, this is an opportunity to bring one along.  Families often have donation boxes for a certain charity of their choice and it’s always best to come prepared.  Sending flowers to the family shows respect and gives comfort to those who are mourning.  Although it is never too early or too late, if you are sending them direct to the funeral home, sending in advance of the funeral is always advised.  Often families choose donations to a charity in lieu of flowers, so please always respect their decision. You may also wish to consider gifting a ‘Smiles and Tears’ box for any children in the family.

At the end of the service, the person leading will ask everyone to stand and pay their final respects to the deceased.  The coffin will then be carried out, hidden by a curtain or simply left in place.  The close relatives will always leave the hall or church first followed by the rest of the attendees.  The service might be followed by a burial and always respect the wishes of the family if it is a private burial.  After most services, the close family will hold a wake, which is an opportunity to share in refreshments, show your support and share happy memories of the deceased in either the home or a function room.

Speaking to the close family is always the polite thing to do, whether before, during or after the service.  If you are unsure of what to say, just express your deepest sympathies and describe how you knew them and some kind words.  Just remember to speak from the heart.  Do not overcrowd mourners, this is a very difficult time for them and you should respect them in their time of grieving.

It is in the weeks and months following the funeral as they adjust to a new life that they will appreciate maintained contact and a listening ear.