When you’re attending a funeral, it’s sometimes difficult to know the appropriate funeral etiquette, especially if it’s your first funeral. So, to help you navigate this challenging time with confidence, here’s a guide to proper funeral etiquette for before, during and after the funeral service.
Etiquette before a funeral service
When to contact the family
Once you hear the news of someone passing away, it’s appropriate to contact the bereaved family before the funeral. Because this time is overwhelming and emotional, it’s best to contact them by sending a card or flowers to let them know you’re thinking of them and are available for support. These days, you may also send a text message. If you’re close with the family, then it’s proper etiquette to give the family a call.
Sending flowers vs giving a donation
After the death of someone you know, it’s appropriate to send flowers to the family at their home before the funeral. If you’re not close with the family, it’s also acceptable to send them directly to the funeral home or bring flowers to the service.
It’s also common for the family to ask for a donation to a relevant charity instead of receiving funeral flowers. If this is the case, it’s best to respect the family’s wish for a donation. You can typically find this information in the funeral notice or by calling the funeral home.
Deciding what to wear
A good rule of thumb when deciding what to wear to a funeral is to dress as if you were going to an office job or job interview.
Generally, this means sticking to something smart, understated and neutral in colour. Depending on the deceased’s last wishes, you may have more freedom about the colour and style of what you wear but it’s best to look for special instructions in the funeral’s public notice before assuming.
Also, if you’re attending a funeral in another religion or tradition, it’s best to research the common dress code.
Don’t just show up
If you’ve heard the news about someone you know passing, you should check the death noticeto see who can attend the funeral. Funerals aren’t always open to the general public, and there may be specific times for friends and family to visit. There may also be rules about bringing children and whether it’s a public or private service.
Etiquette during a funeral service
Don’t take photos with family members
Unfortunately, funerals can sometimes be the reason you are in the same room with relatives that you haven’t seen in years. So while you might feel tempted to catch up and take photos, the funeral of a loved one is not the time or place. It’s best to avoid taking photos and catching up during the funeral, instead you should make time to see them while they’re in town instead.
Stay off your phone
It should go without saying, but don’t answer your phone during a funeral. Unless friends and family ask for directions or let you know they've arrived, a funeral is a time to support the deceased’s immediate family and pay your respects.
Make sure to turn your phone on silent or leave it in the car. You’ll feel more present and available to support those around you.
Wait till the immediate family is seated
There is sitting etiquette at a funeral. Generally, immediate family members and close friends sit at the front during the funeral service. Then additional close family and friends sit in the seats close behind.
There’s not usually a seating plan so if you’re not family or friends, it’s proper etiquette to wait until other people take their seats. On the other hand, if everyone sits and the venue’s not very full, try to sit just behind the family.
Prepare words of sympathy
Funeral receptions are a chance for mourners to express their condolences to the bereaved family in person. They may also use this time to reflect on fond memories and share kind words with other attendees.
With this in mind, it’s good funeral etiquette to prepare a few polite and sincere words of sympathy for the immediate family. When in doubt, think about what you would want to hear about a loved one of your own.
For example, you could express how sorry you are for their loss and share some kind words about what you’ll remember the most. Also, if you’ve never met the family before, introduce yourself and tell them how you knew the deceased.
Etiquette after a funeral service
When to follow up with the family
It’s okay to follow up with the family after the funeral, but it’s important to remember that the family will still be coping with the loss of their loved one. Everyone deals with death differently so it's important to be patient and let them know you’re there if they need you.
Find ways to offer help
When you reach out to the family, offer ways you can help. As the family goes through grief, it might be hard for them to stay on top of chores around the house or cooking. So offer to come and help with basic tasks or bring pre-cooked meals. You can also offer companionship.
Funeral etiquette 101
Funerals are not only about celebrating the deceased’s life but also about respecting the needs of the family at this difficult time. Therefore, being polite, thoughtful and appropriate in your behaviour and dress is the key to funeral etiquette.
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