Guide to Funeral Etiquette

Funerals require proper etiquette and specific behaviors reserved for the event's solemnity. Etiquette is more than good manners; it’s about treating others courteously and respectfully. Here's a concise guide to answer your key questions about funeral etiquette. 

Attending a funeral is a common experience that most people will encounter in their lifetime. Understanding proper funeral etiquette and conduct is essential. This guide provides an overview of everything you need to know about basic funeral etiquette. We’ve collected the most frequently asked questions to help you make an informed choice.

Who Should Attend?

If you were close to the deceased or their family, it’s usually appropriate to attend. Funerals are typically open events, allowing anyone to attend. If the funeral is private and you haven’t received an invitation, you should respect the family’s wishes and not attend.

If attending may cause conflict or discomfort, it is best to avoid going. Remember, the funeral is about honoring the deceased and supporting the family. 

When Is It Okay To Skip? 

There are valid reasons to skip a funeral, such as living far away, work obligations, illness, private services, or potential disruption to the immediate family. If you can’t attend, find other ways to offer support or condolences.

Should You Bring Your Kids?

Deciding whether to bring children to a funeral is a sensitive and personal decision. A general guideline to determine whether a child’s presence at a funeral is acceptable is to consider if their actions make it difficult for people to hear or focus on the service. Here are a few factors that may help you make the best choice.

Age and Maturity

Consider your child’s age and maturity. Younger children may not fully understand the concept of death and may find the experience overwhelming or confusing. Older children may better understand and be able to handle the emotions associated with a funeral.

Relationship with the Deceased

Assess the relationship between the children and the deceased. If the children were close to the person who passed away, attending the funeral could allow them to grieve and say their goodbyes. However, if the relationship was distant or they didn’t know the person well, it may not be necessary for them to attend.

Cultural and Religious Considerations

Some cultures and religions have specific traditions and expectations surrounding funerals. It’s essential to consider the cultural or religious practices and beliefs of your family and the deceased’s family when deciding whether to bring children.

Emotional Impact

Funerals are emotionally charged events filled with grief, sadness, and expressions of loss. Consider whether your children are emotionally prepared to handle these feelings or if they might be too overwhelming.

Alternative Arrangements

If you choose not to bring your children to the funeral, provide alternative arrangements for them during that time. Arrange for a trusted caregiver or family member to look after them, ensuring they are engaged in activities appropriate for their age. You can also bring your children to the post-service reception (if applicable), where they feel more comfortable in a less formal environment.

Explain What to Expect

If you decide to bring your children, prepare them for what to expect at the funeral. Explain the event’s purpose and discuss appropriate behavior, such as being quiet and respectful. Address any questions or concerns and tell them they can come to you if they feel overwhelmed.

Bring Quiet Distractions

Bring quiet activities such as books, coloring pages, small snacks, or silent toys to keep your child occupied during the service. Be prepared to step outside if your child starts to disrupt the service or is distraught.

Plan an Exit Strategy

Leaving a funeral due to a fussy baby or an overly excited toddler can be difficult, especially if the deceased is a close family member. In such cases, you may need to rely on your spouse to care for the children if the deceased is from your side of the family. Alternatively, you can ask an extended family member to accompany your children outside the service.

Remember, every family and situation is unique, so trust your judgment and do what feels suitable for your children and your family.

When Should You Arrive? 

Arrive early to avoid disrupting the service. If the family is receiving guests, greet them briefly, then find your seat. If you’re late, enter quietly and sit in the back. 

What Should You Wear?

Dress conservatively in black or neutral colors unless the family’s cultural or religious customs dictate otherwise. Avoid excessive jewelry, hats (unless allowed), and athletic shoes. Wear comfortable clothing that is appropriate for the occasion and the climate. 

The dress code may vary depending on the type of funeral, but it’s generally safe to stick with conservative, modest choices in black, brown, dark blue, or neutral colors. For women, suitable clothing options include dresses, dress pants, and blouses. Men should opt for suits, collared shirts, and ties. Children should follow a similar dress code, with younger children allowed to wear slightly more informal clothes.

Life celebrations tend to be less formal than a traditional funeral. They might also have a theme, such as Hawaiin shirts or team colors.

Click here for What To Wear To a Spring Funeral. 

How Should You Prepare for the Service?

Participate in the funeral when appropriate. You don’t have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with, but signing a guestbook (if available) or saying a few words about the deceased when asked can be appreciated.

Respect religious and cultural beliefs and differences. As a guest, you’re not obligated to participate in all practices, prayers, or rituals. You can research what to expect if you attend a service from an unfamiliar religion to help you understand the significance of rituals. It’s essential to be respectful. You may choose not to say a prayer but should remain quiet and reflective.

If You Attend the Visitation, Is It Ok to Skip the Funeral?

Visitation may occur the day or evening before the funeral or hours before the funeral service. Depending on your closeness to the family and your emotional health, you may attend one or both. 

Visitations often include a viewing with an open casket. You do not have to approach the casket if you prefer not to. 

Do You Have to Attend the Funeral and Interment?

Some graveside services (interment) are limited to family members, close friends, and clergy. If the interment is open to the public and you want to attend, you should. Paying your respects at the funeral and skipping the graveside service is also acceptable. 

Should You Leave Your Cell Phone at Home or in the Car?

Leaving your cell phone and other electronic devices at home is up to you. At the very least, turn them off or switch to silent mode. Here are some other etiquette tips concerning cell phones:

  • Don’t leave your phone on your lap or hold them. 
  • Do not check your phone during the service, particularly in a darkened chapel or room. 
  • If you expect an urgent call during the service, sit in an aisle chair at the back of the room. Put your phone on silent and quietly leave. 
  • Don’t answer your phone (even in silent mode) or make a phone call during the service.
  • Making or receiving a call during the receiving line or as attendees leave is also ill-mannered. 

What Should You Say to Grieving Family Members?

Save lengthy condolences or conversations for after the service. Your goal is to comfort a grieving family. Expressions of support with good intentions are appreciated. Keep your words brief and respectful, use the loved person’s name, and do not ask intrusive questions. 

Here are some suggestions: 

  • <Name> was a remarkable person who loved you and the rest of your family very much. May his memory be a blessing.
  • I’m sorry for your loss. Please know I am here for you and ready to help however I can.
  • I will never forget <Name’s> sense of humor. It was an honor to be her friend. 
  • Words cannot express how sorry I am for your loss. I am here for you. 

Losing a child is a sorrow no parent should endure. Learn How to Support a Grieving Parent. 

Should You Bring Flowers to the Funeral?

Flowers are common gifts, but check if they’re appropriate for the funeral. It is customary to have flowers delivered to the funeral home before the service so the staff can arrange and display them. Some families request charitable donations instead of flowers, so check the obituary or ask the funeral home or a family friend. 

Food can be a thoughtful gesture, especially for grieving families. However, refrain from bringing food to the service. Grieving families need support and comfort long after the funeral ends. They would appreciate a homemade meal or food delivery gift.

Armed with these etiquette guidelines, you can attend a funeral with compassion and respect. Your presence, condolences, and thoughtful gestures will mean a lot to the grieving family as they honor the life of someone special.