Like many people, you may have concerns about proper funeral etiquette. Keep in mind that you have one job during a funeral. You’re present at a funeral to console and support, in a communal setting, those who grieve.
When it comes to funeral etiquette, you need to be respectful and courteous, supporting those around you in their grief. There are certain thoughts to bear in mind when it comes to funeral etiquette.
Keep three words in mind when deciding what to wear to a funeral or memorial service: respect, dignity, and propriety. In the United States, as in many nations the world over, black historically has been the color of choice for a funeral or memorial service. At least in the U.S.A., black clothing no longer is mandated for funeral attire.
In selecting clothes for a funeral, focus on what you would wear to a job interview for a position in an office or business meeting in that setting. Consider what people wear to a church, synagogue, or other religious service.
Funeral Attire for a Woman
Conservative attire is the order of the day for a woman at a funeral. A pant or skirt suit in muted colors is suitable as is a basic dress. The skirt or dress should be cut at least to the knee, with not revealing flourishes. Flats or pumps are preferable, with sneakers being unacceptable. In some parts of the country, and at some churches, a hat is appropriate for a woman attending a funeral.
Funeral Attire for a Man
As with a woman, conservative attire is the preference. A suit or blazer and dress pants are always appropriate. In recent years, a tie is deemed a necessity less often, including at some funerals. A button-down shirt and a nice pair of slacks may also be suitable for many funerals. Dress shoes and loafers are in, sneakers are out.
Your Role at a Funeral
A key factor to bear in mind when selecting clothes for a funeral is your role in the service. If you are a member of the immediate family, you need to dress more formally. The same holds true if you are a pallbearer or will be participating in the service in any manner, including presenting a eulogy. If you are to play a role in the funeral, confirm with the funeral director or family member the expected attire, if you are unsure.
Religious Customs and Attire
Be aware of any unique religious customs that impact what you wear to a funeral. For example, in Orthodox Churches black attire is still nearly universally worn at funerals. If a service is particularly religious, other clothing rules may apply, including head covering for women and specific clothing dictates. If you have questions about religious customs and attire, contact the church, synagogue, mosque, or other location where a funeral will be held for guidance.
Memorial Service Later in Time
With considerable frequency, funerals shortly after a person passes on are replaced by memorial services held at a later date. (Family members may have a private burial or the deceased’s remains may be cremated.) In such a situation, you likely will have more flexibility regarding what is worn to this type of memorial service than is the case with a more traditional funeral. The family of the deceased is likely to make note of recommended attire for this type of gathering.
Two simple words govern when you should arrive for a funeral: on time. Perhaps no other occasion dictates timely arrival than does a funeral. As a general rule, plan on being at the location of the funeral service no later than 15 minutes before the schedule commencement time.
Consider arriving early to a funeral service. Although a somber occasion, people tend to socialize a bit before a service starts. Take care not to dominate the time of family members of the deceased individual, or to seek them out. They may wish to be alone immediately prior to the service. Make sure you sign the guest book.
Arrive Late or Leave Early
Arriving late or leaving early at a funeral are frowned upon. Nonetheless, unexpected situations may cause you to be late in arriving. If you arrive late, quietly and quickly find a seat in the back.
Absent some sort of dire situation, don’t leave a funeral service early. If you know you will have to leave early, take a sit in the very back and depart as unobtrusively as possible.
If you are participating in some aspect of the service, arrive at the time you are told. A funeral director, or a family member, doesn’t need the added frustration of tracking you down.
Confirm where you are to arrive to undertake your role in the service. Pallbearers may collect at the funeral home, while other participants gather at the church or other location of the service itself.
In the foyer or lobby of the location of the funeral service, a guest book or guest books will be found. The guest book provides the family a memorial of who attended the funeral. Sign only one book.
The guest book is not intended to leave condolences, merely your name. If your signature is hard to decipher, print your name. If you don’t know the deceased person’s family well, indicate the connection (perhaps in parentheses – John Doe, co-worker). If your family is in attendance, consider signing as a unit (John Doe Family).
Many funerals feature an open casket to permit a viewing of the deceased person prior to the service. Typically, the viewing is done before the start of the service and oftentimes in the lobby of the venue, a side viewing room, or at the front of the space where the casket will rest during the service. The coffin may be closed during the service itself.
Some people find viewing the remains of a deceased person a means of providing closure, even comfort. Many individuals consider viewing the body a way of demonstrating love and respect for the person who has passed. Others simply want to say “goodbye.” Bear in mind that you are not obligated to view the remains at a funeral service.
What to Expect
The deceased individual will be dressed up and attended to in a manner to look as life-like as possible. Despite these efforts, the deceased person is apt to look at least somewhat different than he or she did in life.
Some people reach out and touch the hand of a deceased person. Before you o, keep in mind that the body will be cool and the skin will not feel precisely like that of a living person.
Reactions at the Casket
Becoming emotional when viewing the remains of a person who was part of your life is natural. If you have concerns about how you might react, approach the casket with a friend or family member you trust.
Many funerals are conducted in religious settings, in houses of worship like churches and synagogues. You may find yourself slated to attend a funeral in a house of worship for a religion with which you are not a member.
Every religion has its own traditions and rites when it comes to funerals. Some churches, including the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, have ritualistic funeral services. Other religious organizations have services that are less structured.
No matter the situation, the leader of the service is likely to welcome people at the funeral who are not part of the church. Part of the welcome will include an explanation of the service. In addition, members of the church or religious organization will also be at the funeral and usually assist visitors in understanding what to expect.
Thanks to the internet, you can obtain basic information about a particular religion’s funeral traditions. Consider checking this information out before the service.
Introducing Yourself to Family Members
There are three possible instances in which you may introduce yourself to family members of the deceased:
- Informally before the service starts
- Formally in a receiving line
- Informally after the service, perhaps a lunch or reception
When introducing yourself to a family member you’ve not met previously, share your connection to the deceased person together with your name. You may have a bit more time to visit in one of the two informal settings. When introducing yourself to a family member in a receiving line, be concise, share who you are, share your condolences, and move onward.
Introducing Yourself to Fellow Mourners
Odds are there will be a number of people at a funeral who you do not know. Introductions between people who have never met at a funeral is a way of demonstrating support. The key to introducing yourself at a funeral is sharing your name and noting how you are connected with the deceased person.
You are far from alone if you really don’t know how to interact with a grieving family who has lost a loved one. The key factor to bear in mind is that a grieving family benefits most from your very presence, including at a funeral or memorial service.
Do not worry that you are at loss for words. Not knowing what to say at a funeral is normal, natural. In many ways, the best thing to say is to express that the family is in your thoughts. Avoid making a statement like “I know how you feel.” Even if you’ve experienced the passing of a loved one, all people mourn differently. None of us really know how another person feels following the death of a loved on.
Selecting a seat at a funeral or memorial service can be a bit nerve racking. Understanding this reality, there are three factors to keep in mind when selecting a seat:
- Size of the venue
- Number of people in attendance
- Your relationship to the person who passed on
The first two or three rows nearly are designated for the family only, with spaces typically assigned to pallbearers as well. At most services, the funeral director will have place “reserved” signs at the ends of the rows set aside for family.
Beyond the reserved seats, there exist not hard and fast rules regarding where to sit at a funeral. Take into consideration the three factors mentioned a moment ago, and select a seat that seems to be a comfortable fit for you.
If the venue is particularly large, consider sitting more towards the front. If there is a large crowd of people on hand, you might want to take a seat towards the back to accommodate others.
In the end, bear in mind you’re present to honor the decease person and support the family and other loved ones. Where you happen to sit is not a paramount concern.
Human relationships can be complex and challenging. The dynamics of personal relationships need to be considered when it comes to a funeral. You need to frankly assess whether your presence at a funeral has the potential for negatively impacting a family member of the deceased person.
Divorce and Broken Primary Relationship
If a former spouse, or partner, has died, and you have children, the situation can be perplexing. You may have a desire to attend the funeral. Depending on their ages, you certainly will want your children to attend.
You must be honest about how your presence will impact other mourners. In the end, the best course of action may be to have another trusted adult accompany your children to the funeral.
Rifts between family members are surprisingly common. These also need to be taken into account at the time of a funeral of a family.
In some cases, the death of a family member does lead to a reconciliation. At the other extreme, a decision needs to be made as to whether or not your presence of the presence of another family member (or members) at a funeral will be disruptive. Oftentimes, family members are able to put aside their differences, at least to some degree, to work out a way all can be present at a funeral.