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Top 10 Questions about Funeral Etiquette

A funeral allows family and friends to pay their respects to the recently departed. It can be an emotional time for a loved one, and quite often those attending don’t know how to approach or what to say to the grieving loved ones.

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Funeral Etiquette

Here are suggestions on how you can be of comfort to the bereaved and provided guidance on funeral etiquette.

1 funeral place

Should I attend the funeral?

You should be welcome at a funeral or memorial unless the obituary states that it is a private service or if there is any reason why your attendance would be unwelcome and cause distress.

Your decision to attend should be based on your relationship with the deceased and their family members.  But the general rule is that if you can make it, you should be there.  Showing up is a thoughtful and meaningful way for you to show your support and that you care.

If your attendance is expected and you are unable to make it, it would be thoughtful to send a card or a handwritten letter expressing your sympathies. 

2 clothing

What do I wear to a funeral

Unless it has been stated that the funeral is themed and attendees have been asked to wear specific clothing such as bright colours or football shirts, etc., it is traditional for those attending to wear dark clothing or colours related to that of the deceased's religious beliefs e.g. black, white. In order to show respect for the deceased and bereaved, it is appropriate to wear formal clothing with men wearing a suit and tie and ladies wearing dresses or traditional attire.

3 flowers

Should I send flowers to the funeral?

It might be appropriate to send flowers for the funeral, but it is worth checking the obituary as many families choose to limit funeral flowers to immediate family and invite other family and friends to make a donation to a specific charity.   

It is up to you whether you make a donation, the recommended amount would equate to what you what you would have spent on flowers. If you decide to make a donation, make sure the charity knows the name and address of the bereaved family so they are aware that a memorial donation has been received to commemorate their loved one.

Other thoughtful gift ideas could include bringing over a homemade meal to their home, a tree or shrub as a lasting memory or even giving your time can be a meaningful gesture.

If you aren’t close to the family, but still want to share your condolences, a thoughtful card is a great way to comfort them.

4 tissues

What should I take to a funeral?

If you are attending the funeral, but are not close to the family sending flowers might not be appropriate.  Therefore,   if you still want to share your condolences, taking a sympathy card or handwritten note to the funeral is a great way to comfort them.

Also, on a practical note, you might want to consider taking the following to a funeral:

  • Tissues – Your emotions might take over, therefore it’s always helpful to bring a packet of tissues or a handkerchief. Even if you do not use them yourself, having a plentiful supply of tissues to hand to somebody else is a kind gesture and shows that you are thinking of others on the difficult day.
  • Sunglasses – Funeral can be very emotional, so it is good to come prepared with sunglasses in case it all gets too much.
  • Donation for the place of worship – If it is a religious church service, quite often there will be a collection passed around or as your leave the church. Having a donation readily available is always a good idea.
  • Umbrella & appropriate footwear  – It might be necessary to spend time outside the church before and after the service and during the burial. Therefore, you might want to consider taking an umbrella and wearing suitable shoes.
5 child

Are children allowed at a funeral?

Deciding whether it is appropriate for a child to attend a family funeral is something that parents are unlikely to consider until the situation arises. But as a general guideline, children should be allowed to attend a wake, funeral, cremation and burial if they were close to the deceased and want to. It is best to emotionally prepare them for the funeral by sitting them down to explain exactly what will happen so they can make a choice as to whether they wish to attend.

Children should never be forced to attend a funeral, however, it is important to understand the child’s reason for not wanting to attend, so that their concerns can be addressed. 

Whereas it might be acceptable to bring a child, it is advisable to leave toddlers and babies at home as they can be more of a distraction.

6 clock

What time should I arrive for the funeral?

The golden rule is don’t be late. It is a good idea to arrive 15 minutes early so you can speak to other guests and take your seat before the funeral service begins.   

If you arrive late, use the side aisle to find a seat near the back as to avoid interrupting the funeral service.

7 mobile

Leave your phone alone

Mobiles should be turned off or silenced completely during the service. Checking your phone is a noticeable distraction to those who are trying to pay their respects. If you must return a message or receive a call, exit the service quietly and do this outside.

8 seat

Where do I sit at a funeral?

Close family seats are reserved at the front and everyone else are seated as instructed by them. In religious funerals, seating differs depending on the ceremony. For example, in a church service, the general rule is that relatives of the deceased sit on the right side, whereas friends and acquaintances sit on the left side of the church or chapel, in other religious services, women and men sit on opposite sides or have specific seating arrangements which you should follow. 

Once you are seated, it is important to remain seated for the duration of the funeral service.

9 speech bubble

What should I say at a funeral?

People are often quite uncomfortable at funerals as they do not know what to do or say when offering their condolences. If you are unsure of what to say, a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” or “My thoughts are with you” are sufficient enough to express your support. Also, if appropriate recounting memories and stories about the deceased is a kind thing to do.

Overall, your presence at the funeral and willingness to go out of your way to say a word or two of comfort will be very much appreciated.

10 guestbook

How should I sign the guestbook at a funeral?

Offering a funeral guestbook is a nice way to allow visitors to sign in and convey a short message. Your message in the book of condolences will be very much appreciated by the family.

Your message does not need to be more than a sentence or two long, but signing the guestbook is another way to show your support for the grieving family by letting them know you attended the service.


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