Funeral Etiquette

If you will be attending a traditional funeral or a memorial service, you may find the following general guidelines to be helpful.

A funeral or memorial service provides an opportunity for the living to show respect for the deceased and pay tribute to their life. It provides a framework to freely and openly express our beliefs, feelings, and thoughts about the death of the loved one. It gives us permission to grieve our loss, share in solidarity, and gain strength from others who are experiencing the same loss.

Remember that, above all, it is your presence that means the most to the bereaved. Whether you offer a kind word, a comforting hug, or show your support in other ways, the simple act of being there to share their sorrow and mourn alongside them is the best gift you can offer the bereaved.

What to Wear

The color black has long been associated with mourning and death in many cultures. In the past, wearing black clothing to a funeral was regarded as the only appropriate choice. Many people still choose to follow tradition and only wear black clothing to funerals. However, today’s society has seen a relaxing of the “rules” so that other clothing is now considered appropriate.

For both men and women, a good general guideline is to wear clothing that would be suitable for attending a business meeting or job interview.

For women, a dress, a skirt suit or a pant suit, a blouse (with sleeves) or a sweater combined with a skirt are all appropriate choices. Flat shoes or pumps may complete the outfit. 

For men, appropriate clothing choices include a suit with a tie; pants and a collared, button-down shirt with a tie and a belt; and dress shoes or loafers.

When to Arrive

Plan to arrive on time and stay for the entire service. If you arrive late, slip in quietly and find the closest available seat. 

Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the service starts. If you are going to participate actively in the service as a pallbearer, or will be delivering a eulogy, reading a passage, or performing a song, this will give you time to meet with the funeral director to review the schedule and prepare yourself for your part of the service.

Where to Sit

Regardless of whether the ceremony takes place inside or outside a building, the first few rows of seating are reserved for family only. The immediate family sits in the front row and extended family members sit in the rows behind. The remaining seating is available for all other attendees.

What to Say

It is common to feel awkward or uncertain about what to say to a bereaved person in the days following their loss. You can demonstrate your love, attention, and support to a grieving person in a number of ways. While just your presence can be enough, still a kind word, a compassionate touch, or a loving hug can mean much to show the bereaved that you care about and support them.

The following expressions of sympathy can help to convey your compassion and concern for the bereaved. Depending on how close you were to the deceased person and the bereaved, some or all of the following expressions may be appropriate.

  • I will miss (the deceased).
  • (The deceased) was a wonderful person. (You may then want to share a memory, but you should keep it short if other people are waiting to speak to the bereaved person).
  • This must be so hard for you.
  • I love you.

It is best to avoid clichés when expressing sympathy, although they are common and easy to communicate, they can be cold-feeling and often come across as “just something to say”. Avoid phrases like “I am sorry for your loss”, these phrases remove you from the situation and can come across as distant feeling to the bereaved. 

The goal of expressing sympathy is to offer your compassion and concern for the bereaved. You can say how much you will miss the person who died, or you can share a happy memory. The most important thing to communicate is that you care about the bereaved person and you are available as a source of support. If you offer your support in emotional or practical ways, do not put the burden of contact on the bereaved, if you want to talk to them or help them, initiate conversation or offered support.

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