We answer some of the common questions people have about what to do and what happens at a funeral. This is a general guide as customs and traditions differ. Your local funeral director will be able to help you if you have other questions or would like more information.
Should I wear black?
It’s very rare nowadays for people going to a funeral to be dressed entirely in black, although some people may think that bright clothing is not appropriate. Most people choose formal clothes like a suit, and men normally wear a black tie. The family organising the funeral may give specific instructions on what they would like people to wear at the funeral. The most important thing is to be comfortable and dress for the weather. Churches and cemeteries can be very cold in the winter.
Should I cover my head?
Some religions expect you to cover your head, for example, at Greek Orthodox or Jewish ceremonies. Ask the funeral director for advice. If you want to wear a hat, that’s fine.
Should I visit the person who has died in the chapel of rest?
Normally, only close family and friends visit the chapel of rest. If you would like to, you should ask the person who is arranging the funeral.
Who travels with the funeral procession?
The person arranging the funeral decides who will be in the car or limousines following the hearse. This is usually family and sometimes close friends. Most of the people going to the funeral will use their own cars and may choose to meet the procession where the service is being held.
Does the procession always leave from the home of the person who has died?
Traditionally yes, but the procession can leave from the home of a close relative. The family may decide to leave from the address where people will return to after the funeral. Or, mourners may decide to meet at the place of service. If you are not sure, check with the family or the funeral director.
Can children go to a funeral?
Yes, but toddlers and babies can be disruptive, especially if it’s a long service. You can take older children if they want to go. It’s a good idea to prepare them beforehand so they know what to expect. You may find our advice on talking to children about death helpful.
Do people go into the church or crematorium before or after the coffin?
This depends very much on local tradition and the family’s personal choice. For example, in a church, mourners usually arrive and take their place before the service starts and then stand when the coffin is brought in, which is followed by the close family. At a crematorium it is more usual to enter after the chief mourners (family and close friends), who immediately follow the coffin. You should leave the front seats for the immediate family. As this will depend entirely on the family’s decision, you should check with the funeral director.
Where should I sit?
Chief mourners usually sit at the front. Sometimes, if it is possible, the chief mourner or next of kin sits at the end of the pew next to the coffin. In a large church or chapel that is unlikely to be full, it’s better not to sit at the back. The clergy may have difficulty in making themselves heard and the close family may feel isolated at the front.
What happens at the end of the service?
At the end of the service the minister will leave and everyone should stand. At a church the coffin will be carried out. In a crematorium chapel the coffin may remain on view, be hidden by a curtain or be lowered into the floor. The chief mourners leave first, followed by everyone else. If it is a burial, the coffin will be taken to the grave, where the minister will speak before the coffin is lowered into the grave.
What usually happens after the funeral?
In many cases family and friends will get together for light refreshments. This may be at home or in a private room in a hotel or pub. In some areas the funeral director will have rooms which you can use.
What facilities are at the crematorium or church?
At the crematorium you will find waiting rooms and toilets. Most churches do not have a toilet unless the church hall is open.
Do I need to be invited to a funeral or can anyone go?
A funeral service is open to anyone, unless the family ask that it is a private ceremony. The funeral is an opportunity for family, friends and others to say goodbye to the person who has died.