A guide to funeral etiquette
When attending a funeral, it's important to remember that you are there to support and show your respect to the family members of the deceased. Understanding proper funeral etiquette will ensure you are prepared and feel more comfortable at the funeral service.
Here are 14 important things to remember about funeral etiquette when attending a funeral service:
1. What to take to a funeral
Whether the funeral is large or small, it’s helpful to know what things you need to take with you to avoid feeling uncomfortable at any time. You may wish to bring the following:
- Charity donation
- A story or memory of the deceased
- Sympathy card
- Sunglasses or umbrella
- Guestbook (if you are the organiser)
If there is a wake after the funeral service, you may wish to consider asking the family if there is catering provided. If there isn’t, you could offer to make a dish for the wake.
Find out more about what to take to a funeral.
2. What to wear to a funeral
Traditionally, black is the most worn funeral attire due to its sombre colour and association with mourning. However, wearing bright coloured clothing to symbolise a celebration of life is becoming quite popular. To avoid any mishaps, consult the family organising the funeral, or dress neutrally.
Men typically wear dark-coloured suits with a collared shirt, black tie and formal shoes. Women usually opt for dark-coloured dresses or suits, with smart shoes and jacket if required.
Generally, guests are expected to dress in smart attire and avoid casual clothing such as jeans, hoodies and trainers. The most important thing is to be comfortable and dress for the weather. Churches and cemeteries can be very cold in the winter.
Find out more about what to wear to a funeral.
3. Who can attend a funeral?
A funeral service is usually open to anyone, unless the family has stated that it is a private ceremony. The funeral service is typically an opportunity for loved ones, friends and those who knew the person to say goodbye. If the funeral details have been publicly shared, you may also take guidance from these.
4. What to say at a funeral
Though you may find it uncomfortable to say something to the family of the deceased at a funeral, it is always appropriate to extend your sympathy for the family’s loss.
All you need to do is offer a few sympathetic and kind words in an even tone or even share a fond memory of the person if you wish. It’s important not to say anything negative or make light of the person’s death.
Here are a few expressions that are appropriate to say to family members of the deceased:
- I’m so sorry for your loss
- They were a wonderful person and will be sorely missed
- You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers
- I’m here for you if you need anything
5. Where to sit at a funeral
At a funeral, immediate family and close friends sit in the first few rows and then and then the remaining seats can be filled.
In a large church or hall, it is important not to sit too far back as the seats can often remain unfilled, leaving the close family at the front feeling isolated and the clergy having difficulty making themselves heard.
6. Should you send flowers before or after a funeral?
Sending funeral flowers shows respect and provides comfort to those in mourning. You may wish to have them delivered to the funeral home or to the home of the family of the deceased.
It is never too early or too late to send flowers, though if you are sending them to the funeral home, make sure they arrive on time for the day of the funeral. Even if you send flowers a few weeks or months later, it still shows that you care and are thinking of the family.
7. How much to donate at a funeral
Some people may request charity donations in lieu of flowers, so you should honour that request. You should consider donating at least what you would have spent on flowers.
You may wish to include a note to the charity or association and send a card to the family and friends of the deceased.
8. Should you visit the person who died at the chapel of rest?
Visiting someone at the chapel of rest can be quite distressing, but some find that it can offer closure - knowing that their loved ones are now at rest. Normally, this service is used by family and close friends only, but if you would like to visit, it is advised that you ask the person who is arranging the funeral.
9. Should children attend funerals?
Children are able to attend funerals at the discretion of their parents. Often families choose not to take toddlers and babies, as they may be disruptive and noisy, especially if it is a long service.
If you are planning on taking older children to a funeral service, it is a good idea to prepare them beforehand so they know what to expect. You may find our advice on explaining death to children helpful.
10. Who travels in the funeral procession?
The family arranging the funeral usually decide who will be in any limousines following the hearse. If people are travelling in their own cars, they can sometimes follow the procession or choose to meet the procession where the service is being held.
11. 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.
12. Do people go into the church or crematorium before or after the coffin?
Funerals vary depending on tradition, where the service is held, and family preference. In church services, guests usually arrive before the family and take their place before the service starts. However, with funerals at crematoriums, it is more traditional for immediate family to lead the procession and then friends and other family to take their seats afterwards.
13. What happens at the end of a service?
When the service comes to a close, the minister will leave and everyone will stand to pay their final respects. The coffin, depending on the service, will then be lowered, carried out or hidden by a curtain.
The coffin may remain on view for loved ones to say one last goodbye before they leave. Family and close friends will then leave first, followed by the remainder of the funeral attendees. If it is a burial, the coffin will be taken to a grave before being lowered into the ground.
14. What happens after a funeral?
After most services, the family or friends organising the funeral will provide a get together, also known as a wake, with light refreshments either at a home or in a private function area such as a pub or hotel. This is an opportunity to show support to the family and also share fond and happy memories of a loved one.
If you have any other questions or would like more information about funeral etiquette, your local Dignity Funeral Director will be able to offer you all the help and support you need.