2019 Funeral Etiquette Guide

 

When a loved one passes away, it is important for the family and friends to gather and celebrate their life. However, when it comes to attending a funeral or memorial service, there are many factors to consider for funeral etiquette such as what to say, what to wear, where to sit, and so on.

To help you answer these questions, our caring funeral specialists have outlined a comprehensive funeral etiquette guide so you can properly show your condolences and respect the family of the deceased one. This funeral etiquette guide will show you the fundamentals of proper etiquette so that you will know how to communicate and behave around the grieving family while exuding respect and dignity during the funeral service.

Funeral Etiquette Basics

Before we start getting into the most common questions about funerals, it is important to understand some funeral etiquette basics that extend to all religions and families. Follow these funeral etiquette basics to show your respect to the family and gracefully celebrate the life of your deceased loved one.

Phone & Social Media Are Off the Table

In today’s modern world it is very rare to see someone leave the house without his or her smartphone. However, when it comes to funeral services, it is best to keep your phone off. Even the slightest vibration can be an unwelcome distraction during the funeral service. Also, sharing your emotions, photos, or any other updates about the funeral service on social media might even offend the family. The rule of thumb is to always check-in with the family to see if they are open to their guests sharing the funeral service on social media.

Read more: Is it okay to post on social media during a funeral?

Things to Say:

Always speak from your heart and be respectful, sincere, and loving.

“He/she lived a full life and was an inspiration to so many.”

“I am shocked and saddened by your loss. I care and love you and your family deeply. Let me know how I can help.”

“I will have you and your family in my prayers. I wish there were words to comfort you.”

Things NOT to Say:

Avoid clichés and telling them what to do at the moment or how to grieve.

“I know just how you feel.”

“He/She is at peace now.”

“At least he/she is no longer suffering.”

In the end, there will never be the right words to say to a grieving spouse, children, or friend. Simply speak from the heart and try to offer your most sincere condolences.

Can Children Attend a Funeral?

In most cases, yes. However, be mindful that toddlers and babies can be disruptive, especially if it is a long funeral service.

If you do decide to take older children to the funeral, make sure you take some time to prepare them beforehand, so they know what to expect.

Private Funerals vs. Open Funerals

Most people assume everyone can attend a funeral. While in theory funerals are open to the public, some families would rather have a private service for their loved one. Before attending a funeral, check with the family if you are invited to the service. When you are reaching out to them to extend your condolences, ask about the funeral reception, their response should be enough to know if you are invited to the service, or if they’d rather have a more private affair.

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Common Questions about Funeral Etiquette

In addition to the funeral etiquette basics, people still have common questions about how to behave in a funeral service. These questions are about where to sit, what to expect from a funeral service, things the family might be expecting from you, and so on.

Table of Contents:

What Are the Best Things to Say at a Funeral?

Should You Give Money at a Funeral?

How Much Money Should I Donate?

Should I Bring a Gift?

Should I Send Flowers? When?

Am I Expected to Talk? What Should I Say?

What’s the Difference between a Wake, a Memorial Service, Viewings, and a Funeral?

Should I Go to the Wake or the Funeral?

What to Do at a Graveside Service?

Should I Wear Black?

Should I Cover My Head?

Who Travels with the Funeral Procession?

What’s the Journey of the Procession?

Do People Go Into the Church or Crematorium Before or After the Coffin?

Where Should I Sit?

What Usually Happens After the Funeral?

Do I Need to Sign the Guest Book?

What Are the Best Things to Say at a Funeral?

It is important to know that you should not feel pressured to say more than “I’m sorry for your loss.” In reality, less is more; the family is happier to feel your support by your presence than by anything you might say.

Should You Give Money at a Funeral?

On occasions, if the family can use the money to pay for some of the funeral costs, people would bring money in a card. Usually, people will give around $50 to $100 in a card and wait until after the funeral or at the memorial service to give the card to the grieving family.

Read more: Who is responsible for paying for the funeral?

How Much Money Should I Donate?

When the family or the deceased requests donations in lieu of flowers, you should do your best to honor that request. Consider donating at least what you would have spent sending flowers. You may also want to include a note of your donation and send it to the family for reference.

Should I Bring a Gift?

Even today, bringing or sending a gift to a funeral is still considered appropriate. Gifting sympathy flowers is an easy and thoughtful way to express your condolences to the family. Other funeral gift ideas include sending the family a sympathy gift basket, offer to help at the house or with the children, send in some cleaning help after the service, and so on.

Read more: Do I bring a gift to a funeral service? 7 Thoughtful gifts for a widow and her family.

Should I Send Flowers? When?

Sending flowers is a thoughtful sign of respect and provides comfort for the mourning family. Ideally, you want to deliver them to the funeral home before the funeral or the day of the funeral service. If not, sending them to the home of the family of the deceased is also appropriate. There is no right timeline to when sending sympathy flowers; it is never too early or too late, the family will always appreciate them.

Read more: Is sending flowers still appropriate for a funeral?

Am I Expected to Talk? What Should I Say?

On occasions, the family will ask some close friends and other family members to participate in the funeral ceremony. It is important that you understand you are not obligated to participate, and declining to speak at a funeral will not be disrespectful. If you decide to speak at the funeral, remember this will be a very emotional moment, it might be difficult to stay focused and composed. Usually, family members and friends that participate tell stories of the deceased, share memories of their life, and might share a few verses of their favorite books or prayers as well.

Read more: Who can speak at a funeral? How to choose speakers at a funeral?

What’s the Difference between a Wake, a Memorial Service, Viewings, and a Funeral?

Most people assume any gathering to celebrate the life of a deceased loved one is a funeral. In reality, there are striking differences to each one of these. This is what each one of them means:

Memorial Service: A service to memorialize the deceased person. In this instance the body is not present, and it is usually done if a person has been cremated or after the burial ceremony.

Funeral Service: Also service to memorialize a deceased person. However, in this case, the body is present, and it usually involves an actual burial after.

Wakes: A service to memorialize the deceased person traditional of the Catholic faith. In this instance the body is present, and the family stays with the body all night. They often take place before the funeral.

Viewings: A gathering of friends and family to pay respect to the deceased. The body of the deceased is often present, and it happens before the funeral.

Should I Go to the Wake or the Funeral?


Some people think they can choose to attend one of the ceremonies. For example, a wake tends to be more public since they are often held at a church, while funerals are a more private affair. In the end, it is up to you to decide if you want to only to attend the wake to show your support to the family and pay your respects. However, if you are not comfortable with the religious aspect of a wake, you can attend the funeral after.

What to Do at a Graveside Service?

A graveside funeral service can be intimidating. Do your best to avoid walking directly on other graves and plaques. If there are chairs available, these are usually reserved for the close family of the deceased. If this does not apply to you, reserve to stand behind the chairs and allow room for others to be able to get near the grave.

Should I Wear Black?

Nowadays, it is very rare to see someone wearing only black for a funeral. However, when in doubt dark colors such as black are always proper funeral etiquette. In general, the only colors that are not expected at a traditional funeral are bright colors such as yellows and greens.

Should I Cover My Head?

Some religions expect you to cover your head. In preparation, ask the funeral director for advice, or reach out to the family for verification. In the case that you do have to cover your head, you can wear a hat, for example.


Read more: What to wear to a Hindu funeral? Attending a Jewish funeral for the first time? Attending a Catholic funeral for the first time?

Who Travels with the Funeral Procession?


Generally speaking, the family decides who travels in the funeral procession car. Anyone else can follow the procession in their vehicles or choose to meet the procession where the funeral service will be held. Always check with the family or the funeral director to see if the family would like you to join them in the funeral car.

What’s the Journey of the Procession?

Traditionally, the procession left from the home of the person who passed away. However, the procession can leave from the home of another family member or a close relative. The family may decide to leave from the address where people will return later for a reception or memorial service. It is best to check with the funeral director or the family to know where the funeral procession will start and end.

Do People Go Into the Church or Crematorium Before or After the Coffin?

It depends on the traditions of the family and the location they chose for the funeral service. For example, in most churches mourners arrive earlier and are seated before the service stars. At a crematorium, for example, it is usual to enter after the family of the deceased, sometimes referenced as the chief mourners. If you are ever confused as to what to do, ask the funeral director or wait for the immediate family’s action and follow appropriately.

Where Should I Sit?


When there are no seating arrangements made by the grieving family, it might be intimidating for guests to know where to sit. The immediate family and close friends generally sit at the front. Ideally, you would want to sit in the middle towards the back of the room, on the sides. If you are in doubt, wait until family members have taken their seats and find yours accordingly. The only suggestion is never to sit all the way at the back, it can be difficult for the funeral speakers to make themselves heard and it could also be disrespectful to the family.

What Usually Happens After the Funeral?

After most funeral services, some families organize a funeral reception. On occasions, there are light refreshments at the funeral home, the family’s home or a private location. After the funeral is the best occasion to show support to the family and extend your condolences.

Read more: Should I plan a reception after the funeral?

Do I Need to Sign the Guest Book?

Ideally, you would want to sign the funeral guest book to let the family know you were there. Remember, a funeral service is a whirlwind of emotions, and the family may not remember everyone that showed up to support them. Clearly state your first and last name and your relationship with the deceased. Use this signature to extend short condolence and show your support to the grieving family. Sharing a lovely memory or phrase is a common signature.

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What to Wear and Not to Wear to a Funeral

Part of the most common questions about funeral etiquette, what to wear is a huge subject when it comes to funerals. As funeral guests, people are always trying to be mindful not to break any proper funeral etiquette rules, or offend the family in any way with their attire.

When it comes to what to wear and what not to wear to a funeral, our caring funeral specialists have a few guidelines they share with mourning friends and family members.

Proper Funeral Attire for Women

For women, proper funeral attire is somber, conservative, and reserved. For this occasion, less is more, avoiding fabrics with prints, appliques, or bright colors will steer you in the right directions as to what to wear.

What to Wear: Besides black, appropriate colors to wear to a funeral include navy blue, gray, blush colors, neutrals, and gray. Accessories and makeup should also be kept simple, avoid wearing large earrings, jewelry that makes a sound, and chunky necklaces. Also, shoes should be closed-toe dress shoes of a low- to mid-heel height.

What NOT to Wear: Even for casual funeral services, you still want to be presentable and pay your respects to the grieving family. Avoid at all costs wearing loud prints and bright colors such as neon. Mini-skirts, blouses or dresses with low cleavage and body-tight attire is off the table for funerals.

Proper Funeral Attire for Men

For men, funeral attire is simpler. Men are expected to dress in semi-formal attire and to wear dark colors and avoid t-shirts or ties with inappropriate graphics.

What to Wear: Of course black is the most traditional color for funerals. However, men can also choose grays, blues, and other somber colors. In most cases, proper funeral attire for men refers to dress pants, tailored suits, button-down shirts, and other formal options. Shoes are expected to be polished and taken care of. If the funeral service is outdoor, shades, umbrellas, and hats are allowed.

What NOT to Wear: Similar to women’s proper funeral attire guidelines, bright colors are not recommended. Also, graphic t-shirts, sports caps, and vibrant printed ties or accessories are not adequate attire. While some families agree that jeans are considered appropriate attire, it is always best to avoid wearing them.

Of course, there are many exceptions when it comes to what to wear to a funeral. On occasions, the family may ask guests to bring their favorite sports cap, wear a specific color such as white, for example. Also, some guests may choose to wear a uniform to show the support and represent an organization the deceased was part of.

More Funeral Etiquette Resources:

In addition to all the resources highlighted throughout this funeral etiquette guide, our caring funeral specialists are always available to answer your funeral service questions. For more information on funeral etiquette, visit the following articles:

Why Do We Have Funerals?

Proper Funeral Etiquette Tips.

Why Is Knowing Funeral Etiquette Important?

What Is A Life Celebration Funeral?

Funeral Traditions around the World.

U.S. Veterans Funerals.

For more inquiries, contact a funeral specialist or a funeral director from The Gardens of Boca Raton Cemetery & Funeral Service today by calling 561-989-9190 or fill out the form below.

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