Funeral Etiquette

Proper Etiquette During a Funeral

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Have you just found out that you need to attend a funeral? Do you feel an overwhelming sense of dread or concern that you might say or do the wrong thing?

If you said yes to either of these questions, you're not alone. One of the biggest concerns for many people is not knowing what to say or how to act at a funeral. It's important to know basic funeral etiquette guidelines before you go.

Most people don't like going to funerals, but it's something you know you need to do when a relative, friend, or the loved one of a friend passes away. You may choose to go for just the visitation to show your respects to the survivors. However, there may be times when you need to attend the actual service.

General Mood

Most funeral services are solemn, but there are exceptions when the person requested a more festive celebration of his or her passing. Regardless of the mood, you still need to be respectful. After all, losing a loved one is sad because it creates a void in the lives of family and close friends.

Tips on How to Act at a Funeral

Because of the sensitive nature of funerals, it's important to follow certain etiquette guidelines. Whether the service is held at a church or funeral home, you should maintain a solemn, respectful demeanor. Here are some tips:

  • Arrive early. You should always arrive at the church or funeral home at least 15 to 20 minutes before the service is scheduled to begin. If you talk, speak softly. Take your seat and quietly await the arrival of the family of the deceased.
  • Find a place to sit. The first few rows are generally reserved for the family and close friends of the deceased. If you aren't in one of these categories, you should try to sit somewhere in the middle or back of the sanctuary or funeral home. If the decedent is presented and the casket is open you may take this time to take a last look at him or her. If you arrive late, enter quietly, taking your place on the back row. Draw as little attention to yourself as possible, making every effort not to disrupt the service.
  • Dress appropriately. Take care to dress in a conservative manner that reflects your respect for the deceased. Avoid anything sparkly, flashy, or noisy. Conservative attire might include business wear or a simple dress. This is not the time to wear ‘party’ type dresses. Men should dress in a suit with a classic tie.

5 Simple Tips for Getting Dressed for a Funeral

  • Participate when asked. The funeral will most likely be conducted by a clergy member or designated speaker. You should feel free to join in during the ceremony. This would include standing during prayers and singing during any congregational or group singing. Even if you are not religious, it is customary to stand or bow during the prayer time as a show of recognition for the tradition.
  • Follow the lead of those leading the ceremony. If you aren’t clear as to whether or not you should join or participate simply remain solemn and quiet.
  • Follow the order of dismissal. During most funeral processions the family will follow the casket out of the church or funeral home. Quite often the attendees are then dismissed using an orderly row by row method. Leave the building promptly, following the prescribed order and make sure not to hold up the flow of the dismissal.
  • Follow instructions if there is a funeral procession of cars. If you are planning to attend the graveside ceremony that requires driving, you should get in your car quickly and wait for the traffic directors to direct you. Make sure that you turn your headlights on so that you are identified to other drivers as part of the procession.

Children at Funerals

If you have children, you need to determine whether or not they are old enough to understand what is going on. Don't take your children to the funeral of an unrelated person unless you have a chance to tell them what to expect and know that they will behave.

If you are divorced, you may attend the funeral of your former mother-in-law, father-in-law, or spouse if your children need for you to be there. However, if you had a contentious divorce and feel that it's better if you don't attend, find someone in the family you trust to be responsible for your children.

Always spend extra time explaining all aspects of death and the ceremony before they attend their first funeral. It's a good idea to choose a seat in the back of the church or funeral home when your children are with you.