Funeral Procession Etiquette

Hearse Procession in Los Angeles
Be respectful of a funeral procession. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Whether you're part of a funeral procession or encounter one while you are driving or walking, you need to be aware of proper etiquette and follow it. This is essential to show respect for the survivors who are laying their loved one or friend to rest.

About a Funeral Procession

A funeral procession is for times when the funeral ceremony and burial site are in two different locations. There are different customs for different religions and cultures, so if you aren't sure about what to do, ask someone before you go.

Those in the Funeral Procession

Here are 10 rules to follow if you are in a funeral procession:

  1. Arrive early. You'll want to make sure you know the rules of the procession, so get there early enough to receive instruction. You'll probably be close to the front of the procession if you are a family member or close friend of the deceased. Friends and acquaintances follow behind family.
  2. Follow directions. Typically the pallbearers will place the casket in the hearse, and the funeral director will issue instructions to the people attending the funeral. Listen closely and follow their rules. If you miss something or don't understand, ask the person to repeat what was said.
  3. Turn on your lights. You need to make sure your headlights are on before you get on the road with the procession. This is one of the ways other people know that you are part of the funeral. Typically the last car in the procession has two flags and flashes the hazard lights. This signals that the procession has passed, and others can resume their regular speed.
  1. Follow the lead. Many funeral processions have police escorts, so stay in line behind the one in the front.
  2. Don't speed. Funeral processions typically move slowly, so if you are in one, maintain the speed of the group. Stay close. Don't put more than a car length or two between your car and the one in front of you unless you are on a highway.
  1. Stay in line. Don't try to take a shortcut to the gravesite. Most places give funeral processions the right of way at intersections, so continue driving unless told to do otherwise. In some countries, funeral processions must follow all of the regular rules. If in doubt, ask the funeral director before you leave for the burial site.
  2. Respect the flag. Many funeral homes will issue flags to all of the drivers in the funeral procession so others will know you are part of the group. Place it on your car in the requested place. When you arrive at the final destination, someone will collect the flags.
  3. Respect the families. The family of the deceased may ride in a special limo or car. Don't expect to be included unless you are asked.
  4. Speak softly. When you arrive at the burial site, keep your voices down. This is not the time to socialize or shout to someone on the other side of the parking area.
  5. Watch the funeral director. If you are ever in doubt about what to do, turn to the person coordinating the event for clues.

Those Who Encounter a Funeral Procession

As a driver, be aware of the signs that you are encountering a funeral procession. This is essential because you need to know how to show respect and honor the event.

One of these days, you might find yourself participating, so follow the Golden Rule and treat the mourners the way you would want to be treated if you'd just lost someone you cared about.

Here are some tips for showing respect for a funeral procession:

  • If you encounter cars with mourners, be polite, pull over, and wait for them to pass before proceeding.
  • Show respect by not honking your horn, revving your engine, or acting impatient in any way.
  • Don't try to join the procession.
  • Don't cut into a procession.

Other Important Funeral Etiquette Tips

Some of the most common questions about etiquette are related to funerals. When burying someone you love or care about, you're probably not in the best mood. Don't let your tension or stress cause you to have bad manners.

Here are some additional tips for funerals:

  • Follow all of the general good manners guidelines. Always show respect for others, speak in a polite manner, and don't bring up a topic that will upset family members of the deceased. Knowing basic good manners is more important now than ever.
  • Dress appropriately for a funeral. You don't have to wear all black, but don't wear something outlandish or attention grabbing.
  • Don't disrupt the services by taking pictures. You definitely don't want to stand in front of an open casket, snapping photos of the deceased while everyone else waits in line to show their respects.
  • Send flowers or donate to charity. Flowers are still appropriate for most traditional funerals; however, if the survivors request donations to a favorite charity, honor their request.
  • Go to the visitation or wake. Family members will appreciate your attendance during the visitation. This is the time and place to offer your condolences and share a brief story about the deceased. Keep your stories light and brief. Never bring up anything negative about the person who has just passed away.
  • Send a sympathy card. The family of the deceased will appreciate a brief, handwritten note of sympathy. Keep the note short and to the point.
  • Offer assistance. After the funeral, you may want to help the family in some way. It's okay to offer a meal or something else you can do immediately after the funeral, but remember that the survivors are still in a state of change and they may not remember. Give them a day or two before calling and repeating your offer. Be specific.
  • Bring food. In some cultures, it's standard practice to bring food to the family of the deceased. This keeps them from having to worry about meal preparation during their time of grief. If possible, bring the food in disposable containers or pieces that you are offering as a gift. If you want the casserole dish or platter back, make sure you have your name and phone number somewhere on the item.