Funeral Etiquette

Knowing proper funeral etiquette can really help people maneuver an incredibly difficult time. Below is an article regarding etiquette for attending services. You may also find our articles on sympathy card etiquette and sympathy gift etiquette, helpful, too.

Keeping at the forefront of one’s mind the reason and purposes of the service, can help you to remember what would be most helpful and comforting actions as a guest and loved one of the bereaved. If your actions do not fall in line with the purpose of the services, the odds are there is a better course of action to be taken.

The reasons for a funeral services are many, but they mainly focus around three basic points. The services can provide a platform to celebrate the memories and the life of the deceased. It can also fulfill the cultural obligations associated with last rites. And importantly, a funeral also helps to lend support to the bereaved family.

When you and so many of the people who are close to you are grieving, more specific details regarding funeral etiquette will more likely be helpful. Here are some guidelines:

How long to stay?

There is no set time minimum for attending services. Follow your instincts in determining the duration of your stay, even though there is no rule that says you need to spend a few hours. If you knew the deceased well or were friends with him/her you may feel inclined to stay longer. Then there are cases where you may have known the deceased but not his/her family, in which case, it is always appreciated if you let them know how you were associated with their loved one.

What do you wear?

For funerals, it is best to wear modest and somber clothes in subdued shades; at some funeral services the family may request the attendees to wear bright colors to celebrate the life of the deceased. However, traditional funeral etiquette suggests that unless otherwise decided, stick to somber colors out of respect for the grieving family.

What do I do if when I view the body?

At many services, the casket is open which means that you are welcome to view the body. In other services, the family members may not be present; however, you can still view the body. You never are required to view the body, however, should you choose to say goodbye at an open casket funeral, taking a few minutes of silence to pay your tribute to the deceased while you are at the side of the casket is considered common and in good taste.

What should I avoid doing?

• Try not to quiz the family members about the cause of death because they may be too emotionally distraught to recount the tragic incident. Generally, this information will be mentioned in the obituary. Let them talk about it in their own time.

• If the deceases and you had your share your scuffles, there is no reason to mention this at the funeral; the grieving family would like to remember their loved one in a fond manner.

• At the wake, do not start mingling with the other mourners and guests before you have offered your condolences to the family.

• Do not forget to turn off your cell phones and other gizmos while you’re at the services. It is an incredible breach of funeral etiquette to take a call during services or after. If you must take or make a call. Be sure to exit the premises (and not tie up the restrooms) to make your call.

• Refrain from bringing young children to the services and even older children who are less content whilst sitting for long periods of time. Should you choose to bring children, make sure to have an exit plan to quickly leave the services if the child becomes unruly.

What can I do to help?

The family will often need time to come to terms with the demise of their loved one. Offers of help during their hour of need are usually appreciated. For instance, if you could offer to help with the children, pick up out-of-town relatives from the airport or help with the food gifts etc, it would certainly be appreciated.

Offering specific things you are willing to do is always better than a vague offer of, “If there’s anything I can do, please call me.” Many times in grief, it is difficult to know how what needs to be done or how much of a favor is too much to ask for. So saying, “Do you need someone to pick up a relative from the airport?” “Do you need me to make copies of any paperwork?” The more specific the offer the better.

What do I say?

What you say is not merely as important as how much you listen. However, there are some definite funeral etiquette guidelines to help you.

Expressions of sympathy are best kept short. Many people simply cannot express their condolence; if you are at a loss for words, go for sincere and small expression of sympathy such as: “I am sorry,” “I will miss him,” or “I am very sorry for your loss.” These are not only the most commonly used expressions but are also more than enough in most cases.

Try to avoid saying things like, “I know how you feel,” or that the deceased is “in a better place.” Less presumptuous statements are more likely to be well received. (see also words to express sympathy page)

Many times the funeral ceremony serves as a venue where friends and family can talk about their loved one who is no longer in their midst. Given the heavy emotional weight of this occasion and its importance for the grieving family members, funeral etiquette is supposed to serve as a guideline to help ease the awkwardness of an often painful situation.

Remember, as with all etiquette, the biggest breach of funeral etiquette is to call attention to someone else’s lack of understanding or to criticize. All guidelines for behavior are best tempered with common sense and kindness. An easy rule of thumb to keep in mind, in all interactions, but especially during times where the heart is most heavy, ask yourself if what you are about to do or say is true, necessary, and most importantly kind. If you want information regarding grief there is a very interesting website here.