Like everything in society, funeral etiquette and what is expected of you has evolved over time. As always common sense and good discretion is the best guide to proper funeral etiquette. Here are a few do’s and don’ts of funeral etiquette.
- Express your condolences – It’s not easy to come up with the words to offer sympathy to someone who has just lost a loved one. You don’t need to be a poet, simply saying something like “I am sorry for your loss, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family” is enough. If you can’t be at a funeral service in person, sending a card or leaving a message on a memorial website is a perfect way to express your sympathy.
- Dress appropriately – Gone are the days of dressing up in all black for a funeral, but jeans and a t-shirt isn’t exactly acceptable either. You should still dress to impress and avoid any bright or flashy colors. Wearing what you would wear for a wedding or a job interview would be the most appropriate.
- Sign the register book – The family will keep the register book as a memento for years. Be sure to include your full name and relationship to the deceased.
- Give a gift – You don’t need to go overboard with your gift, after all it is the thought that counts. Suitable gifts include; flowers, a donation to the charity of the family’s choice, or you can make a commitment of service to the family at a later date. A commitment of service can be something as simple as cooking them dinner, or offering to clean up their house, any of the “little” things that may be neglected while a family deals with death. Make sure you provide a signed card so the family knows who gave the gift.
- Keep in Touch – You may feel that the family needs their space and time to grieve, but a simple phone call or note after the funeral lets the family know you care. With social networking leaving a quick note is as simple as a click of a mouse. The months following a death is when grieving friends and family need the most support.
- Bring your cell phone – Your phone ringing will be highly inappropriate and will cause a disturbance, so turn any ringers or notifications off. Even better, leave your phone at home or in your car, a funeral is not the time to be texting or checking your messages.
- Allow your children to be a distraction – From a very young age children are aware of death, and if the funeral is for someone that was close to them (grandparent, aunt, uncle) they should be given the option to attend. However if it is not appropriate for your child to be there, and if you feel they will cause a commotion, leave them with a babysitter.
- Be afraid to remember the good times – Funerals are obviously a time of grieving and mourning, but remembering the good times helps with the healing process. Sharing a funny and appropriate story is acceptable, and in some cases exactly what the deceased would have wanted.
- Overindulge - If food or drink is served, do not over do it. Have a bite to eat before you go to the service, you do not want to be that guy parked at the snack table. If alcohol is served, limit yourself to one or two, do not become inebriated and risk doing something inappropriate.
Q. Do I need to be invited to a funeral or can anyone go?
A. Anyone can go. A funeral service is open to anyone, unless the family requests that it is a private ceremony.
Q. Do I have to wear black?
A. No, wearing colorful clothing is no longer inappropriate for relatives and friends. Most people choose formal clothes like a suit, and men normally wear a tie.
Q. May I bring a Cell Phone?
A. All cell phones should be turned off or switched over to silent mode before entering the funeral chappel to attend a service, or participate in any type of graveside service.
Q. Can children go to a funeral?
A. Yes, but toddlers and babies can be disruptive, especially if it’s a long service. You can take older children if they want to go. It’s a good idea to prepare them beforehand so they know what to expect.
Q. How can I help?
A. You can offer friendship and someone to talk to at a time when they need it most. There is often the assumption that family grief is private and that you may be intruding. But many people live far away from their family and would appre ciate your help with practical things like preparing a meal or taking children to school.
Q. Do I send flowers or gifts?
A. It is completely up to you and depends on the closeness of your relationship with the family or the deceased. You can send flowers to the funeral home prior to the funeral, or to the family residence at any time. Florists know what is appropriate to send in the funeral context. Gifts in memory of the deceased are often made, particularly when the family has requested gifts in lieu of flowers. The family is notified of the gifts by personal note from the charity or other organization. Even if you don’t make a gift, a note or card to the deceased’s family expressing your thoughts of the deceased is a welcome gesture, especially if you weren’t able to attend the funeral.
Q. How can I help my friend?
A. One of the best ways you can help your friend is to allow them to feel what they want to feel. They may feel anger, guilt or fear. Let them talk these feelings through with you — don’t try to stop them because you think they are irrational.
Q. What happens at the cemetery?
A. The casket is normally placed beside the grave, prior to when all the mourners gather at the gravesite. People then gather around the casket to listen to the rites of burial given by the clergy. Following the clergy's remarks, family members may place a flower on the casket. In many cases the funeral director will provide flowers for each mourner. They should follow the family in placing flowers.
Q. Do I approach the casket? If so, what do I do?
A. The decision of whether or not to approach the casket is a very individual one. It is not required or considered rude if you decide against it. Many people find that viewing the deceased helps you to accept the loss and move on. If you decide to approach the casket, use that time to say your good byes and pay your respects. Keep in mind that there are often long lines to follow and everyone deserves their moment with the deceased.
Q. How often should I stay in touch?
A. Remember that grief doesn't go away in a few short weeks. Even one year may not be long enough to adjust to changes in your life. So, a friend who calls in 3, 6, or 12 months time may be one of the few who still asks how things are going. Special days like birthdays or Christmas may be just the time to pick up the phone and say, "I was thinking of you today."