November 2, 2017 Brigitte Ganger

What is Correct Funeral Etiquette?

Do’s and don’ts of a faux pas-free funeral service

What is Correct Funeral Etiquette?
Many people are intimidated by the formality of a funeral, and are unsure of how to behave. (Shutterstock)

For many guests, the funeral service is one of the most difficult challenges following a death. Traditionally formal, somber and sensitive, funerals are a place where emotions are expected to run high. 


So how do you handle the funeral service without making an embarrassing social mistake? This list of funeral do's and don'ts can help you avoid making a serious blunder after someone has passed away.


DO


Bring flowers


White flowers are a traditional way to pay respects to someone who has passed away. The family will appreciate the tribute, and may rely on the accompanying condolence note to recall who attended the service. Choose floral arrangements that include a vase, so the family doesn't have to scramble to find one. 

White flowers, especially lilies, make for a great traditional funeral arrangement. (Shutterstock)



DON'T


Burden the family with large gifts


It may seem like a kind gesture, but think twice before bringing a casserole to the service. But the family will not appreciate having to transport a number of bulky or perishable gifts home after laying their loved one to rest. They may be hosting a reception after the funeral, or busy with other arrangements. Stick to small arrangements or cards to pay your respects. Bring food items to the family home before or after the service—and don't expect your Tupperware back. 


DO


Dress appropriately


While most modern funerals don't include strict dress codes, you should plan your outfit carefully to match the occasion. Formal, black attire is not necessary; modest, clean and tidy clothing is. If the family has special requests for attire, like to wear only light colors to a celebration of life, try your best to accommodate! If unsure, muted colors such as navy and grey are a safe middle ground. 


While you don't have to wear black, err on the conservative side when choosing funeral attire. (Shutterstock)

DON'T


Overthink it 


Yes, it's important to dress on the conservative side at a funeral. Err on the side of caution, always. But remember, more than likely no one will notice what you are wearing. People will be preoccupied with their own grief and last-minute arrangements. Dress to blend in and don't stress.


DO


Arrive early 


Most families receive guests prior to the service. Arrive 15 to 20 minutes early to pay your respects and find a seat. If you are very early, consider offering the family a hand with set-up, receiving flowers or seating guests. 


DON'T


Be late


There is no excuse to arrive late to a funeral. Pick out your outfit the night before, wake up and breakfast early, and anticipate traffic. If you arrive and the service has already started, don't interrupt the funeral with your last-minute arrival. Go back home, and send a bouquet of flowers with your heartfelt regrets. Don't be late. Seriously. 


DO


Sign the guestbook 


The guestbook or register is a formal record of the people who attended the funeral. Your host is balancing their funeral duties with deep grief. They may not remember who attended. Sign your name to the register, and include how you knew the deceased person if the family doesn't know you well. Be sure to find the obituary online and share memories, stories, photos and condolences in greater detail.

Sign the guestbook with your name and heartfelt condolences. (Shutterstock)


DON'T


Take photos


People are crying. Caskets are being lowered into the ground. Tensions are high. The last thing you should be doing is taking photos or videos at the funeral service. If the family wants a visual record of the day, they will arrange for a photographer. In most cases, the guestbook is enough of a momento. 


DO


Bring your phone


Many funeral etiquette specialists will tell you to leave your phone at home. But, realistically, most people can't (or won't) leave their handheld devices behind. So bring it, and make yourself useful! Like with any event, things can go wrong at a funeral. 


Perhaps Aunt Cathy got lost on the way to the service and is calling family to find the way. Get your Google Maps going and help her navigate remotely. If you have your phone, use it solely to help with funeral-related matters. Otherwise, put it away and forget about it. And keep the volume off.


DON'T


Use your phone 


Once you've saved the day with your internet connection, turn it off, put it away and don't even think about looking at it until the funeral is over. You do not want to be the person whose awful ringtone ruined the funeral. Even silently checking on your phone is rude in this scenario. Unplug, and be present with the people who need you. 


DO


Bring children


They're grieving too. Consider whether the children knew the deceased well, are mature enough to behave in public, and wish to attend. If so, they should be included in the funeral service. 

Mature children should be included in the funeral if they wish. (Shutterstock)


DON'T


Let children be a distraction 


If they are too young to sit still for a couple of hours, it may be too early to include children in the funeral service. While it's important to let children express grief, it's more important to allow guests to express condolences with minimal disruption. If you bring young children, sit near an exit and be prepared to leave discreetly should an issue arise.


DO


Express grief 


It's okay to be devastated. It's healthy to cry. It's important to share your grief and offer comfort. Be real with your emotions and respectful of others'. 


DON'T


Make it all about you


While it's healthy and natural to express feelings in the wake of grief, it's imperative that you don't burden other grieving people with your every thought and feeling. If you are sobbing uncontrollably, tactfully excuse yourself. People will understand! If you have negative things to say about anyone, today is not the day. Keep it to yourself. If it comes to it, skipping the funeral is preferable to making unkind remarks at the service.


The bottom line


DO


Follow your host's lead


Funerals can be more formal or informal, depending on the family. It is up to you to match the tone of the day. Try to be helpful and cooperative before and after the funeral. Let the question "How can I make this day easier for everyone?" guide you.


DON'T


Overthink it


Remember, these do's and don'ts are general guidelines. Every funeral is different. If you approach the day with these simple etiquette tips in mind, you should be able to navigate the funeral service with confidence.  

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