Common Rules of Funeral Etiquette
If you are a guest attending a traditional funeral you might be aware of some of the common customs, and therefore can be ready for the process. If you are attending a non-traditional or personalized funeral, there’s a greater chance that you won’t be familiar with what is happening. However, regardless of the type of funeral you are attending, there are some common rules of etiquette for funerals:
- Arrival. Get to the church or funeral home at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to when you’re expecting the service to start. If you happen to arrive late, you should quietly enter the service and take a place in the back row. Make sure to draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Turn off all cell phones or pagers.
- Conservative Apparel and Demeanor. Your dress and your behavior should address the solemnity of the event. Dress is traditionally dark or muted colors. Err on the side of formality in dress if you are not sure. When you arrive take your place quickly and quietly. The first few rows are reserved for family members and close friends, but you should not sit too far back. Rows directly behind the family should be filled in order to offer support to the bereaved.
- Ceremony Participation. While the funeral is conducted by a clergy or main speaker, there may be times when participation is requested. If songs are being sung, join in. If prayers are being said, rise with the procession. If you are not religious you don’t have to pray, but you should stand to recognize the tradition. If there is an invitation to speak and you feel you have something relevant to say, then offer to speak briefly. The bereaved will be comforted by the fact that so many people also cared for the decedent. If there are not any indicators that you should participate, you should remain solemn and quiet.
- Funeral Procession and Reception. Often the family members will follow the casket out of the church or funeral home. You should leave promptly, following the seating order to make sure you do not hold up the procession. If there is a graveside ceremony and you get invited to attend, go directly to your car and wait for the procession to leave. Make sure to turn your headlights on to show other drivers that you are part of the funeral procession. After the services, the family sometimes invites funeral attendees to the home of the deceased or a close relative. If you are unsure if you are invited, ask someone in the family. Again, respectful and conservative behavior is expected.
- Offering Condolences. Don’t monopolize the griever’s time at the funeral home, burial or reception or over stay your welcome. Realize that the griever needs to share time with others and also needs time alone. It is insensitive to say anything about the appearance of the deceased at the funeral home to their loved ones. Let the griever share their story when they are ready. Don’t ask what happened or for details. Learn what is appropriate to say and not to say to comfort the bereaved. Meaningful sympathy expressions are best.