Funeral Director’s Guide: Etiquette for attending a funeral

Funerals can be tricky events to attend… there’s the intense emotion, the uncertainty what to say to the bereaved and all the questions that arise. What am I supposed to wear? What is the appropriate time to arrive? What should I bring anything to the funeral? Here are some suggestions to help you confidently navigate the path of funeral etiquette.

What should I wear?

Sometimes the family have specifically requested certain attire, like ‘please wear something colourful’ or ‘can the blokes wear a tie?’ but if not, smart casual is very appropriate. Now days most people don’t wear black at funerals, but that may be different depending on the cultural background of the deceased. If you’re not sure, check with the family.

What should I take?

The funeral directors often provide things like tissues, mints, bottled water and even umbrellas for rainy or hot days, but it’s always a good idea to have some of those things in the car with you, just in case.

Regarding flowers, the family have usually organised a floral arrangement. But if it is a graveside burial service, it is certainly appropriate to take flowers to place by the grave or on the coffin. Sometimes the family will request gifts to charity instead of flowers, so just check the invitation.

When should I arrive?

Avoid being late if humanly possible. There’s nothing more awkward than shuffling in after the service has begun. The hearse will often arrive about 30 minutes before the service, so any time after that is good – 10 to 15 minutes before the service is about right. If you are helping as a pallbearer, you should arrive in time to make yourself known to the funeral directors and find out what you are supposed to do.

Before the service begins, switch your phone off or to silent. After being late, the next most awkward thing is for your phone to go off during the service!

What to say

Inside the venue it’s best to keep conversation to a minimum, quietly respecting the deceased and the family. If you haven’t met the family before, introduce yourself and say how you knew the deceased. Have a few words prepared, such as ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ or ‘my condolences’. Sometimes just a smile, a hug or a handshake is enough.

If you have been asked to give a eulogy or tribute at the service, check out our web site under Resources for ‘Help & Advice’ on how to do that.

Where to sit

Unlike a wedding, there’s not a right or wrong side to sit, but leave the front couple of rows free for immediate family. If you have young children with you, it might be best to sit near a door, just in case you need to make a quick exit. If the venue has pews, it’s always helpful to shuffle along as far as you can, to enable others to sit without having to squeeze past you.

Supporting the bereaved

Just being at the service means a lot to the family, but depending on your relationship with the bereaved, there are other ways you can offer your support. You can let them know you are available to help should they need anything.

Grieving people can find it helps to talk about their loved one. You don’t have to make it right, say cliché phrases or give advice, but you can simply listen and acknowledge their grief.

You may have memories, funny stories or poignant moments about the person that died you could share with the family, either face-to-face, by phone, writing a card or sending an email. You could make a point of remembering significant dates, birthdays, or anniversaries too.

We hope these guidelines are helpful as you navigate supporting your friends or family after a loss. Please contact Living Hope Funerals if you have any questions about the funeral process that we can help you with.

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