Funeral Etiquette

When attending a funeral service or a memorial service, understanding funeral etiquette helps you appropriately honor the deceased and be supportive to the family. Below are a few common questions people have regarding funeral conduct and attire.

Should I attend the funeral, wake or visitation? How close do you need to be to the family or deceased?

If you are a close family member or friend, you should try to attend the funeral if possible. If you live far away and can’t afford to make the trip, send a card and flowers and keep in close contact with the family. If your relationship isn’t as close, do what feels most comfortable to you. If you choose to go, the family will most likely appreciate your presence. If you choose not to go, a sympathy card and flowers, or a donation in the memory of the deceased, is always nice. However, you want to be as sensitive as possible to the family. If your presence would cause tension, opt not to go.

What should I wear to a funeral?

When determining how to dress for a funeral, subtlety is key. Funerals are typically more formal, and you can’t go wrong with black or other dark, muted colors. Unless requested by the family, bright colors may seem disrespectful to the bereaved. Also, dress modestly. Be sensitive to the family and other attendees, and dress in a way that shows respect and doesn’t draw too much attention to yourself. Remember, you are there to remember and honor your loved one. Do not wear sneakers, flip flops or others shoes that are too casual. Memorial services tend to be slightly more casual, but it is always best to ask if you are unsure.

What should I say to show support and sympathy to the bereaved?

A funeral is a time when most people are exceptionally sensitive, so it is important to be careful with your words. Keep your condolences simple by expressing your sadness for their loss, and share a positive memory of the deceased if you have one. Do not say anything negative about the deceased, and do not make light of the death. This is not a time to “look at the bright side or the silver lining.” Also, do not say anything like “I know how you feel,” because every person experiences and deals with grief differently. A simple “I am sorry for your loss” never fails.

If someone says something awkward, inappropriate or insensitive to you, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Many people have trouble communicating their sympathy. Simply tell those people that you would rather not talk about the issue, thank them for coming and walk away. And remember, if someone says something cliché, it is most likely because they have trouble finding the right words, not that they are insensitive.