If you have never attended a funeral before, it can be helpful to know some of the etiquette that surrounds funerals and the grieving process.
Upon hearing the news that someone has passed away, it is often difficult to know what to do. Below is some information that you may find helpful.
Expressing your sympathy
If you are a family member or close friend, you may want to consider visiting the family home to express your sympathy and to offer help. This might include minding children while arrangements are being made, doing some shopping or providing a meal. It is best to keep visits suitably short unless it is obvious that they need company or would like to talk.
If you are not a family member or close friend, then it is more appropriate to offer your sympathies at the funeral, either prior to the service commencing or afterwards at the gathering. If you are not well known to the family, remember to introduce yourself and explain how you knew the deceased.
You may also consider sending a sympathy card or letter to the family.
Even if you find it difficult to express sympathy, it is best to do so. It does not really matter what you say, it is more the gesture. You could simply say, “I am very sorry for your loss”.
A traditional way to express your condolences is to send flowers. You can send flowers to the family home or arrange for them to be present at the funeral service. There may be considerations when it comes to sending flowers to people of certain faiths.
Donations to charity
Some families will state that their preference is for donations to be made to a charity in lieu of flowers. It is correct etiquette to follow the wishes of the family.
Attending the funeral
It is appropriate for the deceased’s family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances to attend the funeral. Your presence at the funeral is important to the family. It is known that attending a funeral is not always convenient and, therefore, your presence will mean a lot to the family and they will remember that you were there. If for some reason you are unable to attend, it is appropriate to send a sympathy card or letter, expressing your regret that you could not attend.
There are only a couple of scenarios where it would not be appropriate to attend.
If it has been communicated, either via a notice in the paper or via the family, that the funeral is ‘private’. If the immediate family has not invited you, you should not attend under any circumstances.
If, for some reason, your presence may cause the immediate family further grief, or upset or you have been specifically asked not to attend. In this instance, you should not attend, even if you believe the reasoning behind the request is not justified.
Whether the funeral is in a chapel, church or other venue, there are common seating arrangements that are generally followed. The immediate family sits in the front rows, the extended family in the following rows, followed by close friends. Acquaintances and co-workers sit or stand towards the back of the venue or wherever space is left once others have been seated.
Traditionally people think of wearing all black to a funeral. However, it is not essential that black is worn. The key is to wear conservative clothing and to ensure good grooming. In some instances the family may request that people attending the funeral wear something in particular to celebrate a passion of the deceased, for example a football jumper. In these instances it is entirely appropriate to follow the wishes of the family.
Being a pallbearer
The invitation to be a pallbearer is a great honour. Historically the pallbearers would carry the coffin, however now it is more of a symbolic gesture. The coffin is often transported on specially designed trolleys, with pallbearers resting their hands on the coffin as it moves and then lifting to load and unload into the hearse.
If you are chosen to be a pallbearer, make sure you arrive early and find out from the immediate family exactly what they would like to do and where they would like you to stand.
Important things to remember
Mobile Phone. Turn your mobile phone off before walking into the funeral. Do not put it on silent and do not check it during the service. It could be seen to be very disrespectful.
Be punctual. Ensure that you do not arrive late and do not leave early.
Children. If you have children attending the funeral with you and they are not content, take them outside.
Funeral Processions. If you are required to drive in the funeral procession, turn your car headlights on, follow the speed of the lead cars and do not overtake any of the cars in the procession.
Keep in Touch. If you are close to the family, remember to make contact with them in the weeks and months after the funeral and remember that contact on key dates may be appreciated. These dates may include the birthday of the deceased, Mother’s or Father’s day and the anniversary of the death.
Cultural and religious differences. Some cultures and religions have different expectations around funeral etiquette.
Share Memories. Share memories that you have of the deceased. If they did or said something that meant a lot to you, tell the immediate family either verbally or in card or letter. If you have photos of the deceased, copy them and share them with the family as well.
Facebook. Unless you are an immediate family member, do not post anything on Facebook or other social networks, unless it is a response to something an immediate family member has posted.
Photography. Use your discretion in relation to taking photos at a funeral.
Who needs to be contacted following a death?
When someone dies, a number of people and organsations need to be informed.
Please click here to download a guide of organisations you may need to contact.