There is a first time for everything and attending your first funeral comes with many questions. What is the appropriate attire? Should you bring a card or flowers? Where should you sit? There are often more questions than answers and the last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself or your family at this somber occasion.
Much of what determines appropriate etiquette following the death of a loved one or the loved one of a friend or family member is your relationship to the deceased. Your role in the family’s life will dictate what is expected of you. A simple phone call may be all that’s needed, or you may find yourself helping the family with the arrangements.
Call, Don’t Text: If you are not very close to the family or the deceased, a quick phone call is a simple and appropriate way to offer your support and condolences. You might wonder what you should even say when you call. Your best move is to simply say you’re sorry for their loss, and offer your support. Don’t be over the top with grief, but also don’t rush off the phone. Be sure that you don’t keep the person on the line for too long keeping in mind they have many important matters to handle.
Express Your Condolences in Person: If you are fairly close to either the deceased or their family, it’s a good idea to pay a visit to the family. You can bring food, but it’s not required, and if you are going to bring food, ask ahead of time what’s needed. Too often families find themselves in possession of more than their refrigerator can handle. Fifteen minutes should suffice to extend your condolences for their loss. That said, if you are a close friend of the family, you might pitch in, help put out food and make tea or coffee to help relieve the burden of hosting for the grieving family.
Public vs. Private Services: Funerals can be either public or private and you should never try to attend a private funeral to which you are not invited. Remember that funeral services are about the deceased and their family’s wishes, so being respectful of their choices is most important.
Be Early: You should always try to arrive about 15-20 minutes early to the funeral. Few things are more embarrassing for you and distracting to the family, than walking late into a quiet service. Get there early and avoid being a disruption.
Turn Off Your Phone: A funeral is a solemn occasion and not a time to check social media or play games on your phone. Either keep your phone off and put away, or don’t bring it inside the service at all. The last thing anyone wants in that situation is the sound of a phone ringing or vibrating.
Pay Respects: When you enter the sanctuary or funeral home, you may see a casket or urn near the front and the casket may be open or closed. Nearby, you’ll likely see the decedent’s family, standing in what is called the receiving line. Proper etiquette is to join the line of mourners moving forward until you reach the casket. Pause for a moment to take one last look at the deceased and pay your respects, which may include a short prayer if you like. Move on to the family and shake their hands or hug them, again depending on how well you know them, then head to your seat.
Leave Room at the Front: Sit at least a few rows back unless you are a family member. The first several rows at most funerals are reserved for the family, so sit near the middle or behind to allow ample space for the family. However, if it’s obvious that this is a small ceremony, don’t sit all the way at the back. Position yourself around the middle of the seating area.
Bring the Kids?: Only you know if your child can make it through the funeral service and what is right for them. Assume that your child will need to be still and quiet for a minimum of 45 minutes. If this isn’t something your child can handle, then it’s likely best to find a sitter. Some funeral homes and religious facilities will provide child care for the duration of the services, so it might be a good idea to ask ahead of time. If you feel your child is ready to attend, be sure and discuss proper behavior with them so they know what to expect ahead of time.
What to Wear: In recent years, funereal dress code has expanded from all black to include other dark clothing. Clothes should be formal and modest and not draw any attention. Opt for a minimal amount of makeup, simple jewelry and accessories, and close-toed shoes.
Participate Appropriately: Most funeral ceremonies will ask for those in attendance to participate at some point, in some way. The manner of participation varies widely across cultures and religions, but your role is to follow along. Bow your head during prayer, stand when asked, and sing along with the group.
Follow the Dismissal Order: Typically the family is the first to follow the casket out after the funeral services are completed. The attendees are then dismissed row by row in an orderly method. Don’t be in such a rush that you start to exit before it’s your turn.