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Changing the Funeral Etiquette of the Modern Mourning
By Martin Heikens

If you've never been to a funeral before and are concerned about what exactly funeral etiquette involves, don't worry. The following guidelines will help you navigate the (often unspoken) 'rules', enabling you to rise to the occasion with confidence.

Universal Funeral Etiquette

Funeral traditions, rituals and conventions vary considerably in different countries and cultures, worldwide.

However, appropriate etiquette, wherever you may be in the world, is based essentially on showing profound respect for the deceased and conducting oneself in a dignified manner, according to the prevailing funeral conventions.

Dress Code

The overriding aim should always be to dress respectfully and appropriately.

As a general guideline, dark coloured (not necessarily black), conventional clothing is still the preferred form of attire for attending funerals. Men, traditionally, wear black ties and dark suits; women, generally, choose subdued coloured outfits such as smart trouser suits, below-the-knee skirts, modest dresses and jackets, etc.

Conversely, wearing unconventional or bright-coloured clothing may be equally appropriate, particularly where the deceased has previously instructed family and friends not to wear black at the funeral.

Children & Funerals

Whether children should be allowed to attend funerals depends largely on the age and maturity of the individual child involved, as well as the nature of child's relationship with the deceased.

A strong argument exists for children who are old enough to understand what is happening to attend the funeral, not least as a means of facilitating the grieving process and gaining closure.

Equally, very young children, infants and babies who would inevitably be oblivious to events, are probably better off not attending the funeral. Also, on a practical note, the presence of a crying baby at a funeral can prove highly stressful, particularly for the adult in charge.

If in doubt, consult your funeral director about whether the presence of children is deemed appropriate; Funeral Directors.

Practical Considerations

When attending a funeral, it is common practice for the mourners (apart from immediate family) to arrive early and take up position, at least 5-10 minutes before the funeral officiant commences proceedings.

The seating at the front of the venue is reserved for immediate family, with other mourners occupying the seats to the rear.

After the ceremony, the mourners stand while close family members leave the building, first. The immediate family then usually pauses to acknowledge those who have attended the funeral and maybe exchange a few brief words.

Etiquette Trends

Trends in contemporary funeral etiquette include:

a shift away from religious observance and ritual towards personalising funeral ceremonies in a non-religious context;
less formal and rigorously defined funeral-wear, in certain circles, in favour of greater individual expression, sometimes even with a hint of drama, e.g. ostentatious ladies' outfits complete with large hats, showy jewellery, dark glasses, etc., and more casual men's attire instead of dark suits and black ties;
increased use of social networking websites to pay tribute and mourn the deceased, online.


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