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Everything You Need to Know About Funeral Etiquette

By S Matthews

You may think that wearing a dark suit or a somber black dress to a funeral is the only required custom that won't make you stand out from the crowd - or insult the other mourners. Wrong. There's a lot more to funeral etiquette than just wearing the right clothes. Knowing what to do - and what not to do - can help prevent offense on the day, and spare you lasting embarrassment in future.

Funeral serve two main purposes: to commemorate the life of the deceased, and to offer mourners a chance to gather together and say their final goodbyes. Funerals are NOT places to network, party until you puke or pick up a cute date - although unfortunately all three happen from time to time.

While there are general guidelines regarding funeral behavior, as a rule they are specific to the event itself, taking religious, ethnic and personal considerations into account. While almost all funerals require that guests are polite, discreet and respectful, there is often more you can do - both to help the families of the deceased feel better, and leave them with additional happy memories of their loved ones...

Funeral DOS

Attending a funeral for the first time can be especially tricky, but it's never all that easy. Here are a few actions expected of you that will make the whole process run a lot smoother...

DO offer up an expression of sympathy. Often we are at a loss for words when encountering something as final as death. Simply saying "I'm sorry for your loss" is usually enough. Be respectful and listen attentively when spoken to, and offer your own words of condolence.

DO find out what the dress code is. While black or dark colors are the usual accepted attire, these days anything goes. If the funeral is of a young person, friends or parents may ask guests to dress up in sunny colors. Some people even write in their wills that what they want their dress code to be: they may want guests to attend their final send-off in Star Trek or Batman costumes, bright turquoise or even hot pink.

DO offer some type of gift, be it flowers, donation to a charity or a hot casserole (see below). If you know the family intimately it will be easy for you to choose the right gift. If you don't, a bouquet or flowers or charity donation along with a simply signed card will speak volumes.

DO sign the register book with your name and affiliation, such as place or work or club membership. This will help family place who you are in future.

DO keep in touch with family members and friends later on. It might be awkward for you to do so, but for many people the grieving doesn't end with a burial.

Funeral DON'TS

Avoid making a complete idiot of yourself by following these simple rules...

DON'T feel that you have to stay at the funeral forever. A funeral can be a drop-in occasion, and if you make a visit during calling hours there's no reason your stay has to be a lengthy one. Talk to the people you need to talk to, murmur a few sympathetic words, have a drink and a cracker and make your exit.

DON'T be afraid of having a laugh. There is no written rule that says you cannot remember the departed with a funny anecdote or a shared story or two. While pealing off into raucous laughter may not be ideal, there is no reason you shouldn't talk about the deceased in a happy, positive tone.

DON'T feel you have to pray next to the deceased - or even touch them - if there is an open casket. Act according to what is comfortable to you. If you are a bit nervous and want someone to come with you, by all means ask. If, on the other hand, you don't want to get all close and personal, then don't.

DON'T allow small children to run wild. If they don't know the deceased, it's best to shell out for a babysitter and leave them at home. However, if the deceased meant something to them, it's a good idea to invite them to share in the experience, which eventually will help them come to terms with their own grief.

DON'T try to network at the funeral. This can sometimes be a temptation if your entire office is in attendance, including the higher echelons of power. But you can look like a total jerk if you use someone's death to your advantage, and it could all hideously backfire on you...

DON'T try to pick up the hot chick next to you either. If you think she could be the future love of your life, find out her name and try to contact her later - say in a week or three.

DON'T take advantage of all the food and drink on offer to stuff your face and get drunk. Nobody appreciates a funereal freeloader.

DON'T leave your cell phone on. Any type of electronic device should be switched off before entering the funeral home.

DON'T shy away from the receiving line. All you have to do is shake hands or give a hug, say how sorry you are for their loss, and offer up your own name and how you knew the deceased. Remember, this isn't about you. If they want to engage you in conversation that's fine; if not, just murmur your condolence and move on.

Expressions of Sympathy

Some people like to bring a personal gift as a token of sympathy; others supply gifts when they are unable to attend the funeral in person. Expressions of sympathy can include:

Card or letter, phone calls or email. A card is always appreciated as it is a long-term keepsake. If you didn't know the person well, an email will suffice.

Flowers. A beautiful bouquet can either be sent to the funeral home, to the house of the deceased, or the location of the memorial service. However, you should respect the wishes of the deceased if donations are asked for instead.

Donations to charity. Many people choose to put money to good use, and designate some of their favorite charities as a recipient. Ask and they shall receive.

Food. Often family is too busy to think about food, so a cake, casserole or even a bag of easy-to-prepare groceries is usually much appreciated.

Memorial gifts. While flowers and donations are the two most common memorial gifts, others include statues in honor of the deceased, jewelry, urns, sundials, birdbaths (for the cemetery or garden) etc. Use your common sense to purchase something appropriate.

Offers of help. While food is almost always appreciated (see above), sometimes other offers of assistance are needed. Maybe you can provide some hours of childcare, walk a dog, buy a carload of groceries or clean a house. The best thing to do is ask what is needed - then provide.

Attending a funeral can be awkward for many people, but there are tried-and-tested rules to make the experience a lot easier for everyone. It doesn't matter if you are attending a traditional funeral or a personalized family affair, this is one occasion where you should be aware of what is expected of you, and try to conform as best as possible.

And when it's all said and done, remember to keep on offering support and love to the bereaved. Memories don't die when the coffin is in the grave, and the next few months are a time when grieving friends and relatives could need you most. Let them know that your support did not end when the funeral finished.

Sarah Matthews is a writer for Yodle, a business directory and online advertising company. Find a Healer at Yodle Local or more Health & Medicine articles at Yodle Consumer Guide.


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