funeral etiquette rules

Death is a topic that many find hard to think about let alone talk about. To help ease the suffering of the bereaved, experts have outlined the etiquette guidelines funeral guests should follow.

1. What to say

Sometimes we’re unsure what to say to someone who is recently bereaved. Etiquette expert Elaine Swann suggests it’s best to say something along the lines of "My condolences to you and the entire family" or "My thoughts are with you all". Fellow etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore told Good Housekeeping to share a fond memory of the person who passed away to focus on happier times. However, she advises you to keep it simple to avoid getting into any trouble by accidentally saying something that is insensitive.

2. What not to say

Author and etiquette expert, Diane Gottsman recommends avoiding lines such as "He's in a better place," and "The pain will lessen in time”. Diane also advises not to inquire about the finer details of the death or telling the bereaved you know how they feel. If you are unsure what to say, a hug goes a long way.

3. Dress code

Many people question whether it is still customary to wear black to funerals. "While black is the traditional colour of mourning and a safe option, it's not the only colour you may choose," Diane said. “Grey, blue, and eggplant are other choices." She added, "A funeral is not the time to make a bold fashion statement... be subtle and tasteful." 

4. Religious customs

Different religions have various traditions for their funeral services. For example, it is considered inappropriate to send flowers to a Jewish funeral. Diane recommends researching online the family’s religious and cultural customs if you are unsure.

5. Gifts

Sympathy cards and food are always thoughtful ideas. Often there are out-of-town family and friends that come in for the funeral and a meal that is easy to reheat is always a plus, remarks Diane.

6.  Taking children

“If you have very small children, when you arrive ask if there is a space that you can take your little one just in case they get a little bit fussy. Or you might want to sit closer to an exit, so you can step out quickly with your child if need be. Just be mindful of how any noise your children are making is affecting other individuals,” suggests Elaine.

7. Taking pictures

"As tempting as it may be, don't take photos of long-lost relatives or friends you haven't seen for a while," explained Diane. "It may be a happy occasion to reconnect, even under difficult circumstances, but don't let the bereaved see you behaving as if you are at a graduation party, rather than a funeral. And going up to the coffin and snapping a picture is not appropriate."

8. Assisting the family

If you wish to help out the family, Elaine suggests being specific with offering help. Instead of saying “'I'm here if you need me,' say 'Hey, I'm here if you need me to take flowers to the gravesite, or take someone to the airport.' I think that's a little more thoughtful. And make sure you actually can do it. Don't just make empty promises,” she said.

9. Never answer your phone

Although it should be obvious, never answer a call during a funeral and make sure your phone is on silent. "I experienced that a couple months ago," Diane said. "Someone's phone went off and they answered it — and talked! It's beyond comprehension."

Elaine recommended paying attention to the directions of the usher to avoid sitting in seats reserved for immediate family members. 

10. After the funeral

“When life eventually goes back to normal, remember to check on your friend or family member. Ask them to lunch or out to a movie. Remember that significant holidays and special dates can be hard to bear alone,” said Elaine.

Would you add anything else to the list?