Etiquette for Funerals

When in doubt…

  • Send a sympathy card to the family.
  • Make a brief phone call.
  • It is always nice to prepare a meal for the family, but some people can overwhelm the grieving family by making  unannounced visits, long phone calls, and food the family has no place to store.  (Check with your  pastor or pastor’s wife and request  the best way to help)
  • Offer condolences with funeral flowers, floral tributes, or you could make memorial donations to the family’s requested charity.  (It is always good to check with your pastor. Many churches send flowers from church family)
  • Visitation with the family at the funeral home should be visit brief and respectful. Hugs, prayers, and offers of condolences go a long way to lessen the grief of the moment.  Do not view the body until you have connected with the family.

Dress for Funerals

  • Black is no longer required to wear for a funeral.  
  • Avoid flashy or provocative clothing.
  • If a family plans only an informal graveside service, you could wear casual clothing, but it is better to stay away from jeans, shorts, or T-shirts. If you are going to make a mistake in your dress, it is better to err on the side of business dress instead of casual dress.

Children at Funerals

  • Even in the case of a close loved one, weigh bringing small children against the disruption they may cause during the service. This is an emotional time for families; you would not want a crying toddler to drown out the eulogy.  If you have no daycare options, find out if a cry room is available.

Behavior at Funerals

  • Every funeral is different.  Some are joyous celebrations of a person’s life, while others are very solemn and formal.
  • Pay particular attention to where the family will sit. Usually the family will be seated in a reserved area. If no ushers are present, choose a seat away from the front few rows to leave room for the family.
  • During the actual funeral service, avoid talking or disrupting others. Cellphones, pagers, and other electronics should be turned off throughout the service.
  • If there is not a printed funeral order of service, watch what the family does to know what will happen next. Watch for ushers’ signal to go.

Behavior after the Service

  • Although people have been grieving for several days, they may experience a sense of relief and begin to relax and smile a little… this is not a sign to begin laughing and talking loudly.
  • As the mourners move to the gravesite, maintain a respectful tone.  Do not allow your children to run over the graves or joke inappropriately.
  • The burial ceremony is normally brief, followed sometimes by a funeral dinner.  Unless the funeral director invites people outside the family to attend the dinner, say goodbye to the family and leave.

Funeral etiquette is different in different parts of the United States.  Local customs may be far different than what you have practiced. No matter where you go, keep in mind you are there to support the family, and you must guide your behavior by kindness and respect.