Attending a funeral is a significant event. Many people are unsure about funeral etiquette regarding attendance, condolences, gifts and clothing choices.
At Bethel, we are often asked about proper funeral etiquette. We hope our answers to these most commonly asked questions will assist you to feel more comfortable when attending a funeral.
When should I arrive at a funeral?
We would advise you to arrive at least 15 minutes before a funeral service is scheduled to begin. It is best to allow yourself plenty of time to navigate your way to the venue and park your car so that you can join the service feeling present and unflustered.
What do I do when I arrive at a funeral?
When you enter the foyer of the funeral venue you might be invited to sign a condolence book. Some will require you to simply add your name, it’s best to print your name clearly so that the family can read it later on – you’re not giving them an autograph. If there is space for a message try to keep it brief, a sentence or two is adequate. Remember to include your name and an explanation of your connection to the deceased at the end of the message.
Before the service, it is best to keep your interaction with the family of the deceased brief. They may have a lot on their mind at the time and will be better placed to have a conversation and share some memories after the service.
What should I say to people at a funeral?
It can be difficult to know what to say to people who are sad and grieving. Through expressions of sympathy, you can offer your compassion and concern for the bereaved, and present yourself as a source of support and understanding.
Some simple phrases of comfort include:
- ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
- ‘You are in my thoughts.’
- ‘You are in my prayers.’
- ‘He/she was a wonderful person.’
- ‘I will miss him/her.’
- ‘This must be hard for you.’
- ‘I am here for you.’
Remember to use the person’s name as you speak to them, this is also important as you care for the family in the coming months after the funeral. Often your presence is enough to communicate your care. If you do find yourself at a loss for words, a hug or a warm handshake can sometimes convey everything you are trying to say.
Where should I sit at a funeral?
The front rows of a funeral venue are generally reserved for family members, or those presenting a reading. Close friends are often seated behind the family while acquaintances and work colleagues will generally find seats further towards the back.
Can I take photographs at a funeral?
A direct request from the family of the deceased would be the only circumstances under which you would take photographs at a funeral. It is generally considered insensitive and is better to refrain from taking photos at a funeral.
Should I bring a gift to a funeral?
People often like to show their care for the family of the deceased by arranging floral tributes to be delivered to the funeral venue. For suggestions regarding funeral flowers please refer to our article How to Choose Flowers for a Funeral.
Making a legacy donation, to a cause nominated by the family, can sometimes be suggested in lieu of flowers. If this is the case, you might be invited to make a legacy donation before the funeral, after signing the condolence book.
If there is to be a wake, or if refreshments will be served immediately after the service, an offer to bring a plate to share is often appreciated.
Should I bring my children to a funeral?
When deciding whether to bring your children to a funeral it is best to consider the age of your child and their relationship to the deceased.
If your baby or toddler is likely to become unsettled, it might be worth considering hiring a babysitter, or seating yourself near an aisle in case you need to leave the service.
If you do plan to bring children to a funeral we suggest that you spend some time prior to the event talking with them about what to expect. Talk to them about why we have funerals and some of the things they may see during the service. It’s good to have a bit of a debriefing after attending a funeral, allow your children some time for questions and reflection to help them process the service.
If you are finding it difficult to decide, the Beyond Blue website provides further information about supporting children through grief and loss and our website features a free downloadable brochure on Understanding Children’s Grief.
What should I wear to a funeral?
Funerals are generally considered to be formal occasions. Conservative outfits and classic styles are representative of the solemn and reverent mood that is most appropriate for a funeral.
Women tend to wear smart business suits, simple dresses and neat jackets or blazers. Subdued tones including black, grey, navy and taupe are favoured and, as you are likely to spend a lot of time on your feet, comfortable shoes are recommended.
Men often wear black, navy or grey business suits coupled with a crisp white shirt and a subtle tie. Wearing clean, shiny shoes and paying careful attention to grooming is a way of showing your respect for family and friends.
When attending a funeral, it is best for everyone to avoid wearing bright clashing colours, sparkly jangly jewellery and anything else that is likely to draw attention to your fashion choices and detract from the solemnity of the occasion.
You can find further information about funeral dress codes in our article, What to Wear to a Funeral.
Funeral etiquette can vary depending on religion, circumstances and family requests. For further information about common funeral etiquette please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions pages of our website.