Funerals, by their very nature, are emotional events where family, friends, and colleagues can pay their final respects to the departed.
Attending a funeral comes with its own set of rules, customs, and social standards meaning, for many, it can be difficult to know how to behave, what to wear, and what to say, especially to the immediate family.
Funerals have changed significantly over recent decades and each one is very much individual, but we hope our guide to funeral etiquette will answer your questions and help ensure the day runs as smoothly as possible.
Who Should Attend?
Unless the family specifies that they are holding a private service, anyone can attend a funeral and you don’t need to be personally invited to the service. Anyone who knew the deceased in any capacity is generally welcome to attend the service and pay their respects.
Can Children Attend the Funeral?
Children are usually welcome to attend the funeral however, if you’re thinking of taking a child along, it’s important that they know what to expect and that they are fully prepared emotionally. It’s always a good idea to sit down with children and explain to them exactly what will happen so they can make an informed choice about whether they want to attend.
When it comes to very young children, unless the family has explicitly said that they would like them to be there, it can be better to find someone to take care of them during the ceremony, especially if the ceremony is long.
How to Dress?
Traditionally, black is usually worn to funerals due to its historical association with mourning.
However, today the norm is to dress respectfully rather than mournfully, with men often wearing a dark suit with a black tie and women wearing smart, predominantly dark clothing.
Some people also opt to wear brighter colours as a celebration of life, or perhaps something that was meaningful to the deceased. If you are unsure of what to wear, it’s advisable to check with those organising the funeral or dress neutrally, assuming a dark and smart dress code.
What time should I arrive?
As a general rule, try to arrive 10-20 minutes before the service time to allow you to speak to other guests and find a seat before the service begins.
The Funeral Procession
Traditionally, the funeral procession will leave from the home of the person who has died or the home of a close relative. Alternatively, mourners may choose to meet at the location of the reception or the place of service.
The person responsible for arranging the funeral decides who will travel in the cars behind the hearse, this is usually family and close friends, while others take their own cars and agree to meet the procession at the place of the service.
Where to sit
It can be difficult to judge where to sit during the service. As a general rule, the front part of the church or crematorium should be left for family and close friends. If you are not a close relative, it’s usually best to try and sit in the middle or the back of the church.
If you arrive late to the funeral, be respectful and sit at the back to avoid disturbing others. Once you’ve taken your seat, it’s important to remain seated for the duration of the service.
What to Say
It’s often hard to know what to say, but simply expressing your deepest sympathy and offering some kind words about the departed is advisable. The key is to let the family now you care, keeping your words simple, respectful, and positive. You’ll also be able to judge the tone of the funeral once you’re there – some will have a celebratory feel where you can talk about someone’s life with humour and laughter – but take your cue from the family.
It is considered polite to speak to the chief mourners either before or after the funeral, as long as they are not finding it difficult to talk.
People often gift a bouquet of flowers as a way to express their condolences, and these are usually much appreciated by the family. If you decide to send flowers, you can either bring them with you to the funeral or choose to have them delivered to the funeral home beforehand.
Whilst floral tributes are traditionally given at funerals, today many prefer to take donations for a specific charity instead. Where this is the case, the suggested charity will often be stated in the funeral notice.
If you take your phone or any other electronic device to the funeral with you, ensure that it is turned off or set to completely silent (not just vibrate!) before the service begins. Keep your phone away during the service. You should also avoid taking any photos during or after the funeral.
Should I visit the chapel of rest?
This is a matter of personal preference. Generally speaking, it’s usual for close family and friends to spend time with the deceased in the chapel of rest. If you do decide to visit, make sure you call the funeral home in advance to ensure that visits are allowed and to check whether or not you need to make an appointment.
What happens after the funeral?
After the funeral, there is usually a wake of some sort, typically held at someone’s home or a local pub or venue. The invitation is usually extended to everyone at the funeral service and it’s up to you whether you attend the wake.