Funeral etiquette can be a challenging topic to advise on since there often are no hard and fast rules of exactly how to behave in every setting. Each family is different and funeral services are often molded around the personality and preferences of the deceased as well. Since each funeral is different, it’s hard to say how you should act in every circumstance, but there are a few key things to consider that will help you to be respectful and courteous in any funeral situation.
We think it’s important to start off by noting that just your presence at a funeral is often all that matters to those who are bereaved. Knowing there is love and support around them can help to make the funeral, and the days, weeks and months afterward, a little easier for them.
A very common etiquette question is around what to wear to a funeral. This also doesn’t have a hard and fast answer and will depend largely on the type of service and the direction of the family. Consider where the service is being held. Funerals in a church will typically be more formal than a memorial service at a golf course. A more formal service calls for more formal attire, though you should never dress like you are attending a party. Something relatively understated is always a good idea. It is not necessary to wear black, but darker coloured clothing is traditional and often expected. Sometimes the family may suggest that everyone wears a jersey of a sports team, or a special colour to reflect a campaign for the cure of an aggressive disease. If attire is part of a celebration, the family will let you know if everyone will be wearing something specific to honour the person who has passed. Otherwise, a simple business casual outfit will usually suffice.
Another common question is around what to say at a funeral. It is always best to be genuine in your expression of solace to those who are bereaved. Avoid platitudes and stick to a sincere expression of the loss. You can also consider sharing some favourite memories of the deceased when the time is appropriate. The emotional tone of the event will let you know what is appropriate as well. If the other guests are fairly somber, consider speaking quietly, offering your condolences and keeping fairly neutral. In other circumstances, a service or reception may be celebratory, with guests encouraged to share stories, songs and writing that honours the deceased. Matching the vibe of the family and the other attendees will help you to know what is most appropriate to say.
Cellphones at a funeral can create a lot of etiquette questions. Unless you are encouraged to do so explicitly by the family or funeral team, we highly recommend you turn your cellphone off during the service and refrain from texting, posting on social media and taking photos.
Here are a few other tips:
-Be sure to arrive a little early to ensure you have time to sign the register book, pay your respects, use the washroom and find a seat for the service on time and not more than a few minutes early unless you have previously arranged to be there to help.
-Keep it short and simple in a receiving line. If the family does not know you, briefly explain how you know the deceased, share your condolences and move along so as not to hold up the line or monopolize their time.
-Some open casket funerals will have the casket in the same room as the service, often at the front. Other times the casket will be open in a separate area and remain more discrete for only those who would like to pay their respects. If you don’t wish to view the deceased before the service, the funeral director will usher you to a seat in the chapel. Some traditions would have everyone file past the open casket. You do not have to approach the casket if you do not feel comfortable. Simply remain in your seat and wait for this part of the service to be completed.
Since every situation is unique, we often find that if you are unsure about any details of a funeral or how to conduct yourself, it’s best to ask a trusted friend or member of the family. If you are still unsure about any detail, you can call the funeral home or simply observe what others at the funeral are doing and follow suit.
If you are attending a service at our funeral home, please feel free to speak with the Funeral Director overseeing the service or call with any questions you may have.