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How to Maintain Proper Funeral Etiquette

Posted on April 16, 2015
We receive a lot of questions about visitation and funeral service etiquette—it’s understandable as it can be confusing, especially if you weren’t particularly close to the deceased or family. People often don’t know what to do, to bring, or to wear. Here are a few questions answered:

What do I wear?

The traditional “all black” funeral attire isn’t necessary anymore, unless the family specifically requests it. Wearing darker colors still isn’t uncommon and is a sign of mourning, so it is always acceptable to keep your clothes on the darker side (again, unless the family requests that you wear a certain color). Today, it is becoming more popular to wear the deceased’s favorite color or bright clothing to honor their life.

As for the style of clothing, always err on the side of caution and stay on the more conservative side of the spectrum. Many people ask about wearing jeans, and while that isn’t specifically a bad thing, we would recommend sticking to more business casual dress (once more, there are always exceptions, and if the decedent and/or the family are a more casual group, jeans could be perfectly acceptable).

If you don’t know, making casual inquiries with extended family members might be helpful.

When should I arrive for the service?

Never arrive late! While you may like to be fashionably late to get-togethers, funeral services are definitely not a time to stick to that rule. In fact, arriving 15 minutes or more early is preferable. This will give you enough time to find a seat and get situated before the service begins.

We have all seen one person arrive late after the door has shut—everyone turns to look at the noise. It can be distracting for the attendees. If you are late, you should wait for a funeral attendant to help you or stand in the back for the service.

Should I attend the visitation or service?

We have all been there—you may be not know the decedent well, but know a family member and you aren’t sure if you should attend. Or maybe you only knew the deceased, but hardly know the members of the family. You don’t want to feel awkward and you don’t want to make them family uncomfortable.

Funeral visitations and services are to celebrate the life of a loved one, and if you want to be there to express love, sympathy, or receive closure, it would be appropriate for you to attend—unless your presence would cause tension for the family in some way.

There are very few times that people are hurt that a distant friend or relative attended, and most of the time, they are pleased they came.

Can I attend a private funeral?

Private funerals are by invitation only from the family. If you did not receive an invite, it would be inappropriate for you to attend, and could cause unneeded stress for the family. You can always call to express your sympathy or send a card.

Can I email the family my condolence?

This line is getting thinner every day—with so much of our lives dominated by technology, it is hard to say when it is appropriate. As a general rule, if you are a family member or close friend, visiting in person if you can is the most preferable way. If you can’t visit, calling or sending a card would be better than emailing.

Also something to consider is the age of the decedent or family member you are trying to contact. A younger family member may be okay with an email, whereas an older member may not. Still, we encourage a sympathy card via snail mail.

And while we are speaking of technology—do not use your phone during the service! Best bet: leave it in the car or keep it off or on silent the entire time.

Should I bring my child to the visitation or service?

If the child was a member of the family or knew the family, they should be given the chance to grieve. However, if this is not the case, it might be best to take into consideration the age and maturity level of the child. Running around the funeral home or church isn’t appropriate and you may not have the time (since you may be visiting with others) to look after them properly.

If they do attend a service, make sure they are sitting next to someone who they are comfortable with and that can remind them to be on their best behavior.

 

Funerals give families and friends a chance to celebrate their loved one and a time to grieve. Of course, you never want to upset anyone at the service, and there are no hard and fast rules for every question we receive, but always use your best judgement. If you are still unsure, feel free to ask the funeral home or a member of the family what they might prefer. 

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