Of course, discretion and respect are the keys to proper funeral etiquette. However, to ensure that the decedent’s family is allowed to grieve and honor their loved one in peace and with dignity, there are specific guidelines that should be followed in terms of action and behavior.
Tips for Appropriate Funeral Etiquette
It is important to remember that, even though individuality has crossed over into every aspect of our culture, including funerals, unless it is specifically stated, you should continue to dress in traditional funeral wear when attending the service. This means refrain from wearing shorts, tank tops, sandals, low cut or sheer tops, and miniskirts or dresses. It is simply inappropriate and can cause undue discomfort for the family. It’s not necessary to wear all black, however, avoid prints and colors that are too bright or stand out too much. This is time to focus on the deceased and his or her grieving family. It is not a time to create a distraction or make a personal fashion statement.
If you are unclear about how to dress, consult the family or funeral home, or the written notice related to the upcoming service. When all else fails, err on the side of modesty and traditional wear.
A good mark is to arrive a minimum of 15 minutes before the funeral is scheduled to begin. You must consider the logistics of traffic and parking, and if the funeral is in a location where you’re not familiar with the surroundings, you’ll want to give yourself even more time. This ensures that you will be present during the entire service and, more importantly, that your late arrival will not disrupt the proceedings.
It is critical to respect the service in every way. Do not whisper, wave to others, respond to text messages, or move around unnecessarily during the service. Turn off your cell phone before entering the building, and remain quiet and respectful during the proceedings. Anything you need to say can wait. If it cannot wait, leave the service silently and consider remaining out of view until the service ends. This will ensure that you haven’t created an additional disruption.
The manner in which this is done will, of course, depend on your relationship to the decedent and his or her family. But, knowing what to say can be challenging for anyone. Whatever you do, prepare a short statement ahead of time, so you won’t be caught unprepared in the emotion of the moment. Often, a simple statement such as “I am so sorry about your loss” or “we will miss him very much” is sufficient. Remember that many other people will be wanting to offer condolences, so keep it short, but sincere.
Also, it’s best to wait until after the service to offer your condolences. The family will be in a whirlwind of emotion leading up to the moment, so it’s best to give them the space and time they need to prepare for the funeral.
Most funerals follow a specific order in terms of who leaves and when. The immediate family will typically follow the casket out of the building followed all other mourners. This is generally done row by row. If you are unclear about when you should leave, follow the lead of those around you.
Attending a funeral is difficult for anyone, especially those who are not familiar with the protocol surrounding such a somber occasion. However, when you inform yourself of proper procedure and etiquette ahead of time, it makes the experience less traumatic for yourself as well as the grieving family.