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Funeral Etiquette - Tips and Advice

Category: Etiquette

It’s important to feel prepared to attend a funeral, so that you can show your support to the family and friends of the person who’s died, to say your goodbyes in the company of others whose lives are connected by this shared loss.

If you’ve never attended a funeral before, it can feel daunting. Our guide should help you to navigate the day and feel more comfortable.

Do I have to be invited to attend a funeral?

A funeral is generally open to those who knew the person who’s died and unless the family has requested a private service, it’s acceptable to attend without an invitation. Consider asking the person arranging the funeral if there’s a webcast option available if the service location is likely to be very well attended.

What should I wear?

Ask the person who’s arranging the funeral if there’s a dress code and they’ll let you know. If the service is going to be a traditional funeral, then smart, black clothing can be appropriate. If the person who’s died shared a list of wishes for their funeral and wanted to take a more modern approach with their funeral, this could include a request that people wear brighter colours or simply dress in a way that they feel comfortable. Taking a moment to check before the day of the service will remove any worry on wearing the right outfit. Finally, when it’s cooler, consider a coat as some larger service locations can be cold during autumn and winter.

What should I bring?

You may wish to bring an umbrella if the weather forecast looks grim. A handkerchief or tissues may help. Bring your reading glasses if you need them. Donations are now generally taken online, so it’s unlikely that a cash collection will take place. If you do bring a smartphone with you, switch it off as even a silent vibration-only setting can disrupt a service.

Should I send flowers?

Flowers are a thoughtful way to let the family know that you’re thinking of them, such as a personalised wreath or a bespoke arrangement that can be delivered to the funeral ahead of the service. If there’s a request for family flowers only, then it’s right to respect these wishes and to find another way of sharing your condolences. The easiest way to understand if you should or shouldn’t send flowers is to ask the person who’s arranging the funeral and they’ll let you know. There might be an alternative, such as a donation to a charity of the family’s choosing.

What time should I arrive?

Check the traffic or public transport, and plan to get to the service venue with enough time to spare. You don’t want to run the risk of turning up late and interrupting the service. Take a seat or stand at the back of the service if you’re unavoidably late, so you don’t disturb others and avoid trying to enter the room if the funeral director is bringing the coffin into the service.

How do I share the right words?

We don’t always know what to say to the family of the person who’s died, particularly if we don’t know them very well. These are some suggestions on simple things to say that show you’re sincere:
Try to avoid open questions, such as “how are you feeling?” that can put people on the spot and come across as insensitive, even if it’s a sincere question. Funerals can take their toll on the family, and you should take their lead on whether they wish to chat or simply thank you for your kind words.

  • My sympathies for your loss
  • I’m so sorry for your loss
  • I’m thinking of you all
  • I’m here for you if you need anything

Where should I sit?

The first two rows are usually reserved for immediate family but do look for any obvious signs such as orders of service placed on seating at the front three rows but not elsewhere in the service room.

Should children attend?

Younger children could disrupt the service, so it’s usually best to make other arrangements for them. If you feel it’s right for older children to attend and they’ve not experienced a funeral before, let them know what to expect. Children share their emotions more readily; however, a funeral is the right place for grief and the first release of tears and being mindful of this also helps the adults to prepare. No one should feel that they ought to bottle things up. It’s quite alright to feel upset.

What happens at the end of a service?

Whether it’s a traditional service or a celebration of life, at the end of the service the immediate family and close friends will leave first, followed by everyone else who’s attended. Whether it’s a service location of faith or one of none, a moment of gathering outside the venue to share words of sympathy, reassuring hugs, or simply letting the family know you’re there will happen at many funerals.

If there is a gathering taking place following the service, the person who’s arranged the funeral will usually share if this is open to all or a private family moment.

A funeral gives closure, but grief can stay with us for a long time. If you need to chat to someone about how you’re feeling, you’ll see our GriefChat widget on the right-hand side of this page. It’s free to use and can really help.