Funeral etiquette is vital; the last thing one wants to do is upset the bereaved by being ignorant or clumsy.
In this emotional time the family is dealing, not only with grief, but with other things such as funeral arrangements, wills, life insurance or the lack thereof, and the list goes on.
Probably the most hurtful act would be to keep silent because you just don't know what to do or say.
Usually when a family member, friend or acquaintance dies your first reaction is a feeling of 'what can I do to make them feel better?' or 'what can I do to help'.
Is there a specific custom that I should be aware of?
Your second reaction is a feeling of hesitancy. You ask yourself, 'Will I be intruding during their grief?'
Perhaps you feel your words would be totally inadequate to express your feelings of empathy and sympathy.
We have written this page to assist you with accepted customs and some suggestions on how one can be of comfort to the bereaved.
Some of the most frequently asked questions about funeral etiquette are about the service, the ashes, the dress, the religion, whether children should attend, floral arrangements and more.
You will find quick-links to all of these at the end of this page.
We have tried to address everything we could think of, however, if there is something in particular you wish us to add, please e-mail us your suggestions via our "Contact Us" page and we will include it either on our web site or if appropriate in our
The Funeral - should you attend?
Someone asked us, "Should I attend my ex-husband's father's funeral?"
Our reply was: The main purpose of having a funeral (other than to bury the body) is for people to express their love and respect to the deceased and to get some personal closure and healing.
Only you know how much you cared for your ex-father-in-law.
Also, you need to consider your ex-husband's feelings at this sad time, if you are on good terms and your presence is not going to upset any members of his family, then by all means attend the funeral.
Visiting the bereaved - should you visit immediately or wait for an invitation?
Not only is it good funeral etiquette but it is common courtesy and caring to call on the bereaved to offer sympathy and help.
Usually about 15 minutes is sufficient time to express your sympathy.
However, if they are overwhelmed with grief or visitors, make it a short visit, if you know them well, take over the tea making and handling of the guests and ease the burden of having to cope with grief and visitors at the same time.
What should I say?
Words from the heart are more important than trying to use words from a book on funeral etiquette.
So using your own words, express your sympathy. Kind words about the deceased loved one are always appropriate. To help you prepare, you can think about any good memories or experiences you had with the deceased, or even write your own about the person that you know the family would like to hear.
There are some eulogy examples available online that might help you, so even if you aren't going to be speaking at the service,
writing a eulogy
can be a beneficial way to put your thoughts into order.
Family and loved ones usually just need to talk and express their feelings. Let them talk as much as they need without asking too many questions.
They are not necessarily looking for a response from you. They are trying to understand what has happened and in their own way come to terms with the fact their loved one has gone.
Just be there for them and if they are the type who usually embrace or kiss when greeting, a warm hug will be appreciated.
Funeral Etiquette and Phoning - is it appropriate to phone the family?
It is good etiquette to phone the family as soon as possible to offer your sympathy. Try to keep the call brief as others will probably be trying to call as well.
Also, the family will more than likely be busy with visitors and funeral arrangements.
Funeral Etiquette and E-mailing - is it appropriate to send an e-mail offering condolences?
Condolences via e-mail are appropriate only if you are not a close friend or relative of the family.
But generally speaking, it is not good funeral etiquette to send an email, a hand written note or card would be more appropriate.
Private Funeral - what is it? Would it be a breach of funeral etiquette to attend without an invitation?
A private funeral service is one that is closed to the public.
Attendance is by invitation only. So unless you received a request from the family please do not attend, it would be considered intrusive and bad etiquette.
However, you could phone the family and offer condolences or send a card or flowers.
Food for the bereaved family
During the days immediately following the death the family is usually too overwhelmed to carry on the normal every day living chores, such as cooking and cleaning. So food would be more than welcome.
But, before just bringing containers of food, check with the family to see what other people are bringing.
I have had the experience of having so many containers of soup and pasta that I had absolutely no space in the refrigerator or freezer to keep it all.
Also, I had no idea of which dish belonged to whom.
Some people also make a cash donation to families who have suffered a loss to help them cover the cost of the services.
Funeral Etiquette for the after-funeral gathering
Immediately after the funeral, the family sometimes invites the attendees to join them for food or a reception at their home or designated place.
This gives everyone a chance to talk and provides some time to relax and refresh.
Sometimes friends or church members will take it upon themselves to prepare food ahead of time for this gathering to relieve the family of this task.
If you have found this information useful please
it for future reference and to share it with your friends.
You may also be interested in...
Funeral & Religious Customs
Funeral Service Etiquette
Funeral Dress Etiquette
Funerals & Children
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