When someone dies, many people do not know how to react or what to do. This is because funeral etiquette is not usually something you learn until it becomes necessary to do so. To help prepare for the funeral of a friend or loved one, it is best to learn about funeral etiquette, so you won't risk insulting someone or embarrassing yourself. A death is a sensitive time for anyone so properly going about showing sympathy or words we say are important.
When you first learn of the death of a loved one, it is okay to go directly to that person's home. If that person lives alone, it is customary to go to the home of nearest relative. While at the house, express your condolences, and let the person express their feelings. However, if you become overcome with emotion, it is necessary to excuse yourself. Don't feel like you have to say something. Often your presence is enough and speaks louder than words. You may want to wait a few weeks after the death to find the right time for a visit. The bereaved family is not only dealing with high emotions but also in the midst of funeral planning which can make for a very busy time. If you do plan to visit, offering them assistance in some way would be a good idea and puts your care and love into action.
The next step of funeral etiquette is to send a handwritten note or card again expressing your condolences to the deceased person's family. It is acceptable to mail this personal note, or to deliver it in person. The most appropriate note for this occasion should end "With Sympathy" or some variation of the term. Most grieving people do not respond back to let you know they have received it due to the emotions they are going. If at any time you might feel ignored or hurt, try to understand what they might be going through and be sensitive to the loss over your own feelings.
If the deceased person's family ask that memorial contributions be made in lieu of funeral flowers, you should honor their wishes. However, if you are a close friend or loved one of the deceased, it is perfectly acceptable for you to send flowers. If you opt not to send a traditional arrangement, a small arrangement in a vase is also appreciated. Alternatively, a memorial keepsake or in loving memory gift would last longer than flowers and is a more personal approach since many of the keepsakes contain a photo and name.
Many funerals include viewing hours at a funeral home. Even if you are a casual acquaintance, funeral etiquette dictates that you should attend the calling hours. Once you have arrived at the funeral home, you should approach the casket and pay your respects to the deceased before greeting the family. Generally, family members of the deceased will be gathered in a line near the casket. Start at the end of the line, and introduce yourself to anyone you may not know. Once you have paid your respects to the deceased and the family, you are not required to stay. However, if someone is addressing the room, or giving a prayer, it is not acceptable to leave.
Funerals, generally, follow calling hours. If a funeral is deemed a "private funeral," it is only proper to attend the funeral if you were specifically invited by someone from the family. While many people believe black is the only proper color to wear at a funeral, it is also okay to wear anything dark-colored. The only colors that should be specifically avoided are bright colors or patterned colors because they are not colors usually associated with mourning. When you arrive at the church for the funeral, make sure to find a seat as quietly as possible. Your relationship with the deceased will deem where you sit. If you are a family member, or you are invited by a family member, you sit in the first few pews of the church. If you are a good friend, it is appropriate for you to sit near the family. However, if you are just a casual acquaintance you should sit near the back of the church and not on the end of a pew.
At the end of the funeral, attendees will venture to their cars to travel to the cemetery for burial. Usually, employees of the funeral home will help guide you in funeral etiquette leading up to and during the burial. It is important to remember to turn on your headlights, so everyone around the processional line knows you are part of the funeral.
Please click on the links below for more helpful articles regarding etiquette during a funeral or memorial service and when death occurs.