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A Guide to Funeral Etiquette

Unsure on what the correct funeral etiquette is? You've come to the right place. We've put together a handy guide on funeral etiquette for immediate family and friends who are either attending the funeral or planning it. Through this guide, you'll learn key tips on where to sit, what to wear, what to take to a funeral and more.

What is a funeral and what happens?

A funeral service honours the life of someone who has died and gives their friends and family the chance to say their goodbyes. This typically involves four key stages:

  1. Funeral Procession
  2. Funeral Ceremony
  3. Cremation or Burial
  4. Reception/Wake

In cases where there is a prepaid funeral plan in place, the funeral director will ensure the wishes of the deceased are carried out. However, where there isn't a funeral plan, the close friends or family of the deceased will make decisions which the funeral director will take care of.

Even on occasions where someone has a funeral plan in place, family or friends can make decisions on behalf of the deceased for things that may have been missed out, such as music, readings, food at the reception and who to invite - which the funeral director will help with.

Who can attend a funeral?

Funeral services are usually open to anyone who knew the deceased, unless the family have decided to keep it private. If you are attending a private funeral, this will usually include immediate family members and close friends - however, the reception may be left open for more people to attend.

In these unprecedented times, we are aware that the number of people who can attend a funeral have been drastically reduced in line with government guidance under COVID law. We recommend families organising funerals to keep this in mind and check the latest government guidance on pandemic funerals before inviting people.

Should children go to funerals?

Often, families choose not to take babies and toddlers to funerals as they can become restless and noisy, particularly during a long service. Older children are more commonly seen attending funerals; however, this is left to the discretion of the parents and the families organising the funeral.

Usually, you may find that children within the immediate family of the deceased will attend the funeral. In these cases, we recommend ensuring that children are well prepared on what to expect when attending the funeral beforehand to maintain respect.

What to wear to a funeral?

Following traditional funeral etiquette, black is the most common colour worn to a funeral however, in some religions they wear white. In more modern times, funerals are put together to celebrate life and therefore families may encourage people to wear bright colours. However, to avoid any mishaps we recommend discussing this within the family beforehand, or wear something neutral to play it safe.

Men usually wear dark coloured suits or smart casual attire with a collared shirt and formal shoes. Women typically opt for a similar style which may include smart trousers and a jacket or a dress, but also in dark colours. In most cases we recommend that guests wear smart casual clothing and to avoid hoodies and trainers.

What to say at a funeral?

To stay in line with proper funeral etiquette, the simplest thing to say at a funeral is to offer your sympathy and condolences to the family of the deceased, and to keep in touch after the funeral.

A few kind words can go a long a way to someone who is grieving - therefore, we recommend keeping an even tone and potentially even share a happy memory that you shared with the deceased. To ensure you do not offend or make anyone uncomfortable, we recommend not saying anything negative or make light of the person's death at the funeral.

Here are a few common expressions that are appropriate to say to grieving family members or to write in a funeral or condolence card:

  • I'm very sorry for your loss
  • You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers
  • They were a wonderful person and will be missed
  • If you need anything, I'm here for you

What to take to a funeral?

Knowing what to take to a funeral can be difficult for attendees, as you want to ensure you do not offend and are not giving too much. What to give at a funeral can differ by each individual funeral, as some families may let you know in advance, or will ask to make a donation. In cases where you have not been notified beforehand, you may wish to bring the following:

  • Tissues
  • Flowers
  • Charity donation
  • Sympathy card

If there is a wake after the funeral service, you may wish to consider asking the family if there is catering provided. If there isn't, you could offer to make a dish for the wake.

Where to sit at a funeral?

Knowing where to sit at a funeral is important if you are a guest. Typically, close friends and immediate family will sit in the first few rows and remaining seats are left for guests. If you are attending a funeral in a large church or hall, it is important not to sit too far back so not to make the family or friends feel isolated and so you can hear the service clearly.

However, this may also be different if you're attending a funeral in a pandemic - so be sure to keep up to date on government guidelines.

For more information on funeral etiquette, get in touch with our specialist team. Discover our range of both package and bespoke funeral plans - from Direct Cremation to the Simple Funeral Plan.

  • Posted 12th January 2021
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