UPDATED: Mar 26, 2020
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The passing of a loved one, family member, friend, or acquaintance can bring a swirl of challenging emotions. Gatherings like funerals bring awkward, uncomfortable situations. These situations and emotions can arise quickly and even minor things can take on greater significance than they normally would.
We also can’t forget about the high costs of funerals being a factor in these emotions. Those left behind often feel the financial burdens of a funeral are just too much to bear.
If you’re attending a funeral, reviewing fundamental etiquette could help you avoid these awkward situations or potential misunderstandings. Funeral etiquette will help you pay your respects and express your condolences the way you want to the deceased’s loved ones and appropriately honor their memory.
With this in mind, these fundamental tips on etiquette will eliminate some of the uncertainty and allow you to demonstrate your respect and express your sympathies.
Express Your Deepest Condolences
While your presence and support is already a great gesture, good funeral etiquette involves taking the initiative with the family. Be proactive, and express your condolences sincerely. You can do this by first introducing yourself if you’re not acquainted with the bereaved, and by saying a few words to express your sympathies.
Tell them you’re sorry, even if it doesn’t seem to help. Focus on the deceased’s good qualities. For example, you could say, “I am so sorry. Your father was a very kind man,” or, “I have wonderful memories of your grandmother. She was loved by many.”
You could say something more general like, “You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.” You can share a brief anecdote, a warm memory, or anything kind or helpful the deceased might have done. Avoid saying anything confrontational like, “You’ll feel better soon,” or, “You need to be strong.” If you know the deceased struggled with alcoholism and died of a related illness, now is not the time to invite the family out for a drink.
The family and loved ones of the deceased will likely very much appreciate it if you make an effort to say a few words of comfort.
When deciding what to say, keep in mind the funeral, service, memorial service, or wake are for mourning and farewelling the deceased while providing comfort to the family and loved ones. While funerals now often incorporate celebratory themes, it is important to remember the individual and be genuine.
Pay Respects With Gifts or Donations in Their Honor
Feel free to pay your respects with gifts like flowers, cards, and offerings of food. It’s appropriate to send a handwritten card or leave a message on a memorial website as soon as you hear about the individual’s passing, but you can also present a card with flowers at the service if you prefer. You can leave flowers at the funeral, at the funeral service, the wake, or other gatherings.
Alternatively, you can send flowers and a handwritten card to the funeral venue before the service and the attending staff will ensure your contribution is placed at the ceremony. Avoid giving flowers directly to the family during a funeral.
Before you do anything, check the family’s invitation or instructions as sometimes they will prefer guests to make a donation to a nominated charity instead of flowers. Sometimes the deceased will have a favorite organization they volunteered with.
If there is a wake, you can make an offering of a meal to the family to further show your support. You could also take a plate of food to the family in the days immediately following their loved one’s passing. A homemade cake, a platter of sandwiches, a pasta bake, or something else–these are all simple, practical gestures. A plate of comforting food demonstrates your support and sympathy and can be greatly appreciated by the family.
Stay Off Your Phone at the Funeral
This should go without saying, but turn off your phone or keep it on mute when you’re attending a funeral, funeral service, or related gathering. Keep your phone out of sight by tucking it into a pocket or handbag.
Unless it’s an urgent matter, you’ll want to avoid calling and texting. If you have an emergency, always step outside to text or to take or make a call. If the service has started, step out as discreetly and quietly as possible. Upon your return after the call, take a seat at the back to avoid disrupting the service.
Don’t use your phone for anything other than emergencies while the service is happening.
Whether you’re surfing online or browsing through your photo albums, this shows you’re not focused on the funeral. This is extremely disrespectful to the family and other attendees. It’s taboo to take photos or selfies, so don’t be tempted to snap a picture even if you genuinely want to commemorate the deceased by having a photo of the gathering.
The exception to this rule is for immediate family members. They might be allowed to take photos for sharing on social media or a memorial website later. If you want to take photos with friends and family you haven’t seen for a while, wait until after the gathering when you’re away from the venue to take photos.
Showing Your Respects Appropriately
Going to a funeral can make some people nervous and uncomfortable because of the emotional nature of the gathering. Knowing what to say and do can reduce the uncertainty while letting you express condolences effectively to the bereaved. Before you attend a funeral, think about what you’d like to say to the family members to pay your respects.
Small gifts like flowers, a card with a thoughtful message, and a platter of food can also help you express your support for their loss. Avoid taking photos and using your phone during the funeral and other gatherings. Don’t forget to dress appropriately and arrive 10 or 15 minutes early. Above all, stay respectful, caring, and sympathetic.