Funeral Etiquette – Three Simple Principles

If you’ve recently heard of the death of someone you know, you may feel a mixture of sadness and anxiety. The anxiety could be from uncertainty about proper funeral etiquette. Knowing what to do and say at a funeral can make a solemn situation more comfortable. There are three simple principles which, if followed, can guide you to appropriate funeral etiquette.


Appropriately connecting with people who are grieving requires courtesy. Calling on the family at home or by telephone should always be done with their convenience in mind. For example, arriving late at night to express your sympathy probably won’t be helpful, but calling ahead to ask when you might drop by would be.

In the same way, show courtesy at visitations and funerals by turning off cell phones and pagers and leaving children unable to sit quietly through the event at home. If there’s a graveside service and funeral procession, allow family members of the deceased to make their way to the grave site first and follow the instructions provided by funeral home staff. Courteous funeral etiquette centers around focusing attention on grieving friends and family rather than ourselves.


Expressing true sympathy begins with kindness. Small gestures such as writing a personal note of sympathy to the family or providing food for a funeral dinner can be quite helpful. Think of what would help you the most if you had lost someone close to you and then act accordingly.

Here are some other acts of kindness which can help alleviate stress and grief after a death:

� Offer to babysit small children to allow adult family members time together

� Order flowers or a plant, or contribute to a charity in memory of the departed

� Offer transportation or shopping services

� Purchase gift cards that can be used for meals or items needed for the funeral

� Sit with grieving friends and family and simply listen to them

� Stay in touch after the funeral when others have gone home


Attending a funeral or wake is often referred to as “paying respects,” and that’s a good illustration of how respect and grieving are linked together. At a funeral, in particular, respectful behavior by those attending can help take the sharp edge off the day’s grief.

Here’s an illustration: imagine attending a funeral that is overshadowed by loud chatter and inappropriate comments during the service. Not only is that kind of behavior discourteous, it shows a lack of respect for the occasion.

Follow the immediate family’s lead to know what’s appropriate and respectful. If they’re rejoicing over the deceased’s relief from long-term pain or sharing a laugh over an old story, by all means join in. Just remember that the attention should be focused on the one who has passed away and their family, not on those paying respects.

One more note about respectful funeral etiquette: dress to suit the occasion. That doesn’t have to mean somber, black clothing, but choose business clothing rather than casual unless the family informs you ahead of time they’ll be casually dressed.

Funeral etiquette principles aren’t carved in stone, but allowing yourself to be guided by courtesy, kindness and respect is always appropriate. By doing so, you may set the tone for others and help to make a sad event less difficult.

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