7 Helpful Funeral Etiquette Tips for the Bereaved

Funerals and memorial services are emotionally difficult events, and are often particularly difficult for the immediate family of the person who died. Though you can never fully prepare yourself for the emotionality of a funeral, there are some things you can be aware of to make the event go more smoothly for you.

What to wear to the funeral

When figuring out what to wear to the funeral, remember that no one will be judging you based on your appearance; people will be attending the funeral to support you, not to judge you. That said, the decision of what to wear to a funeral can feel very important. Try to wear clean, appropriately conservative clothing, and try to wear clothing that is comfortable for you.

Where to sit at the funeral

The first row or two of seats or pews are usually reserved for the immediate family of the person who died, and you should sit there. At many funerals, friends and other guests want to give the family enough space but accidentally end up isolating the family in the front of the room. If you find yourself sitting alone in the front of the room, feel free to invite others to come sit next to you. If you find the the first rows of seats are occupied, you should feel comfortable asking people to move. If you don't feel comfortable asking people to move seats, ask a friend to help.

Greeting people at the funeral

Be prepared to say hello to people at the funeral and respond to any condolences that are offered. Do not feel like you have to say hello to everyone attending the funeral, especially if there are a lot of people in attendance. Most people will be understanding if you don’t have the time or emotional wherewithal to greet every person. When you do greet people, don’t feel like you have to have a lengthy conversation. Simply saying hello and thanking people for coming is sufficient. However, if you would like to have longer conversations with anyone in attendance that is absolutely fine, and does not mean that you then have to have long conversations with everyone.

Handling inappropriate or awkward condolences, questions, or conversations

While most people mean well, not everyone knows how to express condolences well, and many people don’t know how to act at a funeral. Be prepared for people to say things to you that may feel awkward, insensitive, or self-absorbed, or for people to bring up inappropriate or sensitive topics. Try to give these people the benefit of the doubt, and remember that everyone at the funeral will be struggling with the loss. When confronted with insensitive comments or questions, feel free to tell people that you’d rather not talk about the issue, thank those people for attending the service, and walk away.

Responding to clichés

You may find many people offering their condolences by using the same words of sympathy. While this may feel frustrating and make you feel like people are being insincere, keep in mind that many people have trouble finding the words to express how they feel. Just because someone expresses their condolences using a cliché doesn’t mean they don’t care deeply about you or the person who died.

Writing thank you notes

After a funeral, you’ll want to thank a number of people. The people who you should consider writing personal thank you notes to include:

Anyone who made a donation to charity in the name of the person who died should also be thanked. The organization accepting donations should have a list of all donations that were made in the person’s name and can provide you with that list.

Honorariums

An honorarium is a payment given for a service provided for free. Most clergy and religious singers will participate in a funeral for no charge, but it is customary to offer an honorarium. The amount you offer is entirely up to you, based on what you can afford. If you'd like, this is something that the funeral home can do for you as a cash advance.

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