Funeral etiquette

Attending a funeral is unlike attending any other event in life. It's a potentially traumatic time for the bereaved family, so guests are expected to do all they can to be as respectful as possible. This involves following some basic funeral etiquette, which can be applied to most funerals you attend.

Naturally, if this is your first funeral, you will have lots of questions surrounding the correct etiquette. To help, we've compiled a short guide full of common questions and everything you need to know.

How do I know if I should attend a funeral?

Unless you have been asked to play a specific role in the ceremony, it's unlikely you'll be directly invited to a funeral.

Instead, funeral notices are published in newspapers, churches, and online. These days, word will often spread by people sharing the news on social media. A funeral is usually open to everyone. If you knew the person, nobody will stop you from attending the funeral. In fact, families will appreciate as many people turning up as possible as it shows how well-loved and respected their loved one was.

What do I need to take to a funeral?

What you take to a funeral depends on your connection to the deceased person. If you're a close family member, you may be asked to bring extra things along with you. This can include sympathy flowers or a wreath to place on the coffin. Usually, if you're not a close family member, you shouldn't bring flowers to a funeral. You can send sympathy flowers to the family, but most people don't bring them to the actual funeral itself.

It's also a good idea to bring some tissues with you as it can be a very emotional time. Similarly, if you wear makeup, you might want to have some in your bag just in case it smears after crying. You should also take some weather-appropriate accessories - for instance, bring an umbrella if rain is forecast.

Checklist for what to bring to a funeral:

  • Tissues
  • A sympathy card for the family
  • Sunglasses or an umbrella (make sure you check the weather forecast!)
  • Flowers (where appropriate)
  • A charity donation for the collection at the end of the service; this tends to be for a chosen charity
  • If there is a wake with catering after the service, you can offer to bring a dish

Should I bring children to a funeral?

In many instances, your children may have known the person that has died and as such, they might want to go with you to pay their respects. Likewise, you may feel strongly that it's appropriate that they attend. This decision can very much depend on the age of the child, their personality and their relationship to the person that has died. Many parents may choose to leave their children at home, wanting to shield them from what it’s a sensitive situation. Unless the family of the deceased has a preference, there really is no right or wrong answer. In this guide we explore the reasons why for many children, attending a funeral can be an important part of the grieving process, helping them to come to terms with a life lost.

Where do I sit during the service?

Most funeral ceremonies are either in a place of worship or hall, but they're set up in the same way. Usually, immediate family and very close friends sit in the first few rows, so if this isn't you make sure you leave those seats free. The remaining seats fill up without any strict order. If you are attending a funeral at a very large venue, make sure you help fill up from the front first rather than taking a seat at the very back. This will help ensure there are no unfilled seats close to the family at the front.

Do I have to say anything at a funeral?

It can feel uncomfortable knowing what to say and you may be scared of saying the wrong thing. It is always appropriate and appreciated, to share your sympathy. Make sure you don't make light of the situation, no matter how awkward you may feel. If you do need help in knowing what to say, here are some expressions that the family may appreciate:

  • Share a fond memory or story

  • Offer to help the family in any way they need

  • Let them know they are in your thoughts

  • Thank them for sharing this opportunity to say goodbye to such a special person

So many people stay silent for fear of saying the wrong thing, but the reality is there really is no right thing to say. The comfort of words over silence often makes all the difference to someone grieving.

What should I wear to a funeral?

Usually, guests are expected to wear something smart; traditionally, black is worn to represent mourning. Men tend to wear dark suits with a shirt, black tie and smart shoes. Women will usually wear a long-length dark dress or suit. Make sure what you wear is comfortable and be prepared for the weather, especially in winter.

Sometimes, the family may request a particular dress code such as bright clothing to celebrate the life of their loved one. Make sure you check in with the family or a close friend to be sure.

Read our guide on what to wear to a funeral.

When should I send flowers?

There is no strict rule on when to send flowers, as they will comfort those in mourning. You could send them directly to the family in advance of the funeral or have them delivered to the funeral home to arrive on time for the day of the funeral. If you don't manage to arrange flowers before the funeral, don't panic. It's still a thoughtful and caring gesture to send flowers afterwards - it will reinforce that you're still thinking of the family and will help to fill a void when the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral is over.

Do I need to donate to charity at a funeral?

Rather than flowers, some families may prefer to collect charitable donations on behalf of their loved one. The family are likely to set up a donation page online, where you can send some money, accompanied by a brief sympathy message. The amount of money you give doesn't matter - give whatever you can, and it will be appreciated.

Hopefully, this guide helps you understand how to behave and what to do at a funeral. If you're still worried, try to remember a couple of key rules: be respectful and sympathetic. You can also always call the funeral director or a member of the family to ask for more information if you need it.