Your most frequently asked questions about funeral etiquette, answered.
Think modest. Stay clear of flashy outfits and distracting accessories. There’s no need to buy a new dress or suit – just make sure everything is neat and clean. And unless the family states otherwise, stick to dark colours. Of course, this is entirely dependent on the culture: it’s not always black that signifies death – white, purple, grey, green and yellow may also mark the passage of life. It’s always best to check if you’re unsure.
Turn your phone off
Not only is texting or checking emails disruptive to your fellow mourners, it can also be a sign of disrespect towards the grieving family, even if that wasn’t your intention. And it goes without saying that taking any sort of photos at a funeral – unless the family expressly states otherwise – is a no-no. If photos are part of the service, make sure you check before you share any online.
Make a donation
If the funeral announcement states ‘in lieu of flowers, please…’ or ‘contributions to xyz would be appreciated’ appear in an obituary, take your cue from this request. Give what you can afford, and when you make the donation, include a note saying who it memorialises. If you want to make sure that the family knows of your contribution, mention it in a sympathy card or in person.
Keep in touch
The months following a death is when grieving family and friends need the most support. Don’t bombard anyone straight away, but a text message or a handwritten note a few weeks after the service will let them know that you care.
Camp out at the buffet
If the wake is catered, don’t overdo it. Have something light to eat before you go. If alcohol is served, either abstain or limit yourself to one or two drinks.
Turn up late
Plan ahead, check traffic, ask your babysitter to come a few hours in advance – whatever you need to do to make sure you get there in time, do it. No one wants to be waiting around for latecomers or have an emotional eulogy interrupted by someone lurking at the back. Aim to get there at least 20 minutes before the service starts.
Bring kids if they’re going to be a distraction
Unless you’re still breastfeeding, it’s probably best to leave very young children with a sitter. School-aged kids are fine to attend – there’s no need to shield them from the reality of death – but if you do suspect that they’re going to run amok, use your judgment and leave them at home.
Worry about saying “the wrong thing”
It’s a common fear at funerals to feel anxious about paying your respects to the grieving family. If you’re worried about saying too much or too little, keep your condolences short and heartfelt – a simple ‘I’m so sorry’ can be a powerful thing.
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