Key Funeral Etiquette to Remember when Attending a Procession

Nearly 3 million people die in the US every year. Most families will hold a funeral service to remember the deceased, and it can be a difficult occasion for many.

When you plan to attend a funeral, you’ll want to prepare for proper etiquette and formalities. Wondering what to wear to a funeral? Not sure what to say to the bereaved? Here are some funeral etiquette tips to follow.

Funeral Etiquette Rules to Follow

Funerals are complex occasions that can often be difficult to navigate. Proper rules and customs can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re grieving.

But a funeral is an essential occasion to uphold decorum and show respect. If you’re preparing for going to a funeral, here’s a list of etiquette and funeral protocol to follow.

1. Short and Sweet

Wondering what to say at a funeral? It can be difficult to find the right thing to say. People often find themselves getting tongue-tied when talking to the bereaved.

As a rule, you should keep the funeral talk short and simple. You can say, “My thoughts are with you all” or “My condolences to you and your family” and offer a hug.

2. Wear Something Tasteful

Traditionally, black is the safest color choice to wear to funerals. You can also opt for gray, dark blue, and eggplant but make sure to avoid statement colors.

Remember, attending a funeral isn’t an opportunity to make a bold fashion move. Keep your funeral attire tasteful, simple, and choose muted colors. Avoid overly-casual clothes like shorts, flip-flops, or T-shirts.

3. Send Cards or Flowers

Sympathy cards and flowers are a good idea to send to the bereaved. It shows that you are thinking of them and flowers can be placed near the grave site or used during the service.

You can even send meals to the family to help them as they adjust to life without their loved one. Remember that any small gesture helps when an individual is in mourning.

4. Do Your Research

Funeral ceremonies are ancient rituals that may change according to religious customs. Although death happens to all, the funeral service won’t always be the same.

If you’re attending a religious funeral, you should do some research to avoid a faux pas. For example, flowers aren’t generally sent for a Jewish funeral but instead charity donations are accepted.

A religious funeral happens at a place of worship and may entail customs that are different from yours. As a rule, make sure to be respectful of the customs even if they’re unfamiliar or different.

5. Don’t Treat It Like a Family Reunion

Although you’ll likely be seeing family members for the first time in a long time, a funeral isn’t an opportunity for a family reunion. Avoid taking pictures or joking and laughing as though it’s a fun family gathering. Be respectful of the situation, and definitely skip the social media posts.

6. Keep Children in Check

You may want to bring your children to see distant family members, which is okay as long as you’re being considerate of others. Locate a place to go if your infant starts crying or a toddler gets restless. Be mindful of any noises your kids make during the service.

7. Don’t Answer Your Phone

Most Americans will never go anywhere without their phone in a pocket, but a funeral is the most important time to ignore a cellular device. Make sure your phone is turned off or put into silent mode. Never, ever answer a call during the service or burial.

8. Be on Time

It’s important to arrive on time for a funeral because sneaking in late can cause a disruption. If there are no ushers and you’re not sure where to sit, remember that the seats closest to the front are normally reserved for immediate family.

If you end up being late, enter quietly from a side aisle instead of the center aisle. Anyone taking part in the service should show up 30 minutes early to meet the funeral director or coordinator to review the schedule.

9. Understand the Processional

At most funerals, the coffin will be brought in as part of the processional. The officiant leads, followed by the pallbearers who carry the coffin. Next comes the chief mourner, immediate family, and sometimes close friends.

The service will begin once everyone is seated. Ideally, you should be seated before the formalities begin.

If you’re running late, don’t try to squeeze in during funeral processions. Instead, you should wait until it’s over and then sneak in from the side.

10. Attending the Burial

Unless the family has chosen cremation, the site of the interment will be announced after the service. Either the grave site will be on the place of the worship ground or a processional of cars will drive to the cemetery.

Usually, everyone is welcome to attend the burial unless otherwise specified. If you choose to attend the burial, remember to show the same level of respect during this service as you did during the last.

11. Continue to Check-In

The weeks following a funeral are often the hardest. It’s important to show your sympathy during the event, but don’t forget to check in even after life has returned to normal.

You can ask the bereaved to lunch or give them a call to see how they’re adjusting. Remember that holidays and special anniversaries can often be the most difficult.

12. Don’t Say This…

It’s normal to get tongue-tied when you’re not sure what to say at a funeral. As a rule, avoid platitudes like “He’s in a better place” or “It’ll get easier with time.” Such phrases can often feel insensitive, even if you mean them kindly.

Telling the family that you’re there for them or asking if there’s anything you can do for them is a great way to show that you care. If you’re really struggling, a smile and a hug can go a long way.

Use Empathy and Be Respectful

How we act and what we say during a funeral can either help or upset the bereaved. Death is a difficult thing for everyone, and it’s important to remember to be sensitive to those who are in mourning.

Be careful with what you wear, and prepare your kids for a few hours of quiet listening. Remember that your job is to use empathy towards those around you and to follow funeral etiquette in a respectful manner.

Need more help in preparing for a funeral? Read our list of top funeral planning tips to ease some of the stress of planning a funeral.