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A funeral is an emotional time for grieving family and friends, and it’s important to be sensitive and respectful. As culture has evolved, so have funerals and funeral etiquette, which is why it’s important to know the basics of proper funeral etiquette. Instead of traditional services, many families have more informal celebrations of life and more personalized, unique services. So when no two services are identical, how do you know what etiquette is expected?

Here are a few tips to help you show respect to both the living and the deceased at a funeral or memorial service:

Attend the Funeral

group of people placing white roses on a casket

Even if you didn’t know the person who died directly, do your best to make it to the funeral. If your co-worker, friend, or family member loses someone they love, be sure to attend at least one of the funeral events, whether it’s a visitation, wake, or funeral service. Funerals are for the living, not the deceased, and your presence at the funeral is more important than you know.

Be on Time

woman pointing at a watch on her wrist

Funerals start on time, so arriving a little early is important. Try to arrive 10-15 minutes early so that you can sign the register book and be seated when the funeral starts. If you arrive late, a funeral attendant can generally show you where to be seated. To be less disruptive, try to move toward the side aisle rather than the center aisle.

Talk about the Deceased

two daughters comforting their mother

Funerals start on time, so arriving a little early is important. Try to arrive 10-15 minutes early so that you can sign the register book and be seated when the funeral starts. If you arrive late, a funeral attendant can generally show you where to be seated. To be less disruptive, try to move toward the side aisle rather than the center aisle.

Express Your Sympathy

person comforting a male friend

It can be difficult to find the words to comfort those who are suffering a loss. Whether you are directly speaking to an individual or writing a note of condolence, it’s important to consider the feelings of the bereaved before offering words of sympathy. You may have good intentions, but some phrases may actually hurt the griever more than they provide comfort. To ensure you respect a grieving friend or loved one, study up on what is appropriate to say. “I’m so sorry for your loss” may be all that you need to say.

Dress Appropriately

man wearing a nice suit to a funeral

Mourning attire has drastically evolved over the years. Modern culture has created a gray area of what type of clothing is appropriate for a farewell service. No matter what you decide to wear, the number one priority is to remain respectful. Clothes should never be revealing or contain explicit content.

Sometimes the family will request specific attire they would like guests to wear to show respect to their lost loved one, like their loved one’s favorite color or sports jersey. If you have any doubts about what is acceptable to wear to the service, traditional and conservative black, gray, or navy attire is typically a safe choice.

Use Technology Sparingly

person holding up a no phones sign

A funeral looks much different today than it did twenty years ago. Technology can be beneficial to end-of-life ceremonies, but it can also be a distraction to mourners. Phones and other electronic devices should be turned off (or left in your car) during a visitation, viewing, and service.

If you want to take pictures or record a ceremony, ask the family of the deceased before you do so. Some may be more open to the idea; however, others may find it rude and disrespectful. There is a time and place for technology. Make sure you are being considerate of others around you when using it.

In addition, many funerals are now livestreamed for those who cannot attend in person. If you’re attending a funeral in person, be mindful of camera equipment and avoid blocking the camera if you take your own photos.

Provide a Meal

person scooping a slice of lasagna out of a dish

Friends often make an effort to convey their sympathy to the family by providing the gift of pre-cooked meals. There are a few things to consider before offering your food to the family.

First, ask the family if there are any allergies or dietary concerns you should be aware of. Make sure to choose a recipe that doesn’t include those ingredients, and you should also thoroughly clean your workspace and any dishes (bowls, cutting boards, etc.) you plan to use if you’ve cooked with something they’re allergic to recently.

Next, include a note or card with the meal. Not only is this a kind gesture, but the family will also be able to keep track of who dropped off which dish. The family most likely has others providing food during such an emotional time, and it can be difficult to remember which individuals assisted their family in a time of need.

Finally, use disposable foil baking pans or mark your pan with your name on it if you want to ensure you receive it back. By providing food, you are not only giving a meal to the family but also giving them comfort and care during a time of grief.

Send a Sympathy Gift

pink and white flowers at a funeral

Flowers are generally sent to the funeral home or to the family’s home to honor the lost loved one. Some families may request a memorial donation in lieu of flowers.” The family will provide details on how to give a memorial donation to the charity, organization, or scholarship they want to support.

If you choose to contribute to a cause “in lieu of flowers,” contemplate giving what you would have typically spent on a floral arrangement. When donating, make sure to indicate who the contribution is honoring, and be sure to let the organization know if you wish to be anonymous with your gift. Giving to a cause close to the family’s heart is one of the best ways to pay your respects.

Stay in Contact

two older women drinking coffee together

Attending a funeral allows you to show your support to family and friends who are heartbroken. However, your presence should not end when the ceremony does. Grieving is a process and the road to healing does not have a timeline.

Try to stay in touch with the bereaved weeks or even months after the farewell service. After they have had time to cope alone, they may need your support at a later time. If possible, find time to meet up and talk, or if you cannot be there in person, check in with a phone call. Even a small gesture can mean the world to someone who has experienced a loss.

Hopefully, these 9 funeral etiquette tips have given you a better idea of how you can benefit friends and family at a funeral service. If you are in doubt as to what to do at a funeral, take your cues from the family. A funeral is generally a solemn occasion, but at times the family will want to evoke a celebratory mood. Be sensitive to the needs and the mood of the family, and you can’t go wrong.

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