Funeral Etiquette

Funerals are incredibly difficult and emotional events, so it is understandable that not a lot of people spend time thinking about proper funeral etiquette. Some of the hardest things to decide on are what to say, what to do, and how to fully support the other grieving attendees. With so much else to think about while you grieve and need to support other people, it is understandable if you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about exactly how you should act during the event.

There are no concrete rules that you need to follow down to the finest detail but having some ideas about typical funeral etiquette before you go to one might make you feel more relaxed. After all, nobody wants to slip up and say or do something inappropriate or insensitive by accident. If you know what sorts of things will be socially and emotionally expected of you, you’ll be better prepared to deal with anything that may crop up on the day. You can also personalize what you do and say depending on the funeral that you are attending.

The two main things to keep in mind when it comes to funeral etiquette are that you are there to support people, but you are also there to grieve. You shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to act perfectly at a funeral, especially if the deceased is a very close friend or family member of yours. You should, of course, do your best to act as a reliable support for those who have organized the funeral, but you should also be kind to yourself and try not to allow following etiquette rules to come before expressing your grief.

What To Bring To A Funeral?

One easy thing that you can do to prepare yourself for a funeral is to decide beforehand what you are going to bring. Unlike weddings, funerals are not times when people delight in giving gifts, but a small yet thoughtful gift is a nice way to show that you are thinking of the deceased person’s closest family. You could even just give a card with a kind message inside it. If you do choose to give a gift, choose something that you know the family will need, such as a practical gift or a parcel of food.

Whether or not to give the gift at the funeral usually depends on the individual situation. Of course, funerals are all about mourning, so presenting a gift, no matter how thoughtful, to the deceased person’s immediate family while they are in the middle of huge emotional upheaval could come off as a bit tone deaf. You would likely be safer giving the gift before the funeral service or during the wake when everyone is mingling together and socializing.

Giving money as a gift is a kind thing to do and allows the family to decide what it is spent on, which could be better than giving a gift that they might not necessarily need at that point. However, you don’t want to unintentionally insult the family while they are mourning, so checking with other attendees about whether the family might need some extra money is a good idea. The safest option is usually to give a sympathy card with the money and a short explanation of why you have gifted it a week or so before the funeral. Explaining that you are thinking of them and hope that they can use the money for something helpful is a good way to avoid any miscommunications.

You should generally have a gift or card for the deceased person’s next of kin prepared because it will show that you are keeping them in your thoughts and will let them know that they can turn to you if they need help with anything. Easy gifts include flowers, food, and monetary donations. You should be able to communicate with other people attending the funeral to figure out if you should present the gift on the day or beforehand.

Always keep in mind that most people who have suffered a dreadful loss won’t be able to see much beyond their grief for a while, so they may not thank you for your gift or appear to want it. However, so long as it is something useful and thoughtful, you’ll know that you’ve slightly eased the family’s workload and shown them that they have a reliable contact for support. Your gift should always be geared towards the living relatives and helping to make their lives easier in the wake of their loss.

Need more ideas for funeral gifts? Check out our article here.

What To Say To The Family Of The Deceased?

A lot of people struggle with what to say at the best of times, so it is much more difficult during a funeral service, which is arguably the worst of times. An easy place to start is by expressing your sympathy. Saying things like “I am sorry for your loss”, “I’m here if you ever need anything”, and “he/she will be greatly missed” are safe because they show thought and focus on how terrible the loss really is. You should avoid saying anything like “he/she is in a better place now” because it writes off the loss in a sense and will bring no comfort to the family who will be wishing that the deceased were still with them.

You likely won’t get a lot of time to speak to the family of the deceased one-to-one because everybody will take up a bit of their time and they probably won’t want to spend the day socializing. You should try to keep the focus on them and let them know that you’re always there for them because funerals are all about people coming together to comfort those who have lost a loved one. A small gesture like letting them know that you’ll always have your phone turned on in case they need to call will help to bring them comfort and make them feel supported.

If you were quite close to the deceased and their immediate family, you can have a longer conversation with them. If you were not, politely expressing your sympathies and showing support is enough. Be careful when you bring up things about the deceased because talking about them will sadden the family members. Saying things like “he/she always told the best jokes “Is good and will inspire happy memories of the deceased, but don’t talk in too much detail about them to their family in case it upsets them.

Something to remember is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you accidentally say something that doesn’t land very well. Don’t say anything inappropriate or insensitive, and if you aren’t sure how something will sound out loud, don’t say it. Take a cue from the deceased person’s family and their closest relatives and friends. If they are engaging in a discussion about great things that the deceased person did, feel free to contribute something, but if you do, at any time, accidentally say something wrong, don’t be too hard on yourself. Emotions run high at funerals, and nobody ever intends to cause offense. Remember to care for your own emotions too.

Are Pictures Acceptable At A Funeral?

One thing that everybody will do at a wedding is take pictures, but etiquette dictates that this is a huge no-no at a funeral. You should never arrange or pose for photos, even selfies, on the day of a funeral because it can come off as incredibly disrespectful to the host family and the somber event itself. If photos have been organized by the deceased person’s family, you are fine to be in them, but never try to initiate photos yourself.

If photos are organized, those should be the only ones taken. If you do ever take a selfie in the bathroom during a funeral wake, for example, do not post it on social media, especially if you know that other people from the funeral will see it. Funerals are all about showing respect and there are not many things that will come off as more disrespectful than posing for a picture while dressed in all black to mourn someone who has passed away.

You should not have your phone or a camera out during the funeral service or wake at all. Snapping pictures of the room where everybody will be paying their respects to a deceased loved one (some of which may even include other people who are attending) lacks decorum and will completely ruin the mood. You should avoid doing anything that will trivialize the event and make it look as though you don’t care enough to pay attention to what is going on. Taking pictures in a cemetery or crematorium is also unbelievably thoughtless, so don’t even consider doing that. Funerals are all about reading the room, and anybody in a room full of upset, grieving people should be able to see that it is not the time or place for taking pictures.

Whether Or Not To Bring Children To Funeral

This is very much up to the individuals attending a funeral to decide. Some funerals may have a rule that children under a certain age don’t attend, but in most cases, they will be allowed. If you have children and your invite to the funeral doesn’t specify that they are also invited, check with the host family to make sure that it’s alright to bring them with you. If they agree, it is up to you to decide whether your children should attend.

Very young children won’t properly understand what a funeral is all about and will likely be unsettled by all the sadness and crying. This could upset them as well or have them asking lots of questions because they’re confused. You don’t want your child to end up asking inappropriate questions which might upset the deceased person’s closest family (through no fault of the child’s own), so use your best judgement to decide if they can handle such an emotionally heavy event.

If you do bring your children with you, thoroughly explain everything beforehand. This will ensure that they are emotionally prepared for the service, know how to interact with people during the wake, and can be totally respectful of the entire funeral process. It is probably best to avoid bringing babies and toddlers to a funeral because they can be very fussy and might interrupt important moments during the service. It also isn’t very fair to them to disrupt their routines in a way that they can’t understand.

Children who are old enough to understand what is going on should be fine to attend the funeral, though you should also make time after it is over for them to express their feelings about it. They’ll likely have a lot of thoughts, and you should show them early on that they’re allowed to express them. You’ll know your own children and their limits better than anyone else, so it is completely your call as to whether your children will attend a funeral, so long as you have cleared it with the hosting family.

When To Arrive At A Funeral ?

As with any other event, you should always try to arrive at a funeral before the service starts so that you have time to take your seat and greet other attendees who are also making their way inside. One of the worst things that you could do at a funeral is arrive late and make your entrance when the service has already started. Arriving on time is just good etiquette in general, so give yourself at least 20 minutes before the service begins to turn up and find out where you’ll be sitting. The sooner you’re settled into your seat, the more relaxed you’ll feel before the service.

You can turn up any time before the service starts and still enter politely and respectfully but try to aim for 20 minutes before and preferably no later than 10 minutes before the start if you are running behind. People will be walking into the service right up until it begins, but if you want to sit in a certain place or see some of your relatives/friends beforehand, aim to arrive early. If you are attending with other people, you have even more reason to try and arrive promptly enough because you’ll want to sit together.

If you are running late and arrive after the service has already begun, you may be able to slip inside silently and stand at the back, but you should not try to enter late if your presence will be disruptive and noisy. Causing an interruption when mourning has begun and the service is in motion is incredibly rude, so if you won’t be able to silently slip inside, it might be best to wait outside until there is a moment where you can sneak in (such as during a hymn when everybody is standing), or just wait until the end and then profusely apologize.

But if you plan, you shouldn’t encounter any problems. Turning up early is a sign of good funeral etiquette as well because it allows you to spend some time offering support to the family of the deceased and mingling with other mourners. You’ll be able to find a seat without drawing attention to yourself and will be ready ahead of time to participate in the service.

How Long To Stay At A Viewing?

A viewing is a similar concept to a wake, but it takes place before the funeral and allows mourners to gather and grieve for the deceased. Either the body of the deceased or a memorial dedicated to them will be displayed and people can come together to celebrate the person and share in their loss. It is a good way to allow people to come to terms with the death of a loved one and pay their respects.

There usually isn’t a set time limit for how long you should stay at a viewing, though you should never outstay your welcome as viewings are typically held in the home of the deceased person’s family, or in a funeral home. You shouldn’t rush in and out as fast as you can because that will look rude and thoughtless, but you don’t want to be hanging around for longer than necessary because the family will still be deeply grieving and need time to be alone as well.

Funeral viewings often last for a few hours, so you’re not obligated to stay the full time. You should pay your respects to the deceased, but you should also take time to support the family that they have left behind and show an interest in how they are dealing with their grief. If you are a very close family member or friend, you’ll likely want to stay for a longer period, but if you are a more distant relative, just stay long enough to offer support and condolences and appreciate the viewing.

Unlike a funeral or a wake, a viewing is a much quicker process of paying respects and remembering the person. They are designed to allow people to drop in whenever they can within that time. Staying for 20-30 minutes is perfectly fine but spending too much or too little time at a viewing could make you seem disinterested. If you use your best judgement, your behavior at a viewing will be completely appropriate.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to funerals is that there are no hidden rules or norms about etiquette. If you are as polite, respectful, and courteous as you can possibly be, you’ll do just fine. Make time to process your own emotions as well because you’ll be a better support system for other people and feel more comfortable about attending the funeral.

We also cover proper etiquette for the death of a coworker in our When a Coworker Dies post.


Readinform is a Wisconsin based writer for funerals explained. They have come to understand the struggles of death and loss. Through life experience they have gathered the knowledge to help others and answer questions related to the funeral industry. When not writing readyinform focuses on learning new things and exploring the differences society offers.

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