Funeral Etiquette

Below is a basic guide to funeral etiquette, detailing the conventions and protocol for attending a traditional funeral. Customs can differ, and traditional funeral etiquette often dictates a formal, restrained behaviour. It is important to show respect, take your lead from the chief mourners and remain dignified throughout the service.Your funeral director should be able to advise if you have further questions.

Funeral clothing

During the Victorian period, the bereaved would dress in black for the funeral and the following year.  This would be considered a period of mourning, after which they would return to their usual clothing.  In recent years, the wearing of black at funerals has declined, with mourners sometimes opting to wear the deceased loved one's favourite colour, football shirt etc.  If no specific dirction has been provided by the organiser of the funeral, then men usually opt for the traditional black tie and suit and women black formal wear.  Unless asked to do so, flamboyant clothing is usually avoided and if possible the deceased's culture or traditional values may need to be adhered to.  For example, certain cultures may require mourners to cover their head and shoulders, e.g. a Jewish ceremony.  If still unsure ask the funeral director for guidance.

Who travels with the funeral procession?

The person arranging the funeral decides who will be in the car or limousines following the hearse, although it is usually the next of kin and close friends. Most people attending the funeral will make their own way to where the service is being held. If you are traveling in a funeral procession, you should turn your headlights on and keep a close but safe distance from the car in front, allowing for an adequate braking distance. Everyone in the procession should travel at the same speed. These signals should help other road users to identify your vehicle as part of the cortege.

Where should I sit?

You may be directed to your seat by the funeral director or minister. If not, you should avoid the first few rows unless you are close family. The next of kin sit nearest the coffin, usually at the end of the pew. When the funeral service is in a church, people take their place before the arrival of the chief mourners and then stand when the coffin is brought in. At the end of the service, the congregation waits for the family to leave the church first. At a crematorium, it is more common to enter after the close family.

Children at funerals

There is no longer any rigid social code about children attending funerals but young children may find longer services difficult to sit through. Children are allowed to attend a funeral but bear in mind babies and toddlers can be disruptive, especially if it is a longer service. If the child is older, you should ask them if they want to attend. You should prepare a child before the funeral in order for them to understand what to expect and how to behave. Explain that a funeral gives us a chance to remember the person that we loved and to celebrate their life and what will happen at the crematorium or cemetery. Make sure someone close to the child stays with them throughout the service. It is important that a child is told as soon as possible when there is a death in the family.

What happens at the end of a service?

The minister or priest will leave and then everyone will stand. At a church service, the coffin will be carried out followed by the chief mourners and the other attendees. The coffin will be taken to the grave for burial. At a cremation, the coffin will either remain on view or be hidden by a curtain. The next of kin leave first, followed by everyone else. After the funeral, friends and family may gather together for a reception at home or in a hotel or pub.

Should I send flowers?

Customs vary depending on the family’s religion or ethnicity but flowers are often sent to the church, the funeral home or the family’s home. The obituary may ask for donations to a charity in lieu of flowers.

Do I need to be invited to a funeral to attend the service?

A funeral service is open to anyone who has known the deceased, unless the family ask that it is a private ceremony.

Key points to abide by:

  • Turn your mobile off before entering the church or chapel
  • Do not whisper to a companion during the service
  • Bow your head if you do not want to participate in hymns
  • Cameras should never be brought to funerals
  • Maintain a sober and dignified air at the wake
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