It’s not always possible to fully prepare for the emotions that come when we say goodbye to a loved one. Here are some funeral etiquette dos and don’ts to reduce any awkwardness and help make the day go as smoothly as possible.
RSVP to an invite
If you can’t make the funeral, always send an email, text, or even better, a handwritten card. This will also give you the opportunity to express your condolences. It is just as useful to let people know if you can make it, especially if they need to know numbers for catering.
Ask whether it’s okay to invite others (including children)
Private burials are usually invite-only. Always ask permission to invite others, especially where ex-partners are involved. Making the decision whether children should attend a funeral will be down to your own judgement. It will also depend on how closely connected they are to the person who has died.
Understand the religious context to a funeral
People express their grief in different ways and may have certain traditions or rules they follow according to their religion. Do your research and make sure you understand what will happen at the service.
Speak from the heart
It isn’t always easy to know what to say to someone who is clearly very upset. Hug them and tell them you are there for them. It’s okay to smile and even to have a laugh, if the timing is right. You don’t have to have a long conversation – you can catch up properly at the wake or post-funeral gathering.
Make a donation
Although not compulsory, if you do want to contribute in some way and there is a request to donate to a particular cause, then do this rather than buying flowers.
Take pictures at the graveside or during the service
Unless you are immediate family and want this to be done, this is generally considered a no-no (especially when it comes to posting it on social media).
Leave your phone on loud or vibrate
You don’t want to be the one whose phone goes off loudly during the service. Check that your phone is not set to any alarm reminders – this can still ring out even if your phone is switched off.
Allow loved ones time to grieve – don’t rush friends and family to move away from the graveside or to leave their seat if they are not ready to. You should also keep the first couple of rows or space nearest to the graveside for close family and friends. Read our tips on how to behave around the bereaved.
Dress too casually
Traditionally mourners will wear black or you may be asked to wear a certain colour. Don’t turn up in jeans and a jumper – make sure your clothes are clean and more on the conservative side.
Disturb the ceremony if you're running late
If you are late, don’t come in and make a noise so that everyone turns around. If you can, quietly stand at the back and avoid squeezing past people to find a seat.