Funeral Etiquette: Frequently Asked Questions

Attending a funeral is something that many of us may have to do at some time in our lives. Hopefully we don’t have to attend them regularly, so it can be difficult to know the drill.

We provide support and guidance for all of our clients but it’s often the extended family and friends who also need the advice.

Here are our 10 most frequent questions. We hope you find our answers useful.

Do I need an invite?

No. Funerals are open events and invitations are not sent out or required. Often family members will let people know the arrangements, but don’t feel that if you haven’t been contacted personally you are not welcome. Many families are delighted to see the people who took the trouble attend. The details may be published in local papers or on social media or you can contact a mutual friend for details. Many of the funeral services we are conducting can be found on our website, where you can also leave messages of condolence. Occasionally some families will ask for a private ceremony but that will be made very clear.

Should I visit the Chapel of Rest?

This is an entirely personal decision. It’s usual for close family and friends to spend time with the deceased in the chapel of rest If you do decide you want to visit the chapel of rest, make a quick phone call to the funeral home concerned to ensure that there is public visitation allowed and to check if you need to make an appointment in advance.

Should I wear black?

You are there to pay your respects to the person who has died. It’s usual for people to dress in dark or formal clothes. Men will wear a suit and black tie, and women will dress smartly.

Remember that each funeral is different. Many people now plan their own funerals, or have talked about it with family, so there may be specific instructions. If the family asks that everyone wear bright colours, or purple, or motorbike leathers (well maybe not everyone) then go with it.

There’s really no need to wear a hat but feel free if you wish. There may be some services, such as a Jewish or Hindu ceremonies, which require you to cover your head. Often head coverings will be provided but feel free to give us a call if you’re uncertain.

Do I send flowers?

Once again, take your lead from the family or funeral directors. It is becoming increasingly popular to ask for family flowers only, and to make a donation to a favourite charity or cause. If this is what the family have requested then it is probably best to respect that. Our website will allow you to make a donation to their chosen charity and this allows the family to know how much has been raised. A hand-written card will always be appreciated.

Do I take the children?

Again this is an entirely personal decision. If they did not know the person well then probably best to leave them behind, purely because some services can be long and not much fun for little people. However if they were close to the deceased then this is a good opportunity for them to understand what is happening and to say goodbye. We’ve written another article specifically about this if you want more advice.

Where will the funeral procession begin?

The funeral procession will usually leave from the deceased’s home, but it can be somewhere else if the family prefer. It could be their own house, or somewhere special to the person. It’s always best to check with the family or ask one our our team.

Do I go to the house or the church?

This may depend on how well you knew the deceased and / or the family. If in doubt ask the family our give us a call. You may follow the funeral procession in your own car, or you may choose to go straight to the place where the service is being held.

If you are asked to carry the coffin, then the funeral director will let you know exactly when and where you need to be and what you need to do. It is a great honour and nothing to be worried about.

When and where do I sit?

The funeral director will guide you when you arrive. In some cases mourners will take seat their seats immediately, leaving the front rows for immediate family. In others, often crematoriums, people will wait for the funeral procession to arrive and follow it in. Don’t feel you need to sit at the back. We always prefer not to have empty seats at the front so, once the family have taken their places, fill up from the front.

What happens during the funeral?

Every funeral is different, depending on the individual and the type of service. There will be usually be readings or an address from the officiant, family or close friends. The coffin will be at the front and, in a crematorium chapel, a curtain will usually close during the committal towards the end of the service. In a church or other religious service, the coffin will be carried out and taken to the grave or onto the crematorium.

People will leave from the front first, so wait for the row in front to leave before you do. There will then be time to stand outside, look at the flowers, and talk to other guests before leaving or moving onto the wake.

What happens next?

There is usually a wake of some sort. This will either be at someone’s home or a local pub or venue. People will get together for some drinks, maybe a sandwich or other refreshments. It is entirely up to you whether you attend or not. It is an emotional time for families but they often relish the opportunity to celebrate the life of the deceased, or to get all of the condolences and best wishes out of the way at once. If you can’t attend, that’s also fine.

Anything else?

There are a few things you should bear in mind. We would advise no eating or drinking, and no use of phones during the ceremony. Chewing gum is probably ill-advised but a discreet pack of mints is perfectly acceptable and might be a good idea. Churches rarely have any loos so best to be prepared.

As for photographs, Selfies are becoming increasingly common at funerals but we would advise against them. The family may consider them disrespectful and they certainly may not want them shared on social media.

Funerals are emotional times and everyone grieves in different ways. You may be visibly upset, you may not be, and it is a very personal response. Make sure you have some tissues or a handkerchief to hand just in case you or someone else needs one.

Funerals are there for you to honour the person who has died, and to support the family. You must take their lead and use your judgement as to who best to that. We are here to advise with any questions you may have so do feel free to ask.