A Guide to Understanding Funeral Etiquette

Most people end up attending at least one funeral, if not several, at some point in their lives. As much as we hope we don’t have to attend them regularly, death is an inevitable occurrence that sadly happens to us all. When a friend or relative passes away, naturally, you will want to attend the funeral to give you the opportunity to pay your respects. 

However, with ever-changing technology, varying beliefs and people finding new ways to celebrate their or their loved one’s lifetime as opposed to traditional practices, it can be difficult to know the correct funeral etiquette. This is why we have compiled this comprehensive guide to help you understand the correct funeral etiquette and feel more prepared and comfortable ahead of the service. Covering all aspects of the funeral, from beginning to end, read our full guide below. 

Before the funeral

When someone passes away, it’s best to give their relatives and close friends some space before reaching out. However, if you hear of a funeral happening and wish to attend, there are several questions regarding funeral etiquette you may want to consider when thinking about the service, including:

Do I need an invite?

Funerals are generally open to anyone who wishes to pay their respects to the deceased, including loved ones, friends, co-workers, and others who may have known the individual. This means you won’t need an invitation to attend. The only circumstance in which this may not be open to everyone is if stated otherwise by the family, who may wish to hold a private ceremony.

If the service is public, family members will usually let people know the arrangements through social media or in a local newspaper. If they haven’t posted the details there, and you would like to attend the service, you could contact the funeral director to ascertain what the family have requested. Most families are happy to see so many people attend and hear the stories of the deceased through others. The vast majority of services the Heart of England holds can be found on our upcoming funerals page. 

Do I send flowers?

Sending funeral flowers provides a good way for you to express your sympathies during a difficult emotional time. These can be delivered to the home of the deceased, or the home of their family. However, we would recommend checking the obituary notice first to see if flowers are being accepted. Though a surprise might seem like a nice gesture, it’s becoming more common to request that flowers only be sent from family members. Instead, they may ask you to make a donation to their charity of choice. It’s best to respect their wishes if this is what their family have requested. 

Our upcoming funerals page gives you the option to make charitable donations, which helps the family keep track of how much has been raised. If you still wish to bring the family something to the funeral, or send this by post, you could present a short, hand-written card to the family of the deceased expressing your condolences. 

What should I wear to a funeral?

In the UK, black formal wear is the most common way to dress for a funeral. As a result, the outfits of choice for a funeral service tend to be black suits, trousers, blouses and dresses. Guests are expected to avoid casual clothing, unless there has been a specific request for it to be worn. We would recommend checking the forecast in advance and wearing weather-appropriate clothing, which may also include bringing sunglasses or an umbrella.

While smart, black clothing is traditional, however, wearing bright clothing to represent the celebration of life is becoming more popular. Some people will also request that a specific colour or piece of clothing be worn, to help represent the individual being celebrated. If this is the case, the family is likely to reach out prior to the service day to let you know of any preferences that go against the typical black.

When & where will the funeral procession begin?

The funeral procession usually leaves the home of the deceased, or a close relative. This will consist of close family members, but it’s best to check with the family if you need to know this information. In some instances, if other mourners are using their own forms of transport, they may be able to follow the procession. However, in most cases, attendees will meet the procession outside the funeral venue before following the immediate family into the service. 

Do I need to go to the house or a church?

As with the procession arrangements, this can depend on how well you know the family of the deceased. If you know them well – it may be worth contacting them to ask about arrangements. However, if you don’t, we would recommend meeting them at the service.

However, if you’re asked to perform a duty, such as carrying a coffin, these arrangements may vary. The funeral director will let you know when and where you need to be and what you’ll need to do before the service. Being asked to carry the coffin is a great honour and nothing to be worried about. Don’t forget there will be others carrying this along with you. 

During the funeral

Every funeral is different, and how the service is carried out is all dependent on the requirements of the individual. Traditionally, the service will have readings or an address from the officiant, family and close friends. In a crematorium chapel, the coffin will be at the front and a curtain will 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 into the crematorium. With so many aspects to the service, you may be thinking about the following questions:

When and where do I sit?

The funeral director will guide you on where to go when you arrive at the funeral. In most cases, once mourners have entered the venue, they will take their seats immediately. The front rows are generally reserved for immediate family, who will usually go in first, followed by the other attendees. 

However, this doesn’t mean you should feel obliged to sit at the back of the room. In fact, we always prefer not to have empty seats at the front, so we recommend filling these up if there is space. This will help show your support to the family, while ensuring the clergy, officiant or celebrant can be heard. 

What to say at a funeral?

Although it may be difficult to find the right words to say to the loved ones of the deceased, it’s best to show your sympathies during this challenging time, even if only through a brief few words. We’ve written some prompts to help you with this below. However, it’s important that you don’t say anything that could be misconstrued as negative or that would try to make light of the situation. You could say the following:

  • ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’ 
  • ‘I’m shocked and saddened by this news; if you need anything I’m here.’
  • ‘They were a wonderful person and will be deeply missed.’
  • ‘You and your family and in my thoughts and prayers.’
  • ‘I’m here for you if you need anything.’

Should I visit the Chapel of Rest?

Visiting the Chapel of Rest is a personal decision; this gives family and close friends the opportunity to say their final goodbyes to the deceased before they are finally laid to rest. If you decide you’d like to pay a visit, you should contact the funeral home and family members in advance. This is to ensure public visitation is allowed, and to confirm whether or not you’ll need to make an appointment.

Should I take the children?

This decision is entirely personal and can vary from person to person. If they didn’t know the deceased, we recommend leaving them behind and organising the appropriate childcare. This is because some services can be long and could lead to the younger ones becoming restless. 

However, if the child is older and they were close to the deceased, it may be a good idea for them to attend. Before the service, it may be worth talking to them about this to help them understand the concept of life and death, as well as what they should expect from the service. 

What happens at the end of the service?

Once the service has come to an end, everyone will stand to pay their final respects. The coffin will either be carried out or disappear from view by a curtain being drawn, depending on the type and location of the service. People will leave from the front first, so wait for the row in front of you 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 on to the wake.

What happens after the funeral?

Traditionally, the wake refers to the gathering that happens after the funeral and will take place at the house of a relative, or at a local pub or venue. Here, the mourners, along with the close family and friends of the deceased, will get together for some drinks and light refreshments. Whether you attend this is up to you and dependent on how close you were to the deceased. 

Final considerations:

Before attending the funeral, there are a few final considerations, reminders and rules that you should keep in mind. These include the following:

  • Bring tissues – although we all express our emotion in different ways, having some packs of tissues on-hand for both yourself and others is a good idea at such an emotional time.
  • Ensure your phone is on silent – one of the worst things that could happen during the service is for someone’s phone to start loudly going off. Please be mindful of this and switch it off or place it on do not disturb mode.
  • Go to the toilet beforehand – Though not unheard of, it’s quite rare for churches to have toilets, so making sure you’re prepared for this is recommended.
  • No selfies – As for photos, despite selfies becoming more common at funerals, we would generally advise against them. Families could consider these disrespectful and may not want them on social media. 

Heart of England Funerals 

Whether you have a question on any of the points above, or need assistance in organising a service for you or your loved one, contact your local Heart of England funeral home and one of our friendly team members can help you with this.