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What Is Good Funeral Etiquette?

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

Funerals, especially unexpected ones, can be difficult to navigate for families (or relatives) of the bereaved and friends alike.

Here are some suggestions for those at a loss on how to approach a funeral:

1. Attire

The appropriate dress code might vary from funeral to funeral, but in general, something that does not intend to draw attention away from families of the bereaved would be a good starting point. A conservative outfit is the safest bet, keeping in mind that most funerals tend to be formal affairs.

For men, suits, shirts and ties that would usually be worn to a job interview come to mind. For women, a tailored jacket or one that fits well over party dresses would be enough to complete the formal look. Opt for dark colours rather than flashy bright colours. Alternatively, a mix of both genders’ formal attire (muted colour palette) would be the direction to head in.

On occasion when a funeral follows a specific theme, this will usually be communicated to those attending so you can dress accordingly.

2. Conduct

Since not all family members of the bereaved would personally know each and every guest that attends, offer a brief introduction (but not too long that others are kept waiting) as a form of courtesy upon arrival.

Avoiding the front row seats to make room for families, relatives and close friends of the bereaved, is also a thoughtful move. This would also make arrivals of latecomers less obvious, although arriving early or at least in time for the service is preferred.

Where possible, consider not bringing along infants and toddlers for the service or carry them out of the venue when disruptive so as to minimise noise disturbance for other guests.

3. Words

While there is a natural desire to offer words of comfort to families of the bereaved, uttering some of the more common aphorisms, like “it’s probably for the best”, can be viewed as being insensitive.

A helpful way to keep things in perspective would be to imagine families of the bereaved as the most affected network (in terms of suffering and grief) in a circle of concentric rings. It goes without saying that those with the deepest grief are the most emotional and therefore can be more irrational when it comes to decision-making or interpreting the words of others.

Words can also be expressed in writing when signing the condolence book that AGBC offers as part of its funeral packages or the online memorial. An alternative to providing words of sympathy would be to write how news of the bereavement was discovered.

4. Mobile devices

It might be common knowledge that selfies at funerals are disrespectful. However, if used correctly, photos or videos can be encouraging to their viewers, especially with the recent addition of paid geofilters for funerals and increasingly common tribute videos or recordings of the service.

In a nutshell, taking photos or videos at a service can serve as a visual record for honouring the bereaved as well as everyone else who attended the service.

5. Contributions

Flowers or financial donations to families of the bereaved or their desired charities are immediate go-to’s when considering what to give to those affected. However, offering to volunteer with chores or personal gifts are also worth looking into.

In short, being respectful will best help families and relatives of the bereaved cope – when in doubt, remember the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them...".

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