Attending a funeral can not only be difficult, but also uncomfortable. Many of us feel awkward and unsure of how to behave, what to say, or how to help our loved ones in their time of need.
Even well-meaning words can sometimes offend a person when they are in deep mourning. With a few basic funeral etiquette tips, you can attend your next funeral with more confidence, grace, and ease.
Attending a funeral
Funerals are usually open events and anyone can attend. However, you should consider how well you knew the deceased before attending. If you did not know the departed personally but want to show your love and support to the family, then you should consider yourself welcome.
If you feel your presence will cause conflict or cause emotional pain to another person, then you should reconsider attending the services. Likewise, if the funeral is a private event, and you were not invited, then you should not go. You can opt for flowers or a heartfelt card instead.
Should I bring children?
Another thing to consider is who should attend the services with you. In most cases it is permissible to bring along another adult or an older child. Younger children can attend if they can properly behave and sit still during the services. However, if possible, it is probably a good idea to leave infants and babies at home with a caregiver as they are most likely to be a distraction and require your attention.
If you cannot obtain daycare for your younger children, then please be mindful during the service and know when to step outside with your child when appropriate.
What should I wear?
In much of the Western world, black is worn to funerals as a sign of respect and mourning. However, you can also wear dark grey, brown, or blue. Some things to take into consideration when deciding what to wear are the time of year, the season, and the location and time of the services. Unless requested by the family of the deceased, you should avoid bright colors such as red, pink, and yellow, however; you can wear a shirt or blouse in a lighter color such as cream or white when wearing a suit or blazer. Keep accessories to a minimal.
Attire for men:
Collared dress shirts
Dress pants or slacks
Dress shoes/ loafers
Things to avoid:
Work clothes with logos
Women should wear a modest dress or skirt that falls right at or below the knees. Your blouse should not reveal your cleavage, shoulders, or too much skin. Nails should be clipped, clean, and well-groomed, and makeup should be to a minimal. It is also best to avoid wearing heavy perfume, hairspray, and too much jewelry. Less in best.
Attire for women:
Modest dark dresses or pantsuits
High heels or dressy flats
Dress gloves (optional)
Modest jewelry such as a strand of pearls
Additional items as the weather and season permits:
Gloves to match your coat.
Sunglasses for when at burial site
What not to wear:
Flip flops and open-toe shoes
Work clothes with logos
Low-cut blouses (women)
Too much perfume or cologne
Too much jewelry
Bright red (It’s considered offensive)
Although it is not necessary to dress your children in all black, they should wear their “Sunday’s best” in an appropriate color for a funeral. Girls should wear a modest dress, hosiery, and dress shoes. Boys should wear suits, dress shirts, ties, and dress pants or slacks. When in doubt, leave it out.
Memorial Services, burials, and viewings (wakes)
Some funeral services such as a memorial service, viewing, or a burial long after the deceased has been cremated are less formal and more casual attire may be worn. Make sure to check with the event planner when deciding what to wear.
Ash scattering or celebration of life:
Celebration of life services are usually more festive and are meant to celebrate life. The event may also have a color theme to honor the deceased. Therefore, bright-colored clothing may be more appropriate. In addition, ash-scattering is oftentimes held outdoors to scatter the ashes of a loved one, so outdoor attire is more suitable. The ceremony usually symbolizes peace and closure of the dearly departed and in the releasing of their spirit to return to nature or heaven.
In most cases, wearing formal or semi-formal attire is always a safe option. Again, always consider the place, time, and location of the services when planning for an event, as well as the family’s wishes.
What to say at a funeral:
It is always better to say less than more at a funeral. The family in mourning is usually feeling overwhelmed with grief. Simply letting your loved ones know that you are there if needed is enough.
Here are some comforting things to say at a funeral:
“I am sorry for your loss.”
“If you want to talk, I am here for you.”
“Please let me know how I can help.”
“I am thinking of you and your family during this difficult time.”
“I am saddened by this news; I am here for you if you need me.”
"You are in my thoughts and prayers."
Even though we may have the best intentions in our hearts, some things may unintentionally cause others more pain and suffering.
What not to say:
“I know how you feel.”
“Be brave and stay strong.”
“They are in a better place.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Well, at least they had a long life.”
“They would want you to be happy.”
Attending a funeral service of any kind is never easy, but just knowing how to properly conduct ourselves during this difficult time can help us to better show our support, love, and respect to those in need.
Isabella Boston is a multi-talented writer and the Founder of Bella’s Attic Studio. She has several years of experience in content writing, copywriting, and social media strategies. She is the author of the romantic and rare memoir, Passion of Flames. Isabella has special interests in fashion and beauty, health and wellness, and natural healing as it pertains the body, mind and soul. When she is not writing, Isabella enjoys playing the violin, learning new languages, and reading books of substance.
[i] Offering condolences: What to say at a funeral. Funeral Partners. (2022, January 30). Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://www.funeralpartners.co.uk/help-advice/arranging-a-funeral/offering-condolences-what-to-say-at-a-funeral/ [ii] Fortino, D. (2022, April 15). What to wear to a funeral. Eirene. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://eirene.ca/blog/what-to-wear-to-a-funeral [iii] Fortino, D. (2021, October 12). How to plan A celebration of life. Eirene. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://eirene.ca/blog/celebration-of-life