Funerals can be one of the most distressing and nerve-wracking events that people attend, and the sensitive nature of the event as well as the emotional aspects can mean that etiquette is helpful in knowing how to express your feelings and how to get through the day.

Customs and traditions differ from culture to culture, and many funerals now stray from standard etiquette to make the funeral personal to the deceased and their beliefs/personality. For example, it is now increasingly rare for people to go to a funeral dressed entirely in black. The first cue for your behaviour and attire should come from the family and invitation. If you do not feel that it’s fitting to ask further questions after receiving your invitation, it is usually wise to ask somebody close to the family and involved in arrangements to clarify what is expected of you.

While there are differences, there are also some basic guidelines to any funeral:

  • Switch off your mobile phone – don’t even leave it on vibrate. This is the last time this person will ask for your undivided attention.
  • Be on time – if you happen to be late due to unforeseen circumstances, stand at the back.
  • If you are sending flowers directly to the church or venue, write ‘for the funeral of ___’ on the address.
  • If the family are asking for donations in lieu of flowers, it’s important to honour that request.
  • Offer condolences, and if you have time and the opportunity you may  want to share a personal experience or anecdote that shows the deceased in a positive light.

If you are close to the family, it is also a good idea to have another condolence visit after the funeral. While the deceased has been laid to rest, the family will still grieve and often have no outlet for that grief after the funeral. Bring some food and make time to be a support several weeks or months after the funeral  – you can share fond memories, or simply talk about day to day life.

It’s common to offer support or assistance to the family before, during, or after the gathering. When offering your help, it’s best to offer a specific form of help as well as general assistance as it’s easier to accept. If you know something that the family may struggle with, offer your help in that area. If not, you may have particular skills that can be helpful.