Life is full of complex social situations, and maybe none are as daunting as attending a funeral. Knowing how to navigate the dos and don’ts of a service can be tricky business, especially when you’re grieving.
Understanding basics—from what to wear to where to sit—can help you avoid any missteps.
Dressing for the service
This might seem like an easy step: wear all black, and you’re good to go. While this will probably work for most funerals, there are exceptions. In some cultures, white is the colour of mourning. Some families even make special requests, like asking everyone to wear the deceased’s favourite colour.
No matter the colour, wearing a smart casual outfit is appropriate. Think a dress, a skirt and blouse or a pair of nice slacks. A light cardigan or blazer might be appropriate even in warm weather, especially if the service is held in a church.
More conservative shoes are a smart choice, especially if you’ll be walking over grass at the cemetery. You may also want to keep jewellery and makeup to a minimum.
Get there early
This is one time you don’t want to be fashionably late! Arriving early is an easy way to show your respect to the deceased and their family.
The funeral will start on time or when the family is ready, and if you aren’t in and seated, you may be left outside until it finishes. Aim to arrive at least 15 minutes before the start of the service, so you’re not rushing in at the last minute.
Switch your phone off
Your mobile phone should definitely be left in your handbag and turned off. No one wants to hear it vibrate—or worse, start ringing—during the service. Checking your phone signals that you have somewhere better to be, even it’s before or after the service.
While you may know that this isn’t true, it’s easier to avoid sending the wrong message by switching it off and waiting for a more appropriate time to reach your texts.
Know where to sit
Whether the service is held in a church or funeral home, the first two rows are usually reserved for the deceased’s immediate family. Unless this is you, it’s okay to sit almost anywhere else.
Typically, the better you knew the departed, the closer to the front you sit. However, if you feel more comfortable sitting towards to back, its usually fine to do so.
Offering your condolences
One of the toughest parts of the day can be speaking with the grieving family. Often, your first interaction with them is after the service when their grief is likely to be at its peak. It can be difficult to come up with the right words to say in the moment.
The best advice is to keep it simple. Acknowledge their loss and give them a handshake, hug or kiss depending on how well you know them. Keeping it quick may also be appreciated, as there will be many others also wanting to offer condolences.
If you’d like to give them a gift (such as flowers or money to help pay for the funeral service – especially if the deceased did not have funeral insurance), it’s best to do this at another time.
Send or drop off gifts to their home a day or two before or after the service. There will be too much on the family’s mind the day of.
If all else fails, remember that most faux pas at funerals will be forgiven. The day isn’t about you and keeping the focus on the deceased and their family is what’s most important. If you exercise common sense and act respectfully, you’ll probably be fine.