Funeral Etiquette; the Basics

Unless you are personally caught in the moment, most people never think about funeral etiquette.  In the last week I have been to three funerals; the father of a friend, a 17-year old school-mate of my daughter’s, and Audley’s precious grandfather.  Visits to the funeral home always brings up questions of what to say, how to act, how to dress, etc…, but after the events of the last week, I am quite sure not too many people knows the answers to these questions anymore.  Attitudes towards funerals have changed greatly over the last 100 years as they are no longer a completely somber event followed by months of mourning, but more of a celebration of the life of one who has passed.  Just because the event itself has changed, doesn’t mean that our manners and behavior should slack off.  Good manners NEVER go our of style!
I know as we prepared to attend visitation for Pop on Sunday, I pulled my children aside to remind them that a funeral home is not a playground, nor is this time about them.  There may be some laughter and smiles, but there would be tears and sadness as well as family and friends have come to remember and honor Pop.
What to do with the children
As parents we find ourselves asking at what age should we introduce our children to death or take them to a funeral home.  I can tell you now; you can take them at three years old or fourteen years old and you will be faced with a ton of questions.  Children are very curious about the subject of death and funerals.  They are also easily shaken when that death is a young person with whom they were acquainted.  Our children were introduced to death differently than most children as Audley’s parents are morticians.  With my father a minister, they have seen and experienced many sides to what happens after we pass away.
You really don’t find a lot of current information on taking children to the funeral home and services as our society has adopted a very laid back attitude in raising children that quite honestly doesn’t involve any raising!  Believe it or not, there are still situations where children should be left with a sitter or be expected to behave.  Unless the child is an immediate relative or a friend, I wouldn’t take them to the funeral home or a memorial service until they are at least school age.  That is actually the age I begin to let mine visit their grandparents during business hours at the funeral home and attending visitations with me.
I suggest school age for several reasons: first, hopefully children have learned to sit still and be quiet in a classroom at school, which will help them behave at the funeral home, and second, they are at an age that they have (hopefully) learned reverence and respect while attending church services which comes in very handy while visiting a funeral home.  If you take a younger child, please find a seat in the back of the chapel on the end so that you can discreetly leave the service should your child begin to act out.


Visiting the Funeral home
Unless the death notice specifically mentions that the memorial service is private or family only, anyone is welcome to pay their respects to the family.  But, please for goodness sake, don’t just visit the funeral home because your curiosity is peaked over the circumstances of someone’s passing and you might vaguely know their 5th cousin twice removed!  When one visits a family in mourning it should be a true expression of sympathy and to share comfort, not a means of gaining attention for yourself.  Believe me, the family does know the difference.
When you stop by to visit, please remember to sign the guest book.  Generally located near the door, this is a record for the family to keep of those who shared in their time of sadness.  Speaking from experience visitation can be overwhelming and it is wonderful to have a record of visitors.  Don’t worry that you won’t have the right words for the family.  A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” or “_____ was a wonderful friend and will be greatly missed” is actually quite comforting.  If you are there on behalf of a friend, be sure to also speak to the widow or widower, introducing yourself and how you are connected; “I work with _____”, etc…


Appropriate funeral attire
As you plan to visit the funeral home, many ask what is appropriate to wear.  Gone are the days of head to toe mourning attire or all black, but shorts, jeans, t-shirts and the like are still taboo.  Opt for semi-formal business attire or “church” clothes.  For a gentleman this may include a tie with or without a jacket, khaki pants or slacks.  For a lady this would include slacks with a button-down blouse, a skirt, dress or suit.  The same would apply for children.  While black is still very much acceptable at a funeral, other muted, dark colors are also common.  I wouldn’t go for for red.  Who wants to draw all the attention to themselves?  Rest assured you will be talked about later!  Your goal is to be respectful and blend in, not draw all of the attention to yourself.
And ladies, this is unacceptable …..


I would beat my daughters, no matter what their age if they showed up dressed like this!


Keep you boobs and your bum covered, always.  I was floored at the way I saw some of the teenage girls dressed last week (some were dressed just like the above examples!).  It was more like an advertisement of themselves, and definitely NO respect for others around.  Many young men were just as tacky with their pants sagging and holes showing skin.  Oversized t-shirts untucked with jeans were seen on both guys and girls.  Teaching children to dress appropriately begins at home.  Parents really need to teach young people respect for themselves, situations and for others, especially in the attire that is chosen to wear out in public.  Believe me, it will be noticed, and most appreciated!


Sending Flowers


Flowers are a traditional way of expressing condolences, but respect the wishes of the family or religious beliefs in regards to sending them.  Also do not feel obligated to send them.  In tough economic times they are often an expense that doesn’t fit the budget.  If donations to the cancer society, a scholarship fund, a religious organization, or the heart association are requested, please honor those wishes and if the organization doesn’t send a card, send a note to the family letting them know you have donated.  As for sending flowers or a potted plant to the funeral home, place your order as early as possible to assure it arrives before the actual service.  You may also order flowers to go directly to the church building where the service might be or to the home of the family.  If you send flowers directly to a church building, please check with the funeral home or florist for proper etiquette on these.  Some faith traditions call for different considerations.  If you want the flowers to go to a specific family member, please have the florist note this on the card.
What about feeding the family?


Feeding a grieving family can be done in many acceptable ways.  In the past it was most common to gather in the home of the deceased after a service and mingle with the family.  Now it is common for a church family to fix a meal to serve a family after  the service, or even bring food to the funeral home for light snacking during a particularly long visitation.  Preparing a buffet for the family or having a meal ready for them in their home allows someone to have the option of how much to eat and when to eat.  It gives the family time to sit down and actually visit with one another out of the grieving setting.  Children can have a little more freedom to run and often the atmosphere is generally less formal.  While a meal certainly doesn’t change the hurt of a family, it does change the focus.  And just because you helped prepare a meal for the family, doesn’t mean you are invited for dinner.  Unless the family invites you to stay, drop off your prepared meal and quickly leave.
And one last thought for friends of the grieving, follow-up with them in weeks to come.  Sometimes all of the stress of the moment keeps us from properly grieving.  When things have settled down and everyone has gone home, the days and nights can become quite lonely.  Even a card or phone call speaks volumes on those lonely days.
For the Family
Proper behavior at a funeral goes beyond the guests; it also extends to the family.  Be sure to genuinely accept guests’ condolences.  Most visitors you have are their because of their love for the deceased or are close to a member of the family.  Be sure to record (or ask a good friend to handle it for you) meals, flowers, and phone calls for the family so that a proper “thank you” can be sent.  You will also want to send a thank you note to baby sitters, pallbearers and any ministers or musicians who helped with the service.  These do not have to be sent the day after, but do not delay too long. Appreciate the love that others offer during your time of sorrow.

3 thoughts on “Funeral Etiquette; the Basics

  1. Hey, Jen, I was just rereading all the sweet comments on my Magazine post awhile back & it registered that you were moving. Wondered if you are now in Greenville?! I hope things are settled for you & just wanted to say hello & thank you for always leaving such heartfelt comments. What a blessing! Hope to see you again one of these days. Maybe you can come to Haven!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s