Etiquette

When attending a visitation or funeral, you might find yourself uncertain about what to wear, what you should say, or what to do. We’ve put together a short guide of ten tips on the basics of funeral home etiquette to help you pay your respects with courtesy and consideration.

What to Wear:

Try to find out the dress code before you attend, so that you can be sure you’ll fit in and look appropriate. Consider the location and style of service – a traditional funeral at a church is likely to be more formal than a Celebration of life at a bar or restaurant. If you aren’t sure, simply try to dress in a conservative way that shows respect for the family and other mourners. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must “wear black,” but try to avoid overly bright colors or casual clothing with characters. At the end of the day, most grieving families are simply pleased to have your presence, regardless of your wardrobe choices.

Religious and Ethnic Customs:

Traditions and customs differ among communities, ethnic groups and religions. If you are attending a service with customs that are unfamiliar to you, feel free to contact us to answer any questions you may have.

Emotions:

A funeral is an emotional time and grieving is a natural part of the healing process. Try not to feel uncomfortable if you or the bereaved begin to cry. It is natural to express feelings of grief and sadness.

Words of Comfort:

Express your sympathy in your own words, however it feels right to you. Kind words about the loved one who has passed are always appropriate, and a simple, “I’m sorry for your loss” or “My thoughts and prayers are with you” can be meaningful and comforting to the bereaved.

Words to Avoid:

Don’t ask the cause of death; if the family wants to discuss it, let them bring it up. Avoid giving unsolicited advice or making comments that might unintentionally diminish the importance of this loss, such as, “I’ve been through this before” or “At least she lived a long life.”

Paying Respect:

At a service with an open casket, it is customary to show your respect by viewing the deceased, and, if you wish, spending a few moments with your thoughts or in silent prayer. The family may escort you to the casket, or you may approach it on your own. However, viewing the deceased is not mandatory, and you should act according to what is comfortable to you.

How to Act:

After you’ve offered your condolences to the family, it’s perfectly appropriate to engage in quiet conversation with other attendees. Don’t feel you have to stay a certain amount of time. Your presence means a lot to the family, no matter how long or short the visit.

Signing the Register Book:

Be sure to sign the register book before you depart, using your full name and address, so the family has a record of your visit and can send an acknowledgment card at a later date, if they so choose.

Flowers and Gifts:

Sending flowers, making a memorial donation, or giving a memorial gift are all meaningful gestures. The simplest of tributes can be of great comfort to the family and can express your sympathy when words don’t seem to be enough.

Turn off Your Cell Phone (!):

This should go without saying, but sometimes are minds are foggy amidst grief and we need a gentle reminder. If you choose to bring your phone into the funeral home, be sure to switch it off or to silent mode.

Additional Resources

Support for your loved ones extends beyond the funeral. Our friends at What’s Your Grief have some professional advice for the best ways to comfort the bereaved over the long-term:

How to Support a Grieving Family Member or Friend – 6 Principles

64 of the Best Things Ever Said to a Griever

Being there for Grieving Friends and Family: Support vs. Comfort