We’ve put together a short guide of some of the most common questions we are asked about funeral etiquette. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to call us at (403) 235-3602.
Should I go?
Yes. Funerals are to honour the deceased and to reassure and support those left behind. Assuming it is not a private gathering, your presence will be welcome.
What to wear?
Over the years, the typical funeral dress has markedly changed. No longer is colourful dress frowned upon and gentlemen are increasingly forgoing the traditional dark suit and tie. The best advice we can give in terms of clothing is to be respectful of the deceased and his or her family. Being clean and presentable is obviously important and if you wish to wear formal clothes, by all means do so (despite our words above, formal is still the most popular clothing choice). But in the end, your presence is probably more important than if you have a tie on or not.
What to say?
Reassuring words of condolence are always appreciated. Use phrases such as: – “I’m sorry for your loss.” – “My sympathies to you and your family.” – “I was a friend of Bill’s – I enjoyed his company and will miss him.” – “Pam was a wonderful co-worker. I’m thankful to have known her.” Use your own words in a way that feels comfortable to you. In terms of physical contact, a good handshake or an embrace is usually welcomed. If you knew the deceased, but not the family, introduce yourself with a smile and eye contact. Providing your current contact information allows family members to thank well-wishers for coming and affords staying connected.
What not to say?
Try not to give comments that minimize the loss, such as “It’s probably for the best, because he was suffering too much,” or “I’ve been in your shoes myself.” These will not provide comfort to the bereaved. Wait for the family to discuss the cause of death. Do not bring it up yourself.
When attending a funeral or a memorial service, do your best to be on time. Try to enter the facility as quietly as possible. If there are no ushers present, remember that the first few rows of seats are usually for the immediate family and close friends. Acquaintances should appropriately seat themselves in the middle or towards the rear.
For many children, attending a funeral or memorial service can be healing and may also give a greater understanding of death. Other children may be fearful – it’s truly an individual response. Children learn about love and loss in many ways and this may be an important teaching moment. They know something is wrong and typically default to thinking it’s about them. Including them in this family experience allows them to learn from you. By making it real for them, children can discover what’s real about love and loss and can learn that it will be okay. Use your best judgment, but if your children ask to go, then let them.
At a service with an open casket, it’s customary to show your respect by viewing the deceased and, if you wish, spending a few moments in silent prayer. The family may escort you to the casket, or you might approach on your own. Viewing the deceased is not mandatory, however, and you should do what is comfortable to you.
Keep the line moving
Visitations can be very emotional, especially when speaking with the family of the deceased. If there is a line to speak with the bereaved and view the casket, be conscious of keeping the visit brief. There may be others who would like to visit with the family or there may be a time pressure to start the service on time. The family will often be more available to speak following the conclusion of the service.
When to visit?
When learning of a death, it may be appropriate for family and close friends to go to the home of the bereaved to offer sympathy and support. If your relationship was not that close, it may be appropriate to wait and offer your sympathy at the funeral or memorial service. This can be a very overwhelming time for a family. If you’re in a position to offer assistance, it is likely to be well received. Families can often use assistance with child care, food preparation, housekeeping, receiving visitors, service preparations or an array of other tasks. The funeral home or church may be the best place to visit the family to offer your condolences, as they are prepared for visitors at these services.
Sending flowers is a wonderful way to express your sympathy to the family of the deceased, and can bring comfort in a difficult time. Flowers are a meaningful gift that can be enjoyed during and after the funeral service. Floral arrangements and plants can be sent to the funeral home to be present at services, or sent to the home of the family directly.
Use your wise judgment. A sympathy card is always welcome. Flowers can be sent as well, but you may wish to check the obituary first – some families may have a designated charity for donations in memory of their loved one. A gift of food may be appreciated. Consider preparing a meal for the family of offering to provide some food for the reception following the service. There can be a lot of love baked into a casserole or pan of brownies. Sincere gestures of help and caring are almost always welcome.
Mobile phone use?
Smart phones should be turned off or silenced completely during the service. Checking your phone is noticeable and is a distraction to those who are trying to pay their respects. If you must return a message or receive a call, exit the service quietly and do so discreetly.
Religious & Ethnic Customs
Traditions and customs differ among various religious and ethnic communities. Generally speaking, these gatherings are open to the public and outsiders are welcome. It is often helpful to ask beforehand about any special considerations and we would be happy to answer uncomfortable questions. We can also point you toward resources that offer more information.
Signing the Register
Be sure to add your name to the register book and print or write clearly, using your full name so that the family can identify you in the future. It may be appropriate to add helpful information about how you knew the deceased — through work, social clubs, church, school, etc.
When visiting a cemetery, these tips will help you enjoy a peaceful experience.
Follow the Rules
Most cemeteries have a sign posted near the entrance listing rules specific to the property. Follow the rules and observe any floral regulations they might have set. Make sure to follow and obey the cemetery hours.
Respect the Grave
Don’t touch any monuments or headstones; this is not only disrespectful, but may cause damage to the memorials — especially older ones. Never remove anything from a gravestone, such as flowers, coins, or tributes that have been left by a family.
Be Respectful of Services & Other Mourners
If a funeral is occurring, take care not to get in the way of processions. Respect their privacy and give them their space.
Speak Softly & Politely
Be respectful to other mourners. Remember to keep your voice down when having conversations. Make sure your phone is muted or turned off.
Look After Your Children
If you bring children, make sure to keep a close eye on them and keep them from running, yelling, and playing or climbing on graves and monuments.
Don't Leave Trash Behind
Use designated receptacles if they are provided, otherwise hang onto your trash and take it with you when you leave.