Learning to Grieve: Funeral Etiquette Tips for Attending Your First Funeral

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A funeral can be a time to start healing after a loss, but it can also be intimidating. If this is your first one, learn these funeral etiquette tips.

Have you just found out you’ll be attending a funeral? Whether it’s a close family member or an acquaintance, navigating the formalities of a funeral can be challenging.

In such a sensitive situation, the last thing you want to do is say the wrong thing. It’s important to know the basic funeral etiquette guidelines before you go.

There’s no “right” thing to say to other funeral-goers who have lost a close family member, friend, or significant other. But there are many other factors to consider when it comes to funeral etiquette rules, like what to wear, where to sit, what to say, or even whether or not it’s appropriate to attend.

Here are some of the fundamentals of etiquette at a funeral–so you can attend with dignity and respect.

1. Arrive Early and Find Your Seat

Always arrive at least 10 minutes early. Funeral services are often delayed because people show up after the starting time and interrupt the proceedings when trying to find a seat.

Getting there early will give you time to sign in and find your seat. If you’re very close to the family, you can seek them out before the service. But if you’re not close or they seem busy greeting other guests, keep your interaction brief and quickly find a seat.

The first few rows are always reserved for the family of the deceased. If you were a close friend, you can sit behind the family. All other coworkers or acquaintances must sit in the middle or back.

When taking a seat, enter quietly and draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Funerals will be somber and there won’t be much idle chatter–do your best not to interrupt the service.

Dress Conservatively

2. Dress Conservatively

Depending on the funeral, some will be very formal and ritualistic, while others will be more casual. In either case, it’s best to dress modestly and conservatively. Don’t wear anything bright, flashy, or daring. You’re there to listen and honor the life of the deceased, not steal the spotlight.

You don’t have to wear all black, but stick to darker colors. Keep it formal with dress shoes and nice clothing–no t-shirts or sneakers. If the family of the deceased want to establish any special rules for outfits, they’ll let you know.

No matter what you’re wearing, be sure that everything is clean, ironed, and tucked in.

3. Keep Your Phone in Your Pocket

Don’t be on your phone during the funeral. Keep it in your pocket–off or on silent. It’s seen as inappropriate to be on your phone, whether you’re on social media, checking your email, or taking a text or call.

Never take any photos with your phone unless you’ve been asked to by a close friend or family member.

4. Know When to Participate

The funeral will likely be lead by a priest, clergy member, or a designated speaker. They will tell you what to do and guide the attendees through praying or singing.

Follow their lead and the lead of those around you. If you’re not sure if you should be participating, simply remain solemn, quiet, and dignified.

Even if you’re not religious, be sure to stand and keep your hands at your sides or behind your back. Always show respect for the traditions of the ceremony.

5. Bring a Gift

Bring a Gift

A good way to express your condolences to the family is to bring them a gift. You can bring a bouquet of sympathy flowers with you to the funeral or have them delivered to the funeral home beforehand.

Other thoughtful gifts could include a gift basket, a homemade meal, or something you know the receiver will love, like a book or their favorite chocolate. Suffering a loss is already difficult to handle–knowing that their loved ones support them may be one of the few lifelines they have.

If you aren’t close to the family, but still want to show support, a thoughtful card is a great way to express your condolences.

6. Respecting the Remains

For a traditional burial, there will likely be a burial service held after the funeral where the casket is carried to the cemetery. Before the funeral, there may be an open casket viewing.

When viewing the body, be sure to keep a respectful distance. Never come too close or touch the deceased–unless you’re a very close friend or family member. Avoid staring at the body or crowding around it for too long.

For a cremation, there may still be an open casket viewing. However, instead of a burial ceremony, there will be a cremation ceremony instead.

In this case, keep in mind that you might not be invited to the spreading of the remains. This often occurs at a different time and will likely be a small, private ceremony.

There may not be a formal spreading of the remains at all. Some families opt to have the remains preserved in a cremation urn and displayed as a memorial in their home.

Looking at this cremation option for your loved one? Find out more about how to select the perfect cremation urn.

7. Take Time to Reflect

Although the main focus of the funeral is paying tribute to the deceased, it’s acceptable to take some time to reflect on your own life.

Attending a funeral can be heavy and depressing for anyone involved–whether you’re a family member or just a distant acquaintance. You’re exposing yourself to one of life’s greatest mysteries: Death.

You can take some time to reflect on the meaning of your life–work, friendship, family, and more. In many attendees, it can inspire a further commitment to live their lives to the fullest and remain present in the moment. After all, you never know when it could all end.

Pay Your Respects with These Funeral Etiquette Tips in Mind

No matter your relationship with the deceased, attending a funeral can be difficult. This ceremony is the one chance to pay tribute to the deceased–you don’t want to make a mistake on this important day.

Knowing funeral etiquette–where to sit, how to behave, and what not to do–can mean a great deal to those who cared the most about the deceased. When it all comes down to it, these tips are the best way to honor the person whose life has been lost.

Looking for more ways to stay informed and inspired? Check out our blog for more lifestyle tips and tricks.