Funeral etiquette

There will be many people out there reading this, thinking: ‘Surely no one needs to be told how to behave at a funeral?’ and they’d be right. To a point. As with any social event, there are rules pertaining to what you should and shouldn’t do.

Of course, there’s almost no such thing as a standard funeral these days; every single one is tailored to reflect the personality and wishes of the deceased. Some may want people to laugh and celebrate, others might want lots of music, while more still might prefer a traditional send-off which adheres to their religious beliefs. As such, it’s tricky to give a definite list of ‘things not to do at a funeral’. However, there are a few considerations that do span most funerals and are worth bearing in mind.

Funeral etiquette


Funerals are predominantly about remembering the person who has passed away. They are also about showing your support for the grieving parties and maybe representing your own family. Therefore, it’s not always about your relationship – or lack of – with the deceased, it’s about being there for those that were left behind, so factor that in when making your decision to attend or not. If the funeral is private, then stay away unless you have been expressly invited.

Should I bring my children?

Of course children are welcome. They grieve as well. Just remember that funerals are emotionally-charged events. People will be crying, and, naturally, there will be a coffin. For children, this can be overwhelming and very distressing. If you wish to bring children, ensure they understand what to expect. It’s probably best to leave young children with a babysitter, to prevent causing undue upset or disruption.

Say something, anything

You will need to greet people at the funeral and knowing what to say is one of people’s biggest worries. It’s hard, you’re grieving too, but keeping silent because you don’t know what to say or are anxious about upsetting the family can actually appear insulting. It’s perfectly fine to admit that you simply don’t have any words. Just say something.

What to wear

Black is traditional and still largely observed, though recently this dress code has started to relax. Dark suits and smart clothes are usually just as acceptable, providing they still show respect. Unless, that is, the deceased requested something else; some ban the colour black altogether.


Being asked to be a pallbearer in a huge honour and very rarely is this request turned down (unless, say, for medical reasons). If you’ve been asked, you should arrive early, leaving plenty of time for the funeral director to explain your duties.



The nearest and dearest (those who are arranging the funeral) usually buy casket sprays and elaborate bouquets. If you are sending flowers, a small, discreet bunch is best. Most florists will have suitable options, but if you want to create your own, roses and chrysanthemums are typically ‘sympathetic’ blooms – choose muted colours. If you want to send something bigger, check with the family first.


Knowing where to sit in the church, crematorium or room can be tricky. You want to make sure you can hear the kind words that are being said. Rule of thumb is that the immediate family and close friends sit at the front, so avoid the first three rows. Aim instead for the middle, to be on the safe side. You can always move forward when the family has been seated.

The eulogy/speaking

If you’ve been tasked with writing the eulogy, then it’s likely you knew the deceased well. It can seem a daunting task, but treat it as a great honour. Incorporate good memories, mention their nearest and dearest, ask for stories and anecdotes. Write from the heart.