Funeral Etiquette: How to Properly Pay Your Respects

PSOW Staff - Thursday, July 13, 2017

Benjamin Franklin, one of the wisest and most quotable pundits in history, once said there are only two things that we can truly be certain of in life: taxes and death. Yes, death is definitely part of everyone’s life and unfortunately, the older we get the more funerals we are expected to attend.

But many people aren’t comfortable dealing with death and are literally at a loss of what to do and what to say when someone near and dear has made their final exit. To call attention to how to properly pay your respects here are Dos and Don’ts of Funeral Etiquette that can help you, your family and friends navigate their way through the grieving process.

Proper remarks: When coming face to face with the loved one of the departed, keep your remarks simple with something like, “I am sorry for your loss.” Or “You are in my thoughts and prayers.” If you were close to the deceased, you can share a quick story or anecdote. Try to avoid comments such as “She/He is in a better place” or “Now you can start moving on with your life.” You may mean well with comments like these, but they could come across as mildly offensive to the mourners. Also, try to send a handwritten sympathy card in lieu of emailed condolences, which is really much too casual even in today’s busy world. However, a brief phone call expressing your sympathy to family members is perfectly acceptable (along with that, follow up with a mailed sympathy card).

At the Funeral: Wearing black is a time honored tradition at a funeral, but people are a little less formal about that rule today. But still ensure you dress appropriately for the event, avoiding anything too casual, loud or revealing. When you arrive at the service, you may find parking to be an issue. That’s why it’s best to arrive early in case you have to park farther away than anticipated. If there is a guestbook or registry once you are inside, be sure and sign it with your first and last names so the family will be aware of who attended the service. The family typically has many people to attend to, and they may not see everyone who was in attendance. Also, avoid seeking out the family prior to the service unless there is a receiving line set up. If there is, keep your remarks brief to keep the line moving along so the service can begin.

Paying your respects at the service: Don’t use the actual funeral service as your opporutnity to catch up with old friends or relatives. There will be plenty of time after the service to do that. Make sure you turn off all electronic devices and do not take any photographs. If you bring children to a service who begin crying loudly or start making inappropriate comments, immediately take them outside. If you are feeling highly emotional at the service, you may wish to discreetly leave to compose yourself to avoid upsetting your fellow mourners. In choosing your seat at the service, the general rule of etiquette dicates that you sit behind the family; with casual acquaintances and co-workers sitting further in the rear of the service.

Cemetery protocol:Often mourners choose to attend the memorial service and skip the graveside services, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you do attend the dearly departed’s burial along with the family, there is protocol to follow. First, there may be a police led motorcade or procession, so be mindful to follow the lead of the hearse. Once you are at the cemetery, pull off the side of the road and do not park on grass. Keep in mind that the chairs at a graveside service are reserved for the immediate family, and other guests will be expected to stand. Avoid walking on graves and try to stay between headstones. And again, keep your children in check and remind them that even though they are outside, a cemetery is not a park and that running, games or tag are inappropriate.

Flowers vs. charitable donations: It is totally appropriate to send flowers in memory of the deceased; however, some people prefer to make a memorial/contribution to a charity of the family’s designation. If the family did not designate a charity, choose one that you think is appropriate to memorialize the deceased.

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