Funeral etiquette

This can only be a general guide, as customs and traditions differ. It is very rare nowadays for people attending a funeral to dress entirely in black. Most people will chose formal clothes, and many will include a small amount of colour. Sometimes families will ask everyone attending to wear something of a certain colour, in honour of the person who has died. Sometimes families prefer that everyone dresses in bright colours, particularly if the person who died was young. It is also important to dress for the weather. If there is to be a burial, you should remember that the grounds may we wet or muddy.

Some religions expect you to cover your head, for example Greek Orthodox or Jewish ceremonies. The Funeral Director will be able to let you know.

The funeral procession would traditionally leave from the deceased’s home; however, sometimes families would prefer that they leave from the address where people will return to after the funeral. The person arranging the funeral will decide who goes in the limousines (if any) to follow the hearse.

At the church or chapel, people often wonder if they should go inside and take their seats before the coffin arrives. This is dependent on the family’s personal choice. The Funeral Director can tell you what they have requested so that you know whether to go inside or to follow the coffin into the building. Chief mourners will normally sit at the front, or at the end of a pew next to the coffin. Other mourners should always leave these spaces for the family.

At the end of the service, the main mourners will leave first, followed by the everyone else. At a crematorium, the coffin will remain but will be either lowered from view, or a curtain will be pulled across at the end of the service. If there is to be a burial, everyone will follow to the graveside and the minister/celebrant will speak for a short time before the coffin is lowered.

You do not need to be asked to go to a funeral service, as it is an opportunity for everyone to say goodbye to the person who has died. Sometimes, the family will ask that only the invited people should attend if there is a burial to follow the service. Sometimes, the family request that the entire funeral service is kept private, but this is unusual.

In many cases, family and friends will get together for refreshments. This can be at the family home, a hotel or a pub, or in rooms provided by the Funeral Director.

Updated: 11 August 2010