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Funeral Etiquette: Knowing the Do’s and Don’ts

A priest and two loved ones mourning and looking over top of a grave at a funeral ceremony

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Knowing what to do or say after a loved one dies can be challenging. You may be grieving too. Proper funeral etiquette can be confusing. Ensuring you don’t offend family members in pain is essential. 

You’re not alone if you don’t know what to do at a funeral. Sharing your condolences and learning how to do so is a part of funeral etiquette that many people don’t know much about. There are some things you can and should not do to express your sympathy during this trying time.

Proper Funeral Etiquette

Social practices and religious and personal preferences are involved in funeral etiquette, which varies considerably. But, the main idea is for you to share your support and participation in grieving for the deceased.

A primary rule is to be understanding and respectful. People do and say things they usually would not do or say when grieving. Your presence or a kind word means a lot to suffering people now.

Be Prompt

Celebrating the deceased person’s life is the purpose of the funeral.

Still, it’s also a time you may see many people you usually do not see very often. Suppose you were asked to participate in the service. It would be best to arrive at least thirty minutes early so that the officiant can review your role.

Choosing your Outfit 

Social customs, traditions, and observed religious services can affect your choice of clothing. The traditional option is black clothing, but this is not required. Today, dressy attire in neutral colors is also appropriate.

Follow Religious Customs

Funerals that take place at a house of worship can vary greatly. You can research ahead of time to be prepared and comfortable. Just remember there will be people at the service to guide you.


The grieving family usually is seated in the first few rows. Typically, you can sit anywhere other than those few first rows. If a family member or friend is having a hard time, you can go to them to offer your support if you would not disturb the ceremony.

Should we bring the children?

If you choose to bring your child, help them prepare beforehand, so they understand what grieving is and that it’s alright to have these feelings now. Whether you should bring the kids depends on whether they were close to the deceased and the child’s age and temperament. Very young children, or those who did not know the deceased, are better off remaining home.


Flowers are an uplifting way to celebrate the deceased’s life and are common at funerals. Avoid anything too upbeat, such as arrangements with stuffed animals or balloons.

Some people prefer to donate to a favorite charity rather than sending flowers. Checking the obituary for a charity the deceased was interested in is a great indicator.

What to say when someone dies?

Finding the right words at a funeral is one of the times most people struggle. Hearing from others during their loss is immensely comforting for grieving people. But don’t let the fear of saying the wrong things keep you from conveying your heartfelt feelings.

Simple phrases such as, “I’m sorry for your loss,” “Sincerest condolences,” or “I’m here for you” work well. Sharing a fond memory of the deceased is also appropriate. It is best to avoid sentiments such as “They’re in a better place now” or “This happened for a reason.”

One of the best ways to extend condolences is by sending a handwritten note or card. Emailing or texting privately is also an appropriate way to reach out. Be careful when using social media, as posting condolences on a family member’s public feed can seem inauthentic or showy. It’s also not a way that such news should be conveyed.

If you are not a family member or close friend, express your sincerest condolences and move along so others can speak to the family.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic change funeral etiquette?

Funerals can look different these days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s no need to delay a funeral or memorial service because of COVID-19 if you follow proper safety precautions. This includes:

  • Social distancing and mask-wearing
  • Avoiding sharing communal materials, like prayer books or programs
  • Reducing the number of people who are singing or chanting to reduce the spread of the virus through the air
  • Reconsidering traditional customs, like touching the deceased’s body

Some families might choose to delay funerals or hold virtual services as a precautionary measure, which can make grieving harder. Seeing and hugging others can be a powerful source of comfort that many families don’t have right now. Consider other ways to reach out still and show your support, like sharing comforting words or memories via video calls, texts, or letters.

Heartfelt Communication

Knowing how to comfort a grieving person can be an uncomfortable situation. When you know some basic funeral etiquette, you can support the people around you during the funeral service and the grieving process.

Contact us today at Jeff Monreal Funeral Home or learn more about our services.

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