Funeral Etiquette

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It’s an occasion where the utmost respect is not only required but demanded. Is it any surprise that people attending funerals get nervous because they aren’t quite sure what to do or say or wear … for fear of unwittingly causing offence. Don’t worry. These are common concerns. Most of us attend funerals only occasionally, so worrying about the correct etiquette and conduct is entirely natural.  Follow the advice below and you’ll be fine. It covers the questions we’re asked most often, and applies both to funeral organisers and those attending.

Should I send flowers?

Usually, yes. Families appreciate the sentiment. However, sometimes the deceased or their loved ones will have asked for money to be donated to a specific charity rather than spent on flowers. So it’s always best to check first. Get clarification from a family member or the funeral director.

What should I wear?

Not that long ago, if you went to a funeral in Australia it was a black suit and tie for men and a black dress for women. Today’s funerals are just as heartfelt, but attitudes towards what you wear have relaxed. Unless a specific instruction around dress code has been issued, conservative attire is the safest bet. Men can still wear a black tie, but no-one will mind if you choose blue instead. Again, it’s best to check in advance. You might find that the deceased wants the ceremony to be more of a celebration of life, and has asked mourners to wear more colourful outfits as a result. That’s happening more often these days.

Greeting People

If you are a close family member, you will be a focal point at the funeral. Be prepared potentially for people you know and don’t know to approach you, offering their condolences. Do not feel obliged, though, to engage in conversation with everyone. Simply saying thank you is fine. Everyone knows this is a difficult occasion, and accept that different people handle it in different ways. The important point – do what feels right to you.

Dealing with Inappropriate Comments

It’s often hard to find the right words, and even more so at funerals. People struggle to express their thoughts, and will often use the same phrases to express their sympathy. The most common expression is: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” For the bereaved, the repetition of this phrase can sometimes be tiring. Try to bear in mind that the person is making an effort to show sympathy. On the other hand, for those expressing sympathy, this can seem inadequate. But it’s not. It shows you care. The same goes for people who seem awkward or inappropriate when trying to express their condolences. Everyone is struggling in their own way, and at an occasion like this, it’s better to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Funeral Service

We get many questions about the correct etiquette and conduct at the ceremony itself. Where to sit is one of the most common.

The general rule of thumb is that the first few rows are reserved for close family and friends of the deceased. But every funeral is different. Ask a family member or the funeral director if you’re not sure. Of course, it should go without saying that you should behave in a dignified and respect manner. And remember something many people still forget – turn your mobile phone off beforehand.

If you’re asked to participate in the funeral, treat this request as an honour. A eulogy is an opportunity to tell stories about the deceased, and can be of comfort to loved ones, but don’t be inappropriate. This is not a best-man’s speech.

Public speaking is difficult under normal circumstances, so it’s OK to politely decline an offer to speak if you don’t feel confident or emotionally up to it.

Any other questions?

I hope this has been helpful in clarifying concerns many people have about attending a funeral service. If there is anything we haven’t covered, or you have other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us or call 1800 067 782.

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