Like everything in society, funeral etiquette and expectations have evolved over time. Common sense and good discretion are the best guides to proper funeral conduct. Here are a few do’s and don't's of funeral etiquette.
- Express your condolences – It’s not easy to come up with eloquent words to offer sympathy to someone who has just lost a loved one, but simple words are usually all that is needed to let the bereaved know you care. Simple statements such as, “I'm sorry for your loss," and "My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family,” are enough. If you can’t be at a funeral service in person, sending a card or leaving a message on a memorial website are perfect ways to express your sympathy.
- Dress appropriately – Gone are the days of dressing up in all black for a funeral, but jeans and a t-shirt aren't usually acceptable either. You should still dress to impress, avoiding any bright or flashy colors. Wearing what you would wear for a wedding or a job interview is always appropriate.
- Sign the register book – The family will keep the register book as a memento for years. Be sure to include your full name and relationship to the deceased.
- Give a gift – You don’t need to go overboard with your gift - after all, it's the thought that counts. Suitable gifts include: flowers, a donation to the charity of the family’s choice, or a commitment of service to the family at a later date. A commitment of service can be something as simple as cooking dinner, or offering to clean up their house, or any of the “little” things that may be neglected while a family deals with death. Make sure you provide a signed card so the family knows who gave the gift.
- Keep in Touch – You may feel that the family needs their space and time to grieve, but a simple phone call or note after the funeral lets the family know you care. With social networking, leaving a quick note is as simple as a click of a mouse. The months following a death are when grieving friends and family need the most support.
- Bring your cell phone – A ringing phone is highly inappropriate and will cause a disturbance, so turn any ringers or notifications off. Even better, leave your phone at home or in your car. A funeral isn't the time for texting or checking messages.
- Allow your children to be a distraction – From a very young age, children are aware of death, and if the funeral is for someone close to them (grandparent, aunt, uncle) they should be given the option to attend. However if it is not appropriate for your child to be there, and if you feel they will cause a commotion, leave them with a babysitter.
- Be afraid to remember the good times – Funerals are obviously a time of grieving and mourning, but remembering the good times helps with the healing process. Sharing a funny and appropriate story is acceptable, and in some cases, exactly what the deceased would have wanted.
- Overindulge - If food or drink is served, don't over do it. If alcohol is served, limit your intake to avoid the risk of doing something inappropriate.