If you've never attended a funeral before, it can be a little intimidating. Many people wonder what is expected of them in this situation with regard to dress, behavior and what they should say to the family. By following the rules of etiquette laid out below, you can be much more at ease when you're taking part in this solemn and important event.
Your First Reaction
When a death takes place in the family of someone close to you, it's expected for you to contact the family. This can be a phone call or a visit to their home. It's customary for people to bring food and paper items (paper plates, cups and paper napkins) to help the family with any out-of-town visitors. Make sure that the food is delivered in disposable containers so the family won't have to bother with returning them after the funeral. Emails and cards are also quite appropriate for the occasion, particularly if you are out of town at the time.
Going to a Visitation
Visitations are frequently held on the day just before the funeral itself. This permits the family and friends of the deceased to view the body and to greet and console one another. A visitation is scheduled for a particular time, which can usually be found in the local newspaper or on the funeral home's website.
During the visitation, you should introduce yourself to others attending if they do not already know you. Keep conversations brief and somber. This isn't the time for joking around. Usually, you should spend a few moments at the coffin in silent meditation or prayer. Once you've visited with the family and expressed your condolences, you may wish to remain for a while to speak to others in attendance. If there is a guest register, you should sign it.
What You Should Wear
The purpose of attending a funeral or burial service is to convey your sympathy to the family in a solemn and respectful way. For this reason, avoid wearing clothing that is flashy, colorful or revealing. While people are no longer expected to wear only black to a funeral, you should choose something relatively somber, such as brown, black, dark blue or gray. Jeans, shorts, short skirts and tank tops are entirely inappropriate.
What to Say
While it's true that understanding words that express your sympathy will be appreciated, it's also true that simple gestures like a hug or holding someone's hand can also be very comforting. When you're speaking to the grieving family, the most important thing is to avoid saying things that will actually cause further pain. When someone has lost a person they love, statements such as "He's in a better place" or "I understand what you're feeling" might seem as though they're denying the bereaved their right to grieve.