A friend’s father passed away recently, and on the day of the funeral, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea about funeral protocol. I’d attended two, maybe three funerals before my friend’s dad’s, and always with my parents. So I found myself wondering, Is it appropriate to bring something, and if so, what? Fortunately, my friend had included instructions on how to dress, so I was clear on that.
But it got me thinking that this is part of growing up – getting to the age where you start attending funerals, much the way there was an age where you attended a lot of weddings. I’m probably not the only one doing this kind of growing up, so I wanted to share what I’ve learned:
Funeral etiquette depends on the type of service – This may be stating the obvious, but a lot of what’s appropriate for a funeral is dependent on the type of service, such as Catholic, Jewish or Buddhist. If you’re not familiar with the type of service, a quick internet search can give you the basic information you need. It can also be helpful to find out where the service is being held, such as graveside or in a church or temple, as the location might affect your choice of attire or shoes.
Dress respectfully – Black and gray are generally the most appropriate colors for funerals, but some families ask attendees to dress more colorfully. Whatever you’re wearing, make sure your clothes are clean and neat.
You don’t need to bring anything – Unless you’ve been informed that it’s appropriate, you don’t have to bring flowers or anything else to the service. (In some cases, flowers are actually not appropriate.) Do be sure to sign the guest book, if there is one. If you’ve been invited to a post-service reception, you can bring a dish to be served but you are not obligated to do so.
Participate in the service when appropriate – If you are able to do so, fully participate in the service by standing, kneeling, singing, reciting verses, or responding as requested. Words to songs and responsive phrases are usually included in the funeral service program.
Share a warm memory of the deceased – In my case, I had never met my friend’s father and went just to show my support. But if you have any fond memories of the deceased, share them when you express your condolences.
Call the location – If you’re still wondering about what’s appropriate, call the location where the service is being held. The staff there should be happy to help you.