While there is no “right” thing you can say to someone who just lost a family member, friend, or significant other, there is general funeral etiquette that you should follow. Knowing the basics can help prevent an embarrassing mistake when emotions are already running high.
DO: Dress More Conservatively
Modesty reigns during a funeral. You don’t go to a funeral to stand out or steal the limelight. Instead, you go to a funeral to listen, learn, and provide comfort to the grieving members.
Stay away from distracting or flashy accessories or outfits. Stick to darker colors, but you don’t have to wear all black. You should also make sure that everything is tidy, neat, tucked in, and combed. If it’s a funeral for a different culture, ask what colors are appropriate.
DON’T: Be Late
Ideally, you’ll want to show up at least 10 minutes early to any funeral you attend. If you think it’s going to be crowded, you can show up a half-hour early to get a seat.
If you do end up showing up late, stay unobtrusive by entering a back row through a side aisle. If there is a procession at this funeral, stay outside until it finishes. Most people will be too distracted to pay much attention if you slip in through the back a little late.
DO: Act Normal
If you’re like a large majority of people, you won’t know what to say to a person who just had a loved one pass. This is okay. There are no magic words or phrases that will make everything better or help you get across just how sorry you are.
Instead of freezing and tripping over what you want to say, act normal. Bring them a snack and water if you see they’re getting stuck talking to people. It’s also nice to express sympathy by sending a card or flowers to the family member’s workplace or residence. Send these things sooner rather than later.
DON’T: Sit Anywhere You Like
Generally speaking, the first few rows of the funeral home or church are where close friends and family members sit. If you don’t fall into either of these categories, sit more toward the middle or back of the venue.
Once you pick a seat, stay in it and stay quiet during the ceremony. If you start crying or coughing, feel free to excuse yourself to the lobby or bathroom until it passes. Just be mindful of the people sitting around you if you do choose to exit.
DO: Bring Kids
While you may want to leave babies with a sitter, kids over six or so should be okay to bring to the funeral. Often, they bring joy and lightness to members of the family.
Don’t worry that this will make them sad or anxious. If your kid is close to the deceased, they might want to participate in the funeral in some way. They can speak, read poetry, or sing. All you have to do is make sure they can stay occupied throughout the ceremony or be prepared to take them out to the lobby.
DON’T: Put the Funeral on Social Media
Put your phone on silent before the ceremony. Better yet, leave it in your purse or pocket. It’s very inappropriate to Instagram, tweet, or Snapchat a funeral unless you’re an immediate family member who already talked about it to other family members.
As for taking pictures, you shouldn’t take any during the ceremony itself. However, it’s okay to snap a few when you get away from the mourners. It’s also okay to set up a group shot with family members or friends you wouldn’t normally see if they’re okay with it.
Funerals are for the living, so there’s no hard and fast rule that says they have to be solemn affairs. If the deceased was the life of the party and loved to have a good time, the funeral could feel more lighthearted. If someone cracks a joke, it’s okay to laugh with them.
A light laugh can break the tension in the room and help everyone relax. Don’t overdo it with fake laughter, though.
DON’T: Shy Away From Religious Aspects
Maybe you’re not so religious, but the deceased and their family was. If so, the ceremony will most likely have more of a religious aspect to it. If so, you don’t necessarily have to participate. If they ask you to stand, bow your head, and pray for the person, all you have to do is stand and quietly bow your head. No one will notice if you’re praying or not, and you still get to participate.
If the family serves drink and food, don’t overdo it. It’s a good idea to have a bite to eat before the service. The last thing you want to be is that person hovering by the food.
If they serve alcohol, try not to drink more than one or two to keep yourself mostly sober. It’s easy to have too much and do something embarrassing. If you feel pressured, switch to tonic water with lime or even a coke with a lemon or lime wedge in it.
DO: Follow Up with the Family
The hardest part about losing someone is after the funeral and memorial services when you go back home. So, it’s a good idea to make a point to follow up with the family a few weeks after the funeral. Don’t be afraid to send a card or flowers right away.
However, you can also call or text and check in a week or two after that and see if they need anything. Sometimes, just taking time to chat will be more than enough.