The Dos and Don'ts of Funeral Etiquette

Funerals can be awkward for many people because death makes us feel uncomfortable and we just aren’t sure what to say or do. This list should help with these somber social situations, whether you’re at the wake, service, or burial.


1. Watch the Children- Keep an eye on children to make sure they are safe, and aren’t being loud and a distraction to others. If you feel it’s not appropriate for your child to be at a funeral service, or if you feel they will be a disruption, it would be best to find a babysitter for them.

2. Be Respectful of Others – Practice awareness and be respectful by keeping quiet around visitors who wish to reflect.

3. Express Your Condolences – It’s not easy to think of something to say to someone who has just lost a loved one. Say something short and sincere, like: “I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family”. If you can’t attend the funeral service, sending a sympathy card is a perfect way to let them know you are thinking about them.

4. Dress Appropriately – Traditionally in the US we tend to dress in all black formal-wear for a funeral, which is still very acceptable. However, now a days, families are more into celebrating the deceased’s life, so you can always ask the family what the dress code might be. Find out the person’s favorite color, or maybe it will be a festive party and something colorful would be appropriate. But, still dress nicely and conservatively, no jeans and t-shirts.

5. Sign the Register Book – The family will have a register book for guests to sign as a memento for years to come. It’s very important to sign it as most times the whole event is such a blur to the grieving family, they won’t remember everyone who attended. Be sure to include your full name, relationship to the deceased, and feel free to leave a message.

6. Give a Gift – Don’t over do it with a gift, it’s the thought that counts. You could send flowers, donate to the family’s favorite charity, offer to help the family at a later date, or even take them out for lunch. If you do send a gift, make sure you sign a card so the family knows who sent it.

7. Keep in Touch – You might feel like you need to give the family space and time to grieve, but a simple phone call or card lets them know you care. With emails and social media so readily available, leaving a quick message simple and easy. The weeks and months following a death is when those grieving need the most support from their family and friends.

8. What to Do- If you're unsure about what what to do at a service or wake, just observe others and simply follow along. It’s OK if you're not comfortable, just don't draw attention to your unwillingness to participate. Be discrete and respectfully decline.

9. How to Handle the Visitation- A visitation, also called a wake or viewing, is a time before the funeral where guests are invited to view the body of the deceased. The casket may even be closed on some occasions. While it is customary to show your respects to the deceased by stepping up to the casket, It's perfectly alright if you may not feel comfortable doing so. Viewing the deceased is not mandatory.

10. After the Funeral- If the deceased is to be buried after the service, someone will announce the location of the interment. The cemetery may not be located on the grounds of the funeral home or church, so there will be a processional of cars following the hearse to the cemetery. Don't feel obligated to join them, you may leave the funeral at any time.

11. The Funeral Reception- Many families hold a “reception” after the funeral where food and drinks will be served. While this is a time to share memories, laughter, and even tears, your behavior still needs to remain respectful.

12. Religious & Ethnic Customs- Traditions and customs differ among various communities, ethnic groups, families, and religions, so you can always ask beforehand about any special considerations. If you are too embarrassed to ask the family, the funeral director may be able to help out and can point you toward resources that provide more information.


1. Stay Longer Than You Want To- Staying the whole service is not required. Make sure you at least sign the guest book and offer your condolences to the family. It’s about showing that you care and what you’re comfortable doing.

2. Be Afraid to Share Happy Memories- Laughter and telling happy stories can be the best medicine, and remembering the good times helps with the healing process.

3. Feel That You Need to Look at the Deceased- If this is something you’re not comfortable doing, no one will force you to do so. A service is about your comfort level and your desire to celebrate the person in a way most meaningful to you.

4. Leave Your Cell Phone Ringer On- Always leave your cell phone in the car or at least turn the sound off. No one needs that additional noise.

5. Be Afraid to Make a Mistake- You are doing something right just by showing up and caring.

6. Overindulge- If food or drink is served, don't over-do it, and if alcohol is served, limit yourself to one or two.

Cemetery Etiquette

When visiting a cemetery, whether it’s to visit a grave site, to attend a burial, or just to go for a walk, these helpful tips will ensure you are respectful and have a peaceful experience.

1. Follow the Rules- Most cemeteries have open hours of operation and some basic rules to follow while visiting their property. There may even be regulations on flowers, plants, and items that you intent to leave behind at a marker. Make sure you find out ahead of time before you arrive.

2. Respect the Grave- Don’t touch the markers, monuments, or headstones, especially the much older ones, as this can cause further wear and damage to them. Also, never take anything from a grave site, such as flowers, gifts, coins, and personal items that have been left behind by family and friends.

3. Be Respectful of Services & Other Visitors- If a funeral service is taking place while you’re there, make sure to not get in the way of any processions, and respect their privacy and space.

4. Speak Softly- Be respectful to other mourners and visitors. Remember to be polite and keep your voice down when having conversations. Make sure your phone is muted or turned off if you are attending a service or near someone else’s.

5. Look After Your Children- If you bring children to a cemetery, make sure to keep a close eye on them. It is very disrespectful if they are running, yelling, and playing or climbing on graves and monuments.

6. Please Don’t Litter- Use site provided trash cans if they’re available, otherwise put it back in your vehicle and take it out with you when you leave.

7. Leash Your Pets- Always keep your dogs on a leash whenever you are in a cemetery or public park. Remember to bring bags to clean up after your dogs too.

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