Expert Commentary...Funeral Manners and Etiquette


We all know someone who has died and most of us has even had someone very close to us, friend or family, who has passed away.  Not only do we experience sadness when someone dies, but it also reminds us of our own mortality.  The rituals of a funeral and the protocol surrounding the burial signifies the importance of each individual life.

            Attending funerals are comforting for some and very stressful for others.  What should you say to someone who has lost someone very close to them?  What is the best thing to offer or give to them?  Are you supposed to wear all black?  With the help from Glenn Taylor and his daughter Christy Taylor Chaney at Glenn Funeral Home we will answer these questions.

            First, let’s pick out what to wear.  It is no longer necessary to wear black to a Christian funeral, although ushers and pallbearers wear dark suits, white shirts, and dark ties.  Other people attending wear conservative clothes in somber colors.  Women preferably solid colors or a very muted print and have the option of wearing a hat or not.  Men wear dark suits and always take their hat off for any Christian ceremony.  The man will also remove his hat and hold it during the internment and funeral procession.  Even if you are not attending a funeral, everyone that comes in contact with the procession shows respect by pulling over and parking their cars while everyone passes, you also should remove your hat at this time.  For a funeral in the Jewish faith, men wear yarmulkes at Orthodox and Conservative funerals (they are provided for those who arrive at the service without one).  Sometimes woman wear black lace caps and long sleeves so the arms are fully covered.

            When you arrive at the funeral home make sure to sign the guest book.  Just in case some of the family are unavailable at the time of your visit, they still know that you came.  You will be shown to your seat by an usher.  A woman does not take the ushers arm at a funeral service, unless she is frail or unsteady.  If the casket is open, visitors are expected to walk by and pay their respects, but if you find this difficult, you need not do so.  Don’t force anyone to go see the deceased body if they do not want to, especially children.

            As far as what to say, acknowledge the difficulty and your lack of understanding in how they feel.   It’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say”.  Just let them know that you are there for them.  Avoid cliché’s and easy answers like, “He’s out of pain now.”  Do not probe for details about the death.  If information is offered, listen with understanding.  Avoid talking about trivia, sports, weather, the stock market, or making jokes even if this is done to purposefully distract.  Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.

            The most traditional gift someone gives at funerals is flowers.  There is a simple reason for this, they are beautiful and natural.  But, they do not last forever.  That is why some are opting for giving plants, food, lawn items, afghans, artwork, etc.  When my husband and I experienced a miscarriage, my brother and sister-in-law donated some children’s books to the library in our son’s name.  Some people may make donations to charity in the families’ name also.

            Even after the funeral, the family of the deceased needs to be cared for.  Arranging meals or helping to run errands can be a much needed and very inexpensive gift to give.  Remember when making any visits that you call before coming and those visits should be cut short, about 10 to 15 minutes.  When a Jewish family is sitting shivah, it means they are available for condolence calls.  It’s best not to call during meal times, and calls are never made on the Sabbath- from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.  If you make a visit to their home, you may see a pitcher of water and shoes lined up by the front door.  The pitcher is to rinse your hands before you enter and take your shoes off.  This signifies utmost respect during their time of loss.  You will also see that the mirrors in their home will be covered and men do not shave.  The idea is that your thoughts should all be on the deceased and not the vanity of yourself.

            If you still feel uncomfortable going to funerals, I would recommend to talk to your funeral director for ways to help you get over those feelings.