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Your Funeral Home Etiquette

Funeral Home Etiquette Businessman Adjusting Tie

This seems like old news to most but a recent online article about people taking selfies at funerals prompted me to wonder if everyone knew that there is actually something known as ‘funeral home etiquette.’

Though not a new issue, this particular article included images of individuals taking selfies with the deceased in the casket shown over their shoulder. One comment referred to ‘face swapping’ – switching one’s face with the deceased using a phone app. Now that’s a respectable activity during a service.

On the flip side, for those who aren’t interested on being respectful during a funeral, there are others who simply don’t know the proper protocol when attending a funeral making this an even more uncomfortable experience.

So, for those who apparently still need guidance and those who desire to know, here are some tips on funeral etiquette from various resources. Every funeral home and area has their own set of rules when it comes to what is deemed proper and respectful. That’s why it’s important to provide a guide for those who attend…

Wakes and Viewings The body is usually present at wakes and viewings, which often take place a day or two prior to the funeral service. In most cases, wakes and viewings are open to all guests, unless otherwise noted. This is a time when guests are invited to view the casketed body. While it is customary to show your respects to the deceased by stepping up to the casket, you may not feel comfortable doing so which is completely appropriate. If you knew the person who died but do not know the family, you should still feel free to attend any pre-funeral events. Introduce yourself by offering your name and your relationship to the person who died.

The Funeral Service

  • Arrive early and turn off your cellphone. This allows you time to sign the register, pay your respects to the family and share your condolences. It is important to understand that this time should focus on paying your respects and your attention should reflect that.

  • The proper attire plays a role in etiquette. While many funerals have relaxed dress codes, following traditional guidelines are always recommended. This may include a dark suit for men and conservative attire for women. At the very least be clean and respectful.

  • Be aware of and respect and observe cultural, religious and other practices the family requests.

  • Brief children ahead of time on what they may see and hear, if they’re mature enough to attend.

  • There shouldn’t be a need to add “no selfies” to this list. If you follow the etiquette guidelines above, your cell phone will already be off.

  • At a funeral, take time to shut off everything—your phone, your worries, your busy thoughts.

  • Take time to honor and reflect on the life of the deceased. Some things may include fond memories that you have with the deceased, their values, personality, and even their sense of humor. If you choose, pray for this person’s soul.

  • If the funeral is open casket, you should plan on paying your respects to the deceased. However, viewing the deceased is not mandatory. Depending on local custom, attendees form a line in front of the casket and each approaches the family first to give their condolences. Then they stand in front of the casket and take a minute to say a prayer for the deceased or say their last words to them.

What to Say to the Family What do you say to someone who has just lost a loved one and how do you support them?

Whether you call, send a card or flowers, or visit, the important thing is to make a gesture that lets the family know you’re thinking of them and share their sorrow. While times are changing and proper funeral etiquette is evolving, texts and tweets are still too informal while a sincere email may be fine for expressing sympathy. However, it is still much better to reach out using traditional methods such as a telephone call or hand written note.

When in person, first, be a good listener. Let friends and family talk about their loved one and their death. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t pressure them. Focus on the survivor’s needs.

When speaking to them, avoid using clichés such as, “He or she is in a better place.” Or, “You’ll get over it.” Instead, speak from your heart in your own words. No one expects you to say more than a few words and bereaved family members are often unable to give you their full attention anyway.

After the Funeral If the deceased is to be buried following the service, the funeral officiant will announce the location of the interment. If the cemetery is not located on the grounds of the funeral home, there will be a processional of cars formed to escort the hearse to the cemetery. Unless they have chosen to have a private burial, those in attendance are welcome to join in the procession.

In addition, many families today hold a post-funeral gathering where food and refreshments are served. While this is a time to share memories, laughter, and even tears, your behavior at a funeral reception needs to remain respectful. If you haven’t already, be sure to send a message of sympathy—a physical note, flowers or a contribution to a charity, if requested.

Following through with proper etiquette conveys respect to the deceased and family will set the tone for future generations, hopefully avoiding the dreaded selfies. These are one of the most important occasions when time should be set aside without outside interruptions to honor, reflect and celebrate a meaningful and important individual in one’s life.

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