Funeral Etiquette

Funerals, memorial services, and visitations are often sad and emotional. Yet, knowing what to expect, what to say, and what is your role and the chain of events, will help you feel a little more comfortable in a situation that all of us will face more than once in our lifetime. 


Attire Funeral attire used to mean wearing all black, but as society has become less rigid, so has the dress code for many life events. Unless there is religious or cultural attire to be worn, some general rules of thumb will help. Black is always a suitable color, yet any subdued color is appropriate. For both men and women of any age, it is suggested to stay away from loud or bold colors, tee shirts, tank tops, strapless or backless dresses or tops, shorts, short skirts, etc.


For Men Suits always are appropriate for the day of the funeral or memorial service. If you do not own a suit a sport coat is fine or you can wear a shirt and tie, and dress pants. If this is not possible, wear a shirt or sweater with a nice pair of pants.

Your main objective is to show respect. For visitation, if you are a family member you may wear a sport coat with or without a tie. Those in attendance as a friend or acquaintance during visitation may wear a nice pair of pants or dress jeans with a jacket, button shirt or collar shirt, sweater, and/or vest. 


For Women For the day of the funeral, you may wear a dress, skirt and blouse, pant suit or suit. Make sure your colors are subdued, with nothing overly bright or loud in pattern. Do not draw attention to yourself. Thus, avoid wearing shorts, tank tops, strapless tops, low-cut or backless tops or dresses, or short skirts. 

This is a somber occasion and not a party or an evening of clubbing. Flip flops or tennis shoes should be avoided.


Attendance and Events While many funeral customs are changing, yet regardless of what the event is called — a visitation, wake, gathering, or celebration — quite often this is held the day before the funeral service, memorial service or remembrance service. This is a time to express your condolences to the family.

All that is necessary are for you to share brief words, such as “I’m sorry for your loss.”  You will not want to monopolize the family’s time, particularly if it is a busy gathering.  You also need not spend a long period of time at the visitation, depending on how well you know the family or knew the deceased.

 The service, which may be a funeral service at the funeral home or church (the body will be present), or memorial service (body is not present), is not a time for extended socializing with the family. Please arrive 10 to 15 minutes prior to the start of the service. As this is a very difficult day for the family, briefly greet people and offer your condolences and take your seat.

 At the end of the service, if there is a procession to a cemetery or a luncheon, please make your way to your car promptly following dismissal by seating order. There will be ample time following services at the cemetery or at the luncheon to talk with the family. 


What to Say Following, are some consoling words that you can say:

“I’m so sorry”

“My sympathy to you and your family”

“I’m here if you need to talk”

If you knew the deceased and not the family, it is quite easy to ask someone to point out a spouse or children. Then, you may introduce yourself and share how you knew the deceased as well as offer brief words of condolence or share a brief memory. 


What You May Not Want to Say Following, are some words that you may not want to say:

“Time heals all wounds”

“I know how you feel”

“He’s better off now”

“You can have more children”

“You have to keep busy”

“You’ll get over it”

“You need to express your feelings”