Funeral Etiquette

Published: January 1, 2020
by Lawrence A. Carnevale, Sr.

Like everything in society, funeral etiquette and what is expected of you has evolved over time. As always common sense and good discretion is the best guide to proper funeral etiquette. As a Funeral Director, I’m often asked various questions on what’s acceptable. Here are a few do’s and don’ts of funeral etiquette.


1. Express your condolences – It’s not easy to come up with the words to offer sympathy to someone who has just lost a loved one. You don’t need to be a poet, simply saying something like “I am sorry for your loss, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family” is enough. If you can’t be at a funeral service in person, sending a card or leaving a message on a memorial website is a perfect way to express your sympathy.

2. Dress appropriately – Gone are the days of dressing up in all black for a funeral, but jeans and a t-shirt isn’t exactly acceptable either. You should still dress to impress and avoid any bright or flashy colors. Wearing what you would wear for a wedding or a job interview would be the most appropriate.

3. Sign the register book – The family will keep the register book as a memento for years. Be sure to include your full name and relationship to the deceased.

4. Keep in Touch – You may feel that the family needs their space and time to grieve, but a simple phone call or note after the funeral lets the family know you care. With social networking leaving a quick note is as simple as a click of a mouse. The months following a death is when grieving friends and family need the most support.


1. Bring your cell phone – Your phone ringing will be highly inappropriate and will cause a disturbance, so turn any ringers or notifications off. Even better, leave your phone at home or in your car, a funeral is not the time to be texting or checking your messages.

2. Allow your children to be a distraction – From a very young age children are aware of death, and if the funeral is for someone that was close to them (grandparent, aunt, uncle) they should be given the option to attend. However, if it is not appropriate for your child to be there, and if you feel they will cause a commotion, leave them with a babysitter.

3. Be afraid to remember the good times – Funerals are obviously a time of grieving and mourning, but remembering the good times helps with the healing process. Sharing a funny and appropriate story is acceptable, and in some cases exactly what the deceased would have wanted.

4. While some funeral homes may permit food or drink it isn’t appropriate to walk into a funeral home with a coffee. Plain and simple. There are several hours in your day to have coffee or a snack, this shouldn’t be the time for that. We see this time and again and often gently remind people that it isn’t permitted. In the end, we live in a time that is growing ever-more casual. However, there are still important boundaries to respect when attending any funeral, memorial service or celebration of life. Sometimes local customs, cultural standards and faith practices dictate what is appropriate. When in doubt, try to err on the side of formality. Rarely is anybody offended by that.

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