For those not involved with the actual funeral planning, it can be awkward to know what to do. Fortunately, there are standard “rules” of funeral etiquette that can help you navigate the situation. Everything from funeral attire to expressions of sympathy is covered on many funeral resources such as this site.
The Funeral Service
The parts of the funeral that most people are familiar with are the memorial service and the burial. In some cases, the memorial service may actually take place “graveside” and will include the burial. During the services, a eulogy will usually be offered, a religious ceremony may take place, and guests are sometimes given the opportunity to speak before the attendees in order to share their memories of the deceased.
The person doing the funeral planning may also have included the option of a “visitation” for friends and loved ones. This is a time prior to the actual memorial service or burial in which you are invited to the funeral home to say goodbye to the departed and to offer your condolences to the bereaved. While visitation may be open for a few hours, you are not expected to stay for very long unless the family needs you.
After the Service
When attending a memorial service, funeral etiquette dictates that you follow along respectfully. Once the service has concluded, the casket will likely be carried down the aisle to a waiting hearse. The bereaved family will leave their seats and process behind the casket. At that point, attendees file out of the funeral home or church, usually in the order of their seats.
It is proper to leave your seat promptly and go to wait with your vehicle until the funeral procession begins. The hearse will leave first, and the car or limousine with the family will follow next in line. All guests who will be attending the interment will then fall into line. Each car’s headlights should be on to alert other drivers that a funeral procession is taking place. Park where appropriate at the cemetery and speak respectfully while waiting for the service to begin.
The family may choose to host a reception after the burial has taken place. Guests are usually able to leave the cemetery on their own and meet again, whether at the family’s home or a reception hall, church, or other gathering place. This is a good time to share positive memories of the deceased. If you haven’t already had an opportunity to offer your condolences to the family, you can do so at this time, too.
As Time Passes
Although the funeral will come to an end, family and friends will continue to mourn and grieve. If you were unable to attend the funeral service, then the first time you meet afterward, you should express your sympathy. If you did attend, however, it may be considered kinder not to mention the death directly in a public place but to ask if there is anything you can do to assist them in their difficult time. Making a point to call or visit and to include them in social plans will be appreciated, even if they are not yet ready to participate. Continued support is not something that can simply be taken care of with a little funeral planning, rather it has to be thoughtfully done by friends and family members like you.