Attending a Funeral: Rules to Bend and Rules to Follow
When a friend or family member dies, most people make immediate plans to attend the funeral…and then frantically try to remember all the funeral etiquette they have learned. Wear all black. You must send flowers. Only attend the graveside service if you have been personally invited.
With so many different funeral rules to follow, it can be difficult to know what is expected of you—especially since you do not want to burden the family at a difficult time. Although only you can decide for sure what types of behaviors and activities are appropriate, here are some general guidelines about funeral rules that you should follow and funeral rules that are open to interpretation.
- Do I have to wear all black to a funeral? Traditional rules say that wearing all black is the most appropriate response, but this rarely happens outside the movies or very formal funeral services. In fact, head-to-toe black might actually make you stand out and draw attention, which is the last thing you want to do. Opt for somber colors and modest dress or, if this is out of the question, then your “Sunday best” will suffice.
- Can I attend the funeral even if I wasn’t invited? Most people aren’t “invited” to a funeral. Instead, a notice is placed in the newspaper or online regarding the time and place of the service so that anyone who wants to can attend. If this information is not easy to find, or if it specifies that the service is only for family, then you do need to respect the family’s wishes for privacy. If, however, the information is public, then the funeral is public, as well.
- Do I have to attend the visitation? Some families hold visitations (also called viewings or wakes) prior to the funeral service. The body is usually present at this service as a way for loved ones to say their goodbyes. Most visitations are open to the public unless otherwise stated, so you are typically free to attend. The delicate nature of the event, however, means the decision to go is a personal one. If you have reservations about seeing the physical remains of the deceased, feel free to skip this part of the service.
- Is it required to send funeral flowers? Am I allowed to send flowers even if the family asks for “in lieu of” donations? There is no rule that says you have to send a funeral flower bouquet. In fact, if everyone sent flowers, there would likely be too many to display at the service. If a floral display is outside your budget or comfort zone, then you can send a sympathy card instead. However, if the family asks not to receive flowers (for personal or religious reasons), please act in accordance with their wishes.
- Can I go to the graveside service? The graveside service is more intimate than a memorial service or funeral, and may be closed to all but family. If no mention has been made of a graveside service, or if you haven’t received instructions for the procession, then there is a good chance the family wants to keep things private. If, however, an announcement or instructions are provided at the funeral, then you’re free to accompany them.
If you still have concerns or questions about the funeral, be sure to direct your inquiries to the funeral director or funeral home. They will have ready answers about what is open to the public and what is going to be kept private, as well as tips on arrival times and where to send your funeral arrangements.