Funeral/Memorial Service Etiquette

Yes, I understand this is not going to be our favorite topic but really, it’s necessary.  Allow me to give an example of why.  Recently, I attended a memorial service for someone and it was really lovely.  There were many in attendance which I’m sure was so appreciated by the family.  When I arrived, the line was quite long to visit with the family to give condolences.  Typically, a long receiving line at a memorial service should not be a matter of concern, as the line should move very quickly. However, this line moved extremely slow.  I soon realized that visitors were spending 5-8 minutes with the bereaved.  This was entirely too long.

Why?  Because it is exhausting for the family to greet so many people, both physically and emotionally.  This is not the appropriate time to “catch up” on the latest news regarding your family.  It is a time to simply give a smile, a hug or a handshake and express with brief but sincere words our condolences.  For instance, “Martha, I am so very sorry for your loss.  I love you and I love your family and know that my thoughts and prayers will be with you during this difficult time.”  Then move on.  If we have a more intimate relationship with the bereaved, then perhaps we can offer our condolences in a more familiar manner, but it should still be very brief.  Due to the length everyone was taking with this family, funeral attendants had to get chairs for the wife of the deceased because her legs were giving out and the service started one hour late.

Perhaps in the coming weeks after a “passing,” we could reach out to the bereaved and visit them in their home for a more lengthly visit.  

A few more things to remember:
  • Our dress should reflect our feelings for the deceased (flip flops, revealing attire, t-shirts, baseball caps, etc. are not appropriate)
  • Please be on time.  If there is a “service” immediately following the “receiving of friends,” then plan on arriving at least 45 minutes prior to the time of the service starting.  Often times, family is removed from the room to rest and have a break up to 30 minutes prior to the service so if you wait too long, you may miss them
  • Bringing children to a funeral or memorial service is entirely appropriate if they can sit quietly for extended periods of time.  It would be very inappropriate to allow children to roam around the room unattended.  They should stay at the side of their parent or other adult family member.
  • Please speak reverently at all times within the walls of the service area.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to remain quiet because often at funerals we see people we haven’t seen in years and there is a bit of excitement over these sweet reunions.  However, we must remain respectful and reverent for those who are in mourning.
As with all things, let’s teach our children these important etiquette considerations so they like us, can send a message to those around them that we care and we value them.

Have a great month,
Monica Irvine
Certified Etiquette Educator