Family members and friends who have lost a loved one truly appreciate when others take the time and effort to attend a funeral or memorial service. There’s seldom a season or anticipated date for losing a loved one, as many deaths occur at unexpected times, affecting both family and friends. If you’re going to a funeral to pay your respects, it’s important to know some of the do’s and don'ts of proper funeral etiquette.
Based on questions from our readers, and a recent personal experience, consider these 6 modern manners tips when interacting with someone during this difficult time to ensure a respectful experience.
1. Do: Offer Support Being there for someone who’s grieving is important, but it’s the kind of support you give that’s pivotal. Whether it’s helping them with their daily tasks or simply giving them your company, every person may need support in different ways. Therefore, kindly ask them:
- “How can I best be a supportive friend?”
2. Don’t: Ask Inappropriate Questions Think carefully about the exact words of comfort you will use to greet those who are grieving. Be prepared. Unless you are a member of the immediate family, avoid asking “How are you feeling?” or “Are you okay?” It shows a lack of foresight and empathy.
3. Do: Be Considerate Instead, opt for more compassionate and authentic comments, such as:
- Please accept my deepest sympathy
- Please accept my warmest condolences
- You and your family are in my prayers
- My thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time
4. Don’t: Fake Authenticity If attending a funeral to support a friend, partner, or on behalf of others, but don’t personally know the deceased, be sensitive about how you approach the situation. Avoid stating “He was a wonderful man,” “She lived a beautiful life,” or “He’s in a better place” if you’ve never met them before.
Instead, be genuine - not wise. If you know the individual well, consider saying:
- “We will always honor the memory of your brother.”
- “We will cherish our memories of your mother.”
- “We will always think of your grandmother when we bake her famous apple pie.”
5. Do: Dress Respectfully Whether it’s a funeral for someone you know or not, proper attire is de rigueur. Even with other commitments following the funeral, when paying your respects, appropriate clothing is required. Be respectful by dressing conservatively and wearing the appropriate colors based on the deceased family’s religion and culture.
6. Don’t: Take Pictures Unfortunately, funeral selfies have been occurring since 2013. While some people want to capture the memory forever, those who oppose selfies at somber occasions believe it’s rude and insensitive. Silence your phone and put it away, resisting any temptation to use it - especially for pictures.
Being in the presence of grief and mourning may cause many to feel out of place and uncomfortable. Attending and being present for the person that just lost someone and is going through an impossible time shows your true character. Integrate these do’s and taboo’s in the event you attend a funeral to make it a better experience for all.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture (formerly Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide). In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.