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. Here are a few do’s and dont's of funeral etiquette.
- 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.
- 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, unless requested by the family to best remember and represent the deceased. Wearing what you would wear for a wedding or a job interview would be the most appropriate.
- 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. This book is always available at the entrance of the chapel or church, please take a moment to sign it when you enter the facility for the service so you don't miss the opportunity to have your name recorded for the family.
- Give a gift – You don’t need to go overboard with your gift, after all it is the thought that counts. Suitable gifts include; flowers, a donation to the charity of the family’s choice, or you can make a commitment of service to the family at a later date. A commitment of service can be something as simple as cooking them dinner, or offering to clean up their house, any of the “little” things that may be neglected while a family deals with death. Make sure you provide a signed card so the family knows who gave the gift.
- 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.
- Right of Way - If you should meet a funeral procession on the highway, perhaps demonstrating purple flashing lights or other signage, please be respectful and pull off to the shoulder of the road and allow the procession to go by. Please be advised that in Nova Scotia, it is illegal to not allow a funeral procession to have the right of way and can be a chargeable offense.
- Be respectful - Although all family members are important, there is only a certain amount of seating that can be made available for family members. It is the funeral director's responsibility to assure there is sufficient seating reserved for 'immediate family members' or those who are part of the obituary. If you are a distant relative or a member of the spouse's side of the family, please allow the funeral staff to have you seated where available space is, the important thing is you are there and you are supporting the family, it doesn't matter where you are seated.
- 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.
- Enter quietly - Don't use the time from your arrival to the beginning of the service to socialize and talk to your friends who are seated with you. Take the time to reflect and remember the person you are there to honor. Many times the prelude music that is played has been selected by the family or requested by the deceased, please take the time to sit quietly and listen.
- 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.
- 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.
- Overindulge - If food or drink is served, do not over do it. Have a bite to eat before you go to the service, you do not want to be that guy parked at the snack table. If alcohol is served, limit yourself to one or two, do not become inebriated and risk doing something inappropriate.