5 Unspoken Funeral Etiquette Rules Every Guest Should Follow

Good intentions can go off the rails

We all want to do the right thing when the wrong thing happens, but sometimes we are afraid of putting our foot in our mouth.  Instead, we stall and don't do anything, not even going to the funeral.  Our good intentions go off the rails. 

We don’t discuss death and aren’t informed

Normally, death is a tough subject, one that we avoid.   That means we have little knowledge of what to do or say at the funeral.  Funerals are about honouring the loved one, saying goodbye together and supporting the grievers by sharing in the burden of grief.   You may not know the deceased but if he was your best friend’s brother, it is right to attend to support her.  When the grievers are in deep pain, simply your presence at the funeral says, “I care too and I know it is tough”. 

5 unspoken rules for funeral etiquette 

Stick with these and you will bring comfort to ease their suffering and comfort in their time of need.

1.        Less is more:  Keep your words to the bereaved short, sincere and simple.  Remember that they usually have many people to talk to and are emotionally worn down.   Saying something like, " I'm so sorry", "My condolences to you and the entire family" or "My thoughts are with you all," are safe bets.   Recalling a fond memory or a positive short story honours the loved one and helps the bereaved know you cherished them too.  However, asking them to tell the story of how they died (again) can be draining.  Be sure to sign the guestbook because the family cherish remembering the guests that came and cared.

2.       What not to say:  Beware of platitudes, they can be insensitive and sound off-handed. 

•    Avoid saying,  "He's in a better place," - which might be true, but they are hurting here.  
•    Avoid saying,  "The pain will lessen in time," – at this time, it is too painful to imagine life without their loved one. 
•    Avoid saying,  “I know how you feel,” – each relationship is different and you might be able to identify with the type of loss, but you cannot actually know how they feel.  
•    Avoid saying,  “God needed another angel” – which implies God does not care about their broken heart.
You get the idea.  Better to give them a simple, “I am very sorry”, a hug, a warm handshake, or a pause of respect.

3.       What do I wear?  Black is still common but muted dark colours like blue, grey, and eggplant are welcome too.  It is a solemn occasion, so dress to indicate respect and honour: no flip flops, t-shirts nor taking center stage with a fashion statement outfit. 

4.       Do I take my children?  There maybe extended family for them to meet there but remember that the focus is the life of the deceased and supporting a grieving family, so be careful of taking selfies with all the relatives.   Prepare the children to ensure their well-being and be prepared to discretely take them out if they act up.  

5.       What not to do during the funeral? 

  •  Don’t receive calls on your phone, turn it off. 
  •  Don’t sit in reserved areas.  Carefully follow instructions by ushers to ensure the event goes as smoothly as possible.
  • If you are speaking, don’t tell questionable jokes, or long-winded stories.  

You can do it

These guidelines will ensure that the focus is on honouring the loved one at the funeral and being a comfort to a family in pain.   The bereaved will look back and appreciate your presence, respectfulness and support in their time of loss.    

Can you think of any others to add?  Please post in the comments for everyone’s benefit.

Big hugs and love, 


If you are facing loss, find out the best ways to renew your resilience.  For a complimentary coaching session to renew your resilience, contact me through my resouces page or e-mail me at coach@helgabender.com

Please leave a comment about this blog - let me know whether you liked it or not.  

Also check out my facebook page - for the latest, or just to say Hi!  

© Helga`s Coaching Blog  2017. You are welcome to use excerpts and links, provided full and clear credit is given to  Helga Bender and Helga's Coaching Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.