Funeral Etiquette

Visitation at the Funeral Home

What is the appropriate dress?

Today, black is not required for the visitation or funeral.  You should dress in a way to show respect to the family and other mourners.  Conservative clothes are always appropriate for men and women.  However, almost always, the important thing is not how you are dressed, but that you are there.

What should I say?

No matter what your means of expressing your sympathy, it is important to clearly identify yourself to the family.  Upon arrival, go to the family, and express your sympathy with an embrace or by offering your hand.  Depending on your relationship to the family, you may say something like, “I am so sorry about John.  He was a good friend, and I will miss him very much.”  In addition to expressing sympathy it is also fitting, if desired to relate to family members your fond memories of the deceased.  Kinds words about the deceased are always appropriate.

If the bereaved wants to talk, they usually need to express their feelings – they aren’t necessarily looking for a response from you.  They may say things that seem irrational or pose questions that have no answer.  The kindest response is usually a warm hug, and a sympathetic, “I understand”.

Paying your respects to the person who has died.

The decision of whether or not to approach the casket is a very individual one.  It is not required, or considered rude if you decide against it.  However, if offered by the family, it is customary to show your respect by viewing the deceased and, if you desire, spending a few moments in silent prayer.  The family may wish to escort you to the casket, or you may proceed on your own.


After you have spoken with the family, it is perfectly appropriate to engage in quiet conversation with friends you may meet at the visitation.  Your simple presence will mean a lot to the family.

How long should I stay at visitation?

You need not stay long – fifteen minutes gives you enough time to express your sympathy and offer your support.  Of course, if the bereaved indicates they would like you to remain for a while, take your cue from them and stay longer.  Use your own judgement.  If you feel your presence is of comfort, offer to stay as long as the family needs you and you are able.

The Funeral Service

Do I need to be invited to a funeral or can anyone go?

A funeral service is open to anyone, unless the family requests that it is a private ceremony.

Can children go to the funeral?

Yes, but toddlers and infants can be disruptive, especially if it’s a long service.  You can take older children if they want to go.  It’s a good idea to prepare them beforehand so they know what to expect.

Who travels in the funeral procession?

When the funeral ceremony and burial are both held in the local area, it is appropriate for friends and relatives to accompany the family to the cemetery.

What happens at the cemetery?

Family and friends usually proceed either to the gravesite, or into a chapel.  The casket is then placed near the gravesite, or on a carriage (if in a chapel).  People then gather to listen to the rites of burial spoken by the clergy.  Following the clergy’s remarks, family members may be invited to speak or to come forward to place a flower on the casket.  Others in attendance may be invited to do the same before making a quiet procession from the gravesite.

A family member may extend an open invitation to join them for food or a quiet reception at their home or a restaurant.  This provides an opportunity for friends and family to talk, and provides some rest and refreshment, especially for those who have traveled to the funeral.

How Often Should I Keep In Touch?

Remember that grief doesn’t go away in a few short weeks.  Even a year may not be long enough to adjust to changes in a person’s life.  A friend who calls in 3, 6 or 12 months time may be one of the few who still asks how things are going.  Special days like birthdays or Christmas may be just the time to pick up the phone and say, “I was thinking of you today.”

Other Expressions of Condolence

While there is no substitute for a personal visit if you are physically able to do so, there are many other ways to express your sympathy.

Flowers- A floral tribute can be of great comfort to the family.  If you can imagine walking into a room filled with the loveliness and the soft fragrance of beautiful flowers, you can understand how something so simple can be so meaningful.

Mass Cards-  If the deceased was Catholic, mass cards may be sent instead of, or in addition to, flowers.  You may leave your card in the stand provided at the funeral home.

Memorial Gifts A gift of remembrance is always appropriate, especially when the family has requested such a gift in lieu of flowers.  It is nice to personalize your gift, for example, by making a gift to the deceased’s alma mater, or contributing to medical research for the disease they suffered.  The family may also suggest a specific charity or other memorial fund.