Memorial Etiquette: What Guests Need to Know

Today, funeral and memorial ceremony practices can vary greatly based on culture, religion, and a number of personal circumstances. For most people, attending a funeral isn’t necessarily a common event – some people may not attend their first funeral until adulthood. As a result, it can be difficult to know exactly what’s expected of you as your prepare to attend the funeral of a friend, loved one, colleague, or peer.

Here, we’ve assembled a list of how to act, what to bring, and what to do when you attend a funeral. Sometimes these items apply to any memorial service, but in other cases, it will be on you to do your own research or speak to the hosting family. Remember – if you’re not sure, it’s always better to ask than to make the wrong decision.

Universal Things to Remember
Though funerals can be different, a few customs tend to remain applicable across the board.

Attire: Clothing can feel like a major decision – and it is important – but keep in mind, no one is there to see what you decided to wear. Keep it conservative, clean, and comfortable, Everplans recommends. While different schemes are closely associated with funerals, like black or somber colors, what you wear isn’t as important as how you act or even just your willingness to attend and support those in mourning.

Offering or receiving condolences: Not everyone is great with words, and that may apply to you, as well. If you want to offer words of support, don’t worry about saying the right thing – just say what’s on your mind, as simple or verbose as it may be. On the other side, if guests reach out to you, understand they mean well and only want to help. If they say something awkward or cliche, accept it graciously.

Seating: In many cases, family and relatives will sit in the first two rows. But that doesn’t mean guests will have to sit in the back. Sit where you feel comfortable, and don’t be afraid to fill in gaps in the crowd.

Make sure you understand the norms for funeral services.

Make sure you understand the norms for funeral services.

Questions to Ask Yourself and the Family
When there’s any uncertainty, it’s better to ask than assume – and risk making the wrong decision.

Should I attend? Not everyone goes to a funeral, even for someone they love and respect. For instance, if you’re an ex-spouse of the deceased, you should consider whether or not your presence would be welcome or upsetting to the family and current spouse, according to Funeral Wise. However, if you were close to the person or the family, it’s often a good idea to attend or to discuss that with the family. Note as well that some funerals are private – by invitation only – while others are open to the public.

What should I bring? Flowers are the typical funeral gift, and for many services, families do welcome a bouquet. However, increasingly, families choose to accept donations or have guests make a donation to a specific charity in lieu of flowers. You should make sure to ask the family or read the obituary for more information.

Though a funeral or memorial service is a sensitive time for family and friends, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable to reach out, donate, attend the ceremony, or ask the family what they need. Ultimately, the funeral is a chance for people to come together, mourn, and remember, so it’s more important you remain respectful and offer support than it is for you to perfectly adhere to a specific custom. As long as you follow these guidelines, you’ll have nothing to worry about.


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