Saturday, April 15, 2017

Funeral Etiquette

A reader sent me the following request.

“My husband passed away last month.  At the wake, some people in the line talked to me excessively long, and two ladies even talked to each other about their inconvenient shopping experiences, while I just stood there.  Can you please address this touchy subject?”

Funerals can indeed be challenging. Some people behave appropriately and others do not. Many people just don't know what to do at a wake or funeral. Their nerves take over and behaviour can become inappropriate. Others have never been schooled in proper funeral etiquette. Think about why you are at the wake. For instance, no one is interested in any inconvenience you may have endured to attend this wake or funeral. Personal feelings and or experiences need to be put aside for the moment. You are present to pay your respects to the deceased and his or her family.

Because grieving is such a personal experience, we each process it differently. This may contribute to the fact that no two funerals are ever exactly alike. There needs to be certain flexibility for people to express their emotions in their own personal ways. This flexibility needs our respect and support, no matter how different it may be from how we may handle such situations in our own way.



When we attend a wake, we should turn our primary attention to supporting the family and close friends of the deceased. Mixed with this is our own sorrow and the grief we may be experiencing. Supporting friends and expressing our condolences, and saying our own last farewells makes for a very emotional time. We need to try to be respectful of the immediate family, and resist turning attention to ourselves.

When in line to express our condolences, we should keep conversation to a minimum and very quiet. Focus on memories and the relationship we will miss. We are part of a larger community of well-wishers and mourners whose collective strength helps buoy the family in this time of need. Therefore, pay attention to the progress of the receiving line while progressing through it. There is no reason to hold things up for idle chatter of a personal nature. Keep your remarks to one or two sentences and move on.  Receiving lines are not the place to share heavy emotional thoughts. Remember there are likely many people behind you to want to pay their respects. Try not to do anything to add to an already difficult time.



Other considerations make for a respectful celebration of life. Whether the wake or funeral is in a church or not, our level of respect should remain the same. How we dress is one of the several ways we can show our respect. I hear a lot of negative comments on the way people dress. Clean clothes are a must - a suit and tie for gentlemen, and a dress for ladies. Blue jeans, t-shirts and ball caps have no business at a wake. Ladies should wear a hat when inside a church, but men must never wear one indoors.

There can be extenuating circumstances. It is acceptable not to be dressed in your best if you have left your job to attend a wake or service, and changing clothes is not an option. Paying one’s respects is more important than what clothes one wears. However, if the option of dressing appropriately is possible, take the time to make the effort. People appreciate it.



Talking in church is a bad habit and ought to be avoided. A funeral is a time for quiet contemplation not a chance for a chat with a friend.   A funeral represents the time set aside by the family to honour the person who has died. Socializing can certainly be done after the service. Be sensitive to the people around you and be quiet.

Snapping photographs and taking selfies at a wake or funeral is also not appropriate. I recall this faux pas made the headlines during a well-publicized funeral. Again, be aware of how disrespectful drawing attention to yourself is during a service honouring a deceased friend. Wakes are solemn affairs. Most people attending are in a contemplative state of mind. Interrupting this quietude is insensitive and rude.


A handwritten note is a great way to convey sentiments of a personal nature. If you write a note ahead of time, there will likely be a place for condolence cards at the wake. Cards may also be sent after the service. Unlike thank you cards, which are sent out immediately after a gift is received, condolence cards may arrive a month later.




Our thoughts are first and foremost with the bereaved. Our own mourning is appropriately done privately.