Guide to attending a funeral

Attending a funeral is never easy, but it can be much more difficult if you're worrying about the details of the event, such as what you should wear and how to behave. In the emotionally heightened situation of a funeral, these concerns can often be blown out of proportion – after all, the main point of the event is to commemorate the deceased and support the bereaved.

If you’re attending a funeral and are worried about how the event will play out then this guide should help to put you at ease. While there are different funeral customs for different cultures and religions, this article covers the basics for a typical secular or Christian funeral in the UK.

What to wear

This is a question that a lot of people struggle with, and it's one that they often don't feel comfortable voicing for fear of coming across as frivolous or superficial. However, it is reasonable to be concerned about the appropriate way to dress at a funeral, and it's likely that other attendees will feel the same way. If you feel comfortable doing so, speak to other people who are planning on going to the funeral and ask them what they will be wearing.

If you don't want to ask what you should wear, the best thing to do is dress reasonably smartly. It's very rare that people expect funeral attendees to wear black clothing, so as long as you're dressed smartly – no jeans or trainers – and conservatively, you should be fine. If there is a specific dress code, such as wearing the favourite colour of the deceased, the family will most likely contact you to let you know.

When to arrive

Arrive slightly early if possible so you can ensure that you don't turn up and cause disruption to the service. However, if you do have to turn up late or know you will have to leave early, just try to move quietly and sit somewhere near the back so you can easily get in or out. If you are participating in the service – for example, if you will be serving as a pallbearer or if you are delivering a eulogy or reading - you should aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before the funeral service is scheduled to start. This is so you can meet with the funeral director to go over the schedule for the event.

Bringing children

One of the issues many funeral attendees have to consider is whether or not to bring children. On one hand, you may feel that it is important for them to say goodbye to a family member or someone they knew well, but on the other hand funeral services tend to be very emotional experiences and can be quite disturbing for young children. The choice is entirely yours, but if you do decide to allow your children to attend, make sure that you prepare them for what will happen during the event. You should also sit near the back of the venue so you can leave easily if they feel uncomfortable.

Helping the bereaved

If you are not a member of the immediate family of the deceased, you may wish to help the relatives in some manner. If you would like to help, it's best to make a specific offer, such as providing child care, serving guests at the wake or providing food.

If the family are in some kind of financial difficulty, help must be given discreetly. Often a public account will be set up, or you may be able to provide a donation anonymously with the help of the family's priest, pastor or funeral director.

Attending the wake

A wake is an event that occurs after the funeral service, and it usually takes place in the deceased's home, the home of one of their relatives or another venue. The wake is usually much less formal than the funeral itself and is a time for mourners to share their memories of the departed. It is customary to go directly to the family of the deceased to offer your sympathy before joining the rest of the group. It's also important to remember that while a wake can often feel more like a celebration than a sombre event, your role is to comfort the bereaved and you still need to behave and speak respectfully.

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