Funeral Etiquette and Courtesies

“Funeral Etiquette” is rarely talked about, and it’s something no one really wants to think about, but my article on this subject two years ago in ScoopCharlotte is one of our most read etiquette articles ever. I think it’s because people really do care about doing and saying the right thing when someone passes away. Here are some additional tips on what to do, and what not to do, to show respect and kindness during this difficult time.

What do I say to people in mourning?

Sharing a fond memory of the person who passed will help the grieving focus on happier times. Keep it short and simple like, “My condolences to you and the entire family” or “My thoughts are with you all.”

What shouldn’t I say?

Avoid anything that can perceived as insensitive, like “He’s in a better place,” “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”, and “The pain will lessen in time.” Don’t ask how the person died, or tell the bereaved you know how they feel. Don’t question the medical care the person received, or say something like, “they should have…”.

Do I have to wear black?

While black is the traditional color of mourning and a safe option, you can also wear dark colors like grey, brown or blue. It’s not the time for bright colors. Certainly do not wear anything too casual like jeans, shorts, flipflops or a baseball/trucker cap in the house of worship. This is a formal occasion to show respect.

Do I send flowers to a Jewish funeral?

No. Instead, make a charitable contribution in the name of the deceased.

Should I give anything to the family of the deceased?

If the family requests “donations in lieu of” you should follow their wishes. Otherwise, sympathy cards and food are good ideas. Also, gift cards to local restaurants are always appreciated. You can send flowers to the funeral home or to the family’s home so there are flowers at the house for the family and out of town guests to enjoy.

Can I bring my kids to the funeral?

Certainly, but they need to know ahead of time what is expected of them (be quiet, not run around, greeting people, etc.), and then do NOT let them be on electronics of any kind. They can bring something to draw on if you think they need someone during the service to do to remain quiet. If they begin to talk or cry, immediately take them out.

Can I take pictures at the service?

Not during the service, in the place of worship, or at the graveyard, but afterwards, if it is at place like in someone’s home, then it’s okay. The immediate family of the deceased should not be asked to be in a picture. Do not post these pictures on social media unless the family of the deceased has given you permission.

How can I help the family afterwards?

Be specific on what you can do to help and not just say, “let me know if you need anything”. Offer to take people to/from the airport, go grocery shopping, run carpool, pick up something etc. and then really follow through. Call and check in on the family especially during holidays and “special” times when it might be hard for the grieving family.

What is a funeral “Don’t Do”?

Do NOT be on your phone. No texting, calling, or surfing. Also, do not make it about you. It’s not the time to talk about your losses. Don’t asked the bereaved to help you in any way.


Aimee Symington
Aimee is the CEO of Finesse Worldwide, and an etiquette expert with almost 20 year's experience teaching etiquette to adults and children throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Aimee has appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, and she regularly shares her etiquette advice on Charlotte Today, Fox News, and WBTV, on radio programs such as NPR, and in newspapers and national magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Woman's Health. Ms. Symington is also the creator of the award-winning, nationally acclaimed products on manners for children called “Blunders®” and “Manner Mats®” For more etiquette tips for adults and children, please visit her website at Connect on Facebook.


  1. Your “no hat” comment is too general. Women do, and if is often the norm to, wear hats to church. Veils at a funeral are also completely fine.

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