Time is fleeting. For some, that only becomes evident after it cannot be regained- most commonly felt after the loss of a loved one. Although it is something you don’t want to think about, funeral etiquette is a thing, and it is important to understand what to do and what not to do even when it is hard, and the timing does not feel right.
In a time of grief, the focus should be on mending and healing the hearts that are broken, not on the logistics of the planning process. To reconfigure your heart and your mind after a loss, you’ll need to take some time to process. Whether you are attending a funeral or planning it, these funeral etiquette tips are here to help the process be a little easier.
What to Send
Flowers have been a lasting tradition when it comes to sending a message to someone else. That message could be of love, congratulations or condolences. When it comes to funeral etiquette, it is typically recommended to either send funeral or sympathy flowers. The difference between the two is simple. Funeral flowers are sent directly to the funeral for the viewing or service, and sympathy flowers are sent to the home during or after.
Funeral arrangements are often formal and large, an example being a standing spray, and a sympathy arrangement is made to fit on a table or comfortably in a home. Either gesture is appreciated and shows you are thinking of the person during their loss. Where words may fail, flowers play a good middle ground when you want to show you care.
It is not considered appropriate to send flowers for the casket. Buying casket flowers is considered a gesture reserved for close family or friends. However, if the family is struggling to pay for the costs of the overall service, asking to contribute in such a way may be exactly what is needed.
Our florists at Xochitl Flowers and Gifts in El Paso, TX, are here to help with any questions you may have about what to send for a funeral, viewing or as a display of sympathy. Whether you can attend the service or not, sending flowers is always deemed an appropriate gesture. Consider your options. If you already have the flowers ordered and are just not sure what is deemed appropriate for the service, consider these tips for appropriate funeral etiquette.
What to Wear
Who, what, when, where and why- Who Is the funeral for? What are the details? When is it taking place, and why is your clothing choice so important?
Is the funeral for a close relative or friend, and what is the age of the person who has passed? These are important details because many times funerals are organized around that person’s unique characteristics.
What are the details? Which of their unique characteristics or interests stood out to you? If the deceased was a big sports fan, the family may request everyone to show up in their favorite sports jersey. The same goes for favorite colors, unique interests and sometimes it boils down to the basics.
When is the funeral taking place? Weather may be of concern. If the funeral is outdoors and rain is in the forecast, heels may not be the best option. If there are not any specific details as to what attire is appropriate, there is no shame in asking. All black or dark clothing is safe, but remember, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed (i.e. no flip flops) unless the family requests a more casual dress code.
A funeral is one place where standing out should not be a priority. It is best to blend in to keep the focus on what matters. It is important to take this time to truly celebrate the life of the deceased. It is best to focus on the time you had, the memories you cherished and not so much on what you wear to the service. If you are dressed to blend in, you’ll be fine.
If you're still worried about what you should wear to a funeral, there are safe points that will help take away the uncertainty. Go simple in style, dress in dark colors and wear functional shoes. Dark pants, skirts or dresses are typically a safe bet. Dress conservatively to avoid too much attention. Your outfit does not need to be completely black unless the culture dictates it, but nine times out of ten, dark colors are preferred.
Etiquette to Remember
Now that you know what to wear, it is important to know how to act. When you enter a viewing or a funeral and are not a direct relative to the deceased, look for a seat that is toward the middle or back of the room. If you must stand in the back because of overflow, that is ok, too. It is important to be reverent. Sometimes reverence can be as simple as the seat you choose for the actual service. You are there to show your respects. There will be time for you to speak to the family or go to the casket, so seating doesn’t need to be your priority.
When you are looking to console the family, understand less is more. It is important to focus on being supportive because that is what they need. Avoid using phrases like “move on” or “it happened for a reason” because it can do more harm than good. The grieving process is not a predictable one, and how one person heals may vary from another. If you are looking for something to say, offer your condolences and if you feel inclined, offer to help in whatever way you can.
It is important to understand that you are not obligated to attend the burial. Burials are typically a more private, intimate ceremony. If you are comfortable with it and have the time, it is good to attend, so you can show support. However, you are not expected or obligated to.
How-to Be Reverent and Respectful Before and After a Funeral Service
You may not always agree with a person’s beliefs, but when it comes to a funeral, the focus should be on your common ground, not your differences. Just like people, not all funerals are alike. If a funeral service has a religious foundation that you don’t practice, don’t feel uneasy. Use the time as an opportunity to be reverent and pay tribute to the person who has passed. Your only obligation is to be respectful and honor the life of the person you cared about.
If you have sent flowers, attended the funeral and still want to contribute in some way, you have options. Talk with the family about contributing toward their overall expense. Funeral services, viewings and receptions often cost the family a hefty sum. Many people set up a GoFundMe account that allows others to contribute if or what they feel led to. You are by no means expected to, but it can truly help lift some of the burden off a grieving family.
If you can’t contribute money but are still looking to contribute something extra, ask if you can bring a dish or dishes to the reception following the service. Go a step further and offer to help set up who brings what. If you know the family hasn’t been able to or couldn’t plan anything, offering to host them for lunch is a generous and thoughtful gift. Any and all these gestures can mean more to the family than you may realize. Helping with the logistics helps them be able to focus on their time of grief.
While the rules of funeral planning and attendance may seem diverse, funeral etiquette has remained relatively consistent. It is always good to reach out to the one organizing with questions and concerns and contribute where you can. Time is so precious, and it is best spent helping others. The roles could so easily have been reversed. Do what you can to make this hard time in their life a little easier because you never know when you will be the one in need of support.