Funeral Etiquette


The funeral ceremony

Entering the church, chapel or crematorium

In some cases you will be ushered in to take your seat before the family and coffin arrive, at other funerals, you might wait until they have arrived and you walk in behind them.

The front rows are for the immediate family so sit nearer the back if you did not know the person very well. However, if there are few mourners present then sit nearer to the front. It does not matter which side of the ‘aisle’ you sit.

If you are asked to carry the coffin

If you are asked by the family to carry the coffin then accept and be honoured to have been asked. The funeral director will make sure that you are clearly instructed in what you need to do.

You will usually carry the coffin to the front of the church or crematorium. In the case of a burial you will again carry to the hearse and then to the grave, or directly to the grave if it is close by.

What to expect during the funeral ceremony

In a church or other religious building the ceremony will be conducted by a minister of religion. In a crematorium or cemetery, the ceremony may be led by a funeral celebrant or humanist officiant.

At most funerals there is likely to be an ‘Order of Ceremony’ provided when you arrive. This is yours to keep and it will help you see what will happen during the ceremony. It will detail any hymns or songs, who will speak and the order in which everything will happen. It may also state where the family would like you to go for refreshments afterwards, and what to do with any donations you may wish to make.

During the ceremony you might be asked to sit or stand, pray, sing or listen to music. You might be asked, write a message or place a flower on the coffin. These days there is so much choice in funeral ceremonies that every one is different and there are limitless ways that families can influence what happens at the funeral.

In a crematorium chapel, the coffin may remain on view, become hidden by a curtain (or a transparent curtain may remain in place).

Showing emotion

People cry at funerals - everyone understands this, and also that some people don’t cry. Everyone grieves differently and shows different levels of emotion. There is no right or wrong here, it's about showing your support. Just being there shows that you care. Have tissues with you and keep make-up to a minimum if you think you will be very upset.

Leaving at the end of the funeral

At a crematorium

At the end of the ceremony the person conducting it will make it clear that the ceremony has finished. The chief mourners leave first, followed by everyone else. You will wait until the rows in front of you leave and you file out after them.

At a burial

If the grave is nearby, everyone will drive or walk from the chapel to the graveside behind the coffin and further words will be spoken before the coffin is lowered into the grave.

Avoid walking directly on graves if you can and stay between the headstones.

At many burials, earth or other items such as flowers or rose petals are thrown into the grave at the end of the service. Sometimes only the immediate family does this, but sometimes all the mourners follow and do this as well. Watch others and if you feel it appropriate to do so, there is no reason for you not to follow suit.