A Complete Guide To Wake and Funeral Etiquette
The death of someone we love can evoke feelings of grief, sadness, and regret. On such occasions, it is important to exhibit sensitivity in our actions and decisions. Respectful behavior is to be expected at religious or social events that honor those who have departed.
From dress code to verbal communication, this article provides guidance on wake and funeral etiquette—how to act accordingly when sadness envelops us. With an understanding of appropriate etiquette for wakes and funerals, you can pay your respects in well-mannered fashion.
What Is The Difference Between A Wake & A Funeral?
The wake or visitation is typically the day before the funeral service and refers to a time when family and friends come to pay their respects to the deceased. Immediate family including surviving spouse, children, parents, and siblings are lined up in a receiving line so that visitors can extend their condolences to the family.
A funeral is typically a religious based ceremony that honors the life of the deceased. The funeral provides an opportunity for family and friends to say their final good-bye. The funeral service is also a time for the congregation to come together as a community during a time of sadness and reflect on the life of the deceased. Funeral services generally take place the day following the wake or visitation.
Knowing what to expect at a wake and a funeral can ease some anxiety and allow you to be prepared to support the family. You can learn more about how to help family after they have suffered a loss here and how best to assist them during the rough days ahead.
What Is the Importance of Etiquette at Wakes and Funerals?
At a time of deep grief, it can be difficult to know how to act and what to say. It is important to remember that the wake or funeral is a time for family and friends to come together to honor the life of the deceased. As such, there are certain etiquette guidelines that should be followed to show respect and compassion for those who have lost a loved one.
The importance of etiquette at wakes and funerals is to remain respectful to the deceased and their family. Proper etiquette will ensure that the focus remains on the deceased. Drawing attention to yourself by failing to follow the rules of wake and funeral etiquette can be harmful to the deceased's family. Knowing proper etiquette will save you from embarrassment or criticism from others.
Wake Etiquette-Tips for Attending a Wake
Every wake or visitation varies slightly depending on the circumstances leading up to death, the family’s wishes and the funeral home. Here are some general guidelines that are common with most wakes and visitations.
What should I expect at a wake?
A wake is typically held in a funeral home and takes place the afternoon or evening before a funeral. The casket or urn is on display in a room, and the casket may be open or closed with a small kneeling bench in front. Immediate family members are lined up after the casket.
When approaching the casket or urn, some visitors choose to kneel and bow their heads in prayer. The decision to kneel is a personal one, and it is perfectly acceptable to walk by and silently pay your respects to the deceased.
After passing by the casket or urn, people express their condolences to the family in the receiving line. Once you have passed through the receiving line, you can leave the wake or quietly mingle with other friends and family paying their respects.
Whom can attend the wake?
Attendance varies depending on your relationship to the deceased, your relationship to the family of the deceased and the age of your family members.
- If you had a close relationship with the deceased, you should attend the wake. This applies to all members of your immediate family that may have also shared a relationship. It offers them a way to say a final good-bye and pay their respects to the family.
- If you have a close relationship with a family member of the deceased, it is appropriate to attend the wake even if you have never met them. It provides a way to pay your respects to your friend and express your sympathy for their loss.
- Children may or may not attend a wake depending on their relationship to the deceased and their age. If a child expresses interest in attending, prepare them for what to expect as best that you can and let them attend. A child that is adamant about not attending or is very young should not attend a wake.
What do I wear to a wake?
Knowing what to wear to wake can take away some of the stress since no one wants to show up inappropriately dressed. What you wear is another way you show your respect for the deceased and the family. The dress code for a wake may differ slightly depending on who's service you are attending.
Some families may ask that attendees wear something special, such as the deceased's favorite color or a themed outfit to honor the deceased. If there is a special dress code, it should be included on the wake invitation or informational web page. If it's not, check with the event coordinator.
Wake Clothing For Women
If the family of the deceased does not have special dress code requirements, it's expected for attendees to dress in proper wake service attire. For women, this may include business casual attire in black or subdued colors.
Such examples may include a dark blouse with slacks, mid length dresses with a cardigan, or even black jeans with a dark blouse and blazer.
It's best for women to keep modesty in mind when choosing wake attire. You do not want to take attention away from the deceased and their family. Clothing to wear to wake should not be too flashy or revealing to ensure the attention is steered towards the deceased.
Wake Clothing For Men
For men, the dress code is typically more formal than women. Men should wear suit or dress slacks with a collared shirt and tie. Dark colors such as black, navy, or gray are appropriate.
A blazer may also be worn if desired. It's important to keep in mind that the attire should be respectful and not too flashy or casual.
Jeans, t-shirts, and baseball caps are not appropriate attire for a wake. It's also important to remember that hats should not be worn inside the funeral home during a wake or funeral. This is a sign of respect for the deceased and their family, as well as those in attendance.
Keep Religious Considerations In Mind
If the deceased and their family are religious, both men and women should be considerate and do their best to follow proper dress guidelines. For example, some religious services may ask that women dress more modestly than normal. This may require bringing a shawl to cover your hair or shoulders, or being sure to wear clothing that fully covers your legs and chest area.
Men may be asked to remove certain jewelry or hats or cover tattoos. It's best to do your research before attending the religious wake to make sure you follow proper dress guidelines.
Cell Phone Etiquette
Cell phone etiquette for a wake requires that the cell phone be immediately muted or turned off out of respect. Additionally, it's recommended to leave phones in pockets or bags while attending the service. If someone needs to answer an emergency call, they should step outside and keep their voices low.
Taking photos, sending texts, or making calls is inappropriate at any time during the wake, and generally a sign of very poor taste. The only time cell phone use may be acceptable is after the wake service at the reception or if the event coordinator gives their approval. In all cases, it is important to remember that a wake is a solemn occasion and treat it with respect accordingly.
Arrival & Departure Etiquette
Knowing how to attend wake is an important part of honoring the deceased and showing respect to their family. It is essential to arrive on time, and it is even better to arrive at least fifteen minutes early. This will give you time to secure a seat and be prepared for the service.
If you are running late, try to enter the space as quietly as possible. Sit in the back so that you do not disrupt those already seated. Being punctual for a wake shows that you care about honoring the deceased and supporting their family in this difficult time. Following these simple guidelines will help ensure that everyone can pay their respects in peace and comfort.
How Long Do I Stay At The Wake?
The length of your stay once you’ve passed through the receiving line is a personal choice. The length of your visit can vary greatly depending on the situation. If you are close to the deceased or their family members, it may be appropriate to stay longer than if you are not as familiar with them. Additionally, if the wake is taking place in someone's home, it may be more appropriate to stay for an extended period that if it were being held in a public venue.
It is important to pay attention to social cues from the family and other guests when deciding how long to stay. You do not want to overstay your welcome, so take your cues from those around you. If people start leaving after a certain amount of time, then it may be best for you to follow suit. On the other hand, if people appear comfortable staying longer and talking about memories of the deceased, then it may be okay for you to stay as well.
Family Interaction Etiquette
Paying tribute to the deceased by attending a wake service is a way to show respect at wake. It's both polite and expected for wake attendees to offer their condolences to the surviving family members and spouse. Express your condolences respectfully by offering kind words about the deceased and expressing how sorry you are for their loss.
Avoid saying things that relate their loss to yourself or another person's situation. Keep the focus on what they are going through right now, not you or anyone else.
What Do I Say To The Family?
Your relationship with the deceased and the family can be a guide as far as what to say and what not to say when offering your condolences.
Things you can say:
"Let me tell you about the time..." Sharing a memory provides you with a way to express a memory that you treasure and tells a story that may bring the family some comfort.
"Hello, my name is _________. I worked with your son for many years. I'm so sorry for your loss." A quick introduction of how you knew the deceased and an expression of sympathy is perfectly okay.
"Joe Smith. I'm a close friend of your son-in-law and I know he is devastated by the loss of his wife. I am so very sorry." Introduce yourself, your connection to the deceased with a warm handshake and an expression of sorrow.
Things you should not say:
“I know what you’re going through.” Every loss is traumatic, and everyone approaches loss in a different way. Where well-meaning, the family could get offended.
“They are in a better place.” or “They aren’t suffering any longer.” No matter if this may be true such as with a long battle with an illness, the family still wants the deceased alive and with them.
“Call me if you need me.” Most people won’t call. They are too involved in their own grief. You reach out to them. You make the effort with the understanding that it is too much for the family to ask for help.
If you don’t know what tos ay,then it’s okay to say nothing at all. Give a warm hug,a handshake, a gentle squeeze of the hand as an expression of sympathy
Offer Your Help & Support
If you were close to the deceased, you may want to offer your help and support to their surviving family. You can offer to help the family by bringing meals to their house, offering to help take care of the deceased's affairs, or volunteering to help the family with chores. Let the family know you are willing and ready to help if needed.
Jeans, t-shirts, and baseball caps are not appropriate attire for a wake. It's also important to remember that hats should not be worn inside the funeral home during a wake or funeral. This is a sign of respect for the deceased and their family, as well as those in attendance.
Gifts For Wake Etiquette
When attending a wake, it is customary to bring gifts for family of the deceased. The type of gift you should bring depends on your relationship with the family and the deceased.
If you were close to them, then a meaningful item such as photo engraved jewelry or keepsake jewelry may be appropriate. If you are not as familiar with them, then a bouquet of flowers and a condolence card may be more appropriate.
It is important to remember that gifts are not expected at a wake, and the family may not have time to open them during the service. It is best to give your gift to a close family member or friend who can pass it along at an appropriate time.
You may also consider making a money contribution in their name to the family or the family's charity of choice.
Religious Customs Etiquette
If the deceased was religious, their wake may feature some religious customs. The loss of a loved one is difficult, and families may rely heavily on their faith during this time. Expect and be respectful of other people's religious beliefs and traditions, even if they differ from your own.
There may be some religious wake customs you are asked to participate in with the family. While you are free to politely decline, it is more polite to take part in them. If for some reason you are uncomfortable with participating in these religious acts, you may want to decline the wake invitation altogether. You can always show your support in another way.
Food & Refreshments Etiquette
Following a wake, there may be a reception for guests that includes food and refreshments. Sometimes guests may bring a homemade dish, food platter, or box of cookies to give to the family and contribute to the reception. This is more appropriate if the reception is held at the deceased's family's home.
However, if the reception is held at and catered by a restaurant, it may not be appropriate to bring in food from outside. If you're not sure what you should or shouldn't bring, reach out to the host family, or event organizer for confirmation.
Social Media Etiquette
When attending a wake, it is important to remember that social media etiquette should be observed. It's never appropriate to post pictures or videos of the remembrance service on social media without permission from the family. It can also be seen as insensitive to the family for posting content related to the service (such as getting ready for the wake).
Sometimes it may be acceptable to take photos with friends and family during the wake reception. Wake and funeral receptions are often seen as a celebration of life of the deceased. In such cases, taking photos may be appropriate behavior. However, do your best to read the room. Do not take selfies or pictures with friends if the family is visibly upset or have not given their permission to do so.
Respecting The Family's Privacy Online
Sharing your condolences on social media may be appropriate if the family has posted publicly about their loss. It may also be okay to post your own tribute to your friend on your own social media page if you remain respectful of the family's privacy. Do not share personal details online that the deceased or the deceased's family does not want the public to know.
For example, the family may want to keep the manner of their loved one's death private along with any other past mistakes they may have been involved in. If you want to post about your friend, make sure you do not breach the family's privacy.
Children's Etiquette For Wakes
When attending a wake, it is important for children to understand the etiquette that should be followed. It can be a difficult experience for children, so it is important to help them understand how they should act and behave in order to show respect and support.
Make Sure They Are Dressed Appropriately
First and foremost, it is important for children to dress appropriately. They should wear clothing that is not too casual or too colorful. Simple dark color pants, sweaters, and dresses are fine.
Tell Them How To Behave
It's also important for them to be quiet and respectful during the wake. This means no running around or playing games. Children should also be taught to be mindful of their words and actions.
They should not ask questions about the deceased or make comments that may be seen as insensitive. Explain to them that a wake is a serious matter and that certain thoughts they must keep to themselves.
Let Them Know How They Can Help
Finally, it is important for children to understand that they can offer support and comfort to the family in other ways such as giving hugs, offering words of encouragement, and helping with tasks.
Photography and Videography Etiquette
Photography and videography are often used to capture memories of a wake or funeral. While it is important to remember the deceased, it is also important to be respectful of those in attendance. Here are some tips for photography and videography etiquette at wakes and funerals:
1. Ask permission before taking any photos or videos. It is important to respect the wishes of the family and other attendees who may not want their photo taken or video recorded.
2. Be discreet when taking photos or videos. Do not take pictures or videos that are intrusive or disrespectful.
3. Respect the privacy of those in attendance. Do not post any photos or videos online without the permission of the family and other attendees.
4. Turn off your flash when taking photos and avoid using a tripod if possible.
5. Be mindful of the background when taking photos or videos. Make sure that you are not including any inappropriate images in the background of your shots.
6. Do not take pictures or videos during the service. This is a time for mourning and reflection, so it is important to be respectful of those in attendance.
7. Do not post any photos or videos online without permission from the family and other attendees.
8. If you are taking photos or videos for the family, make sure to provide them with copies of the images or videos after the event.
9. Be mindful of your own emotions when taking photos or videos at a wake or funeral. It is important to remember that this is a time for mourning and reflection, so be respectful of those in attendance.
Photo and video footage can be a beautiful way to preserve the memory of the deceased. Just make sure photography and videography is welcome at the event before you begin taking photos and video.
Funeral Etiquette - Tips For Attending A Funeral Service
A funeral service is generally held after the wake, either on the same day or a few days after. Attending the funeral is a personal decision, and many people choose to attend one ceremony or the other. Depending on your closeness to the deceased or your closeness to the family, you may choose to attend both. Some rules of etiquette to follow can help you not only pay your respects but show the family support during a difficult time.
What should I expect at a funeral?
Every funeral service varies, and it will also vary depending on the individual's religious customs. The urn or the casket is at the front of the church, and we reserve the first rows of pews for family. Someone may hand visitors a program, and then they are invited to sit wherever they’d like.
A member of the clergy such as a priest or minister leads the service. You can expect hymns and prayers, and there may be a eulogy and a sermon presented to the congregation. The delivery of the sermon is a way to bind memories of the deceased with a part of scripture. A eulogy is a speech given by a member of the family or a close friend that the family has selected.
Once they finish the service, they lead the casket or urn down the aisle and the family files in behind and follows. Once the family has left the church, the visitors can file out in an orderly fashion. There may be a receiving line outside the church or in the church's foyer where visitors can express their condolences to the family.
What do I wear to a funeral?
When attending a funeral, wear attire that would be appropriate for a church service. Nice pants and a collared shirt, a suit and tie, a dress or other attire that is a step above casual is acceptable.
When choosing your attire for a funeral, there are some things to keep in mind:
For example, if the weather is expected to be hot and humid, a simple shirt and tie are okay in lieu of a suit. By the same token, if it is going to be wet and rainy, make sure to pack an umbrella and wear appropriate shoes. Keep in mind that often times churches may be on the warmer side so layer your clothing appropriately. Plan ahead and dress accordingly.
If you’re in doubt and have a close relationship with the family, it’s okay to ask. Some families may take a more relaxed approach to the dress code and that's perfectly fine. If you're not close to the family but know someone that is, don't hesitate to ask them what the family's preference is on attire. Their wishes supersede all else.
If you are ever unsure of what to wear, it is better to dress up rather than dress down. A shirt and tie with khakis, a suit, even a nice button down shirt with a pair of dress pants is acceptable for a man. Women should lean towards a dress, a skirt and blouse or dress slacks and an appropriate top. Choose the more formal clothing over jeans, t-shirts, shorts, etc.
Funeral Clothing Tips For Women
When attending a funeral, it is important to dress appropriately out of respect for the deceased and their family. Women should wear clothing that is conservative and subdued in color. Dark colors such as black, navy blue, or grey are appropriate choices. Avoid bright colors or patterns that may be distracting.
Clothing should also be modest and cover most of the body. A dress or skirt and blouse is a good option, but pantsuits are also acceptable. Shoes should be closed-toe and low -heeled.
Certain style choices to stay away from include:
- Yoga pants/ workout pants (even if they are black)
- Crop tops
- Shirts with large letter branding
- Flashy jewelry that’s distracting
- Low cut tops
- Clothing that’s too form-fitting
- Jeans (unless they are black, tailored, and paired with dressy top and shoes)
- Short dresses or skirts
Funeral Clothing Tips For Men
Men should also dress conservatively when attending a funeral. Like women, men should stick with dark colors such as black, navy blue, or grey. They should also avoid bright colors or distracting patterns. Suits or dress pants and a collared shirt are appropriate choices for men. Shoes should be closed toe and low-heeled.
Certain style choices men should avoid include:
- T-shirts with large or distracting branding
Religious Considerations For Funerals
Keep in mind that a religious funeral may have additional requirements for funeral attire. For example, women may be asked to cover their hair, or it may be inappropriate for men to wear jewelry. Check with the funeral coordinator before attending to make sure you are following the dress code.
Whom can attend the funeral?
Funeral attendance is not always necessary. Certain circumstances dictate when you should attend and when you should not.
Funeral attendance tips:
- If you went to the wake and paid your respects and you didn’t have a relationship with the deceased, it is perfectly okay not to go to the funeral service.
- If the deceased is a member of your family, a close friend or the relative of a close friend than every effort should be made to attend the funeral service as well as the wake.
- Young children should not be brought to a funeral service unless they had a close relationship with the deceased or express an interest in attending.
Do I go to the cemetery burial?
There may be a cemetery procession after the church service. Those that are going to the burial service are asked to turn on their hazards and follow the hearse and the vehicles carrying the family to the cemetery.
Going to the cemetery burial is optional and a personal decision. If the family asks you to go, then every effort should be made to attend. If the funeral is for a friend or a family member of a friend, the option to go to the cemetery is up to you.
Can I attend the reception?
The family may have a reception that follows the funeral service or cemetery burial. It might be at a family member’s home, in the church cafeteria or at a restaurant or hall.
It is okay to attend the reception if:
Family invite. If you have been invited to attend by the immediate family, then every effort should be made to go.
Clergy invite. In some cases, the priest or minister will extend the invite to the congregation on behalf of the family to attend a reception.
General invite. There may be a general invitation to a reception that is on the funeral programs or included as a part of the obituary.
Check out our article A Complete Guide To Surviving The Funeral Reception for more information.
Cell Phone Etiquette
Using your cell phone during a funeral is generally seen as poor taste. Keep your phone off or on silent throughout the ceremony to avoid interruptions to the service. If you must take an emergency call, remove yourself from the service and take the call in a separate area.
Taking photos or videos with your cell phone is not proper funeral etiquette unless otherwise instructed by the deceased's family or funeral coordinator. If you would like to take a photo or video for yourself to commemorate the deceased's memory, ask check with the family first.
Arrival & Departure Etiquette
Arrival and departure etiquette for attending funeral should be followed to show respect for the deceased and their family.
When arriving at a funeral, it is important to arrive on time or slightly early. This allows you to find your seat, greet other guests, and pay your respects before the service begins. If you are running late, try to enter the service as quietly as possible so as not to disrupt the ceremony.
When leaving a funeral, it is important to wait until the service has concluded before departing. This shows respect for those who are still paying their respects and allows you to properly say goodbye to the deceased.
Interacting With The Family Etiquette
Funerals are a difficult time for families, and it can be hard to know what to say or do when attending one. It is important to remember that the family of the deceased is likely grieving, so it is essential to be respectful and understanding. Here are some tips for interacting with the family at a funeral:
1. Offer your condolences. When you arrive at the funeral, take some time to offer your condolences to the family of the deceased. Let them know that you are sorry for their loss and that you are there to support them.
2. Respect the family’s wishes. The family of the deceased may have specific requests or traditions they would like to follow during the funeral service. It is important to respect their wishes and follow any instructions they give.
3. Listen and offer support. During the funeral, take some time to listen to what the family has to say about the deceased and offer your support in any way you can. This could be as simple as giving them a hug or offering to help with any tasks they may need assistance with.
4. Offer to help after the funeral. After the funeral, offer to help the family in any way you can. This could be helping them with tasks such as cleaning up after the service or providing meals for them during their time of mourning.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Bringing gifts for family of the deceased at a funeral is not expected but appreciated. Customary gifts for funeral include flowers, stuffed animals, cards, or even homemade food. Sometimes families may ask for monetary contributions to a charity in lieu of funeral gifts. What you choose to bring as a gift may depend on your relationship to the deceased and their family.
If you were closer to the deceased, you may consider making the family cremation rings to wear to funeral. Cremation rings, like jewelry made from ashes, incorporate the deceased's ash remains into the jewelry design for the family to wear to honor their loved one. Other sentimental gifts for family of the deceased may include thumbprint jewelry and photo engraved jewelry.
Religious Customs Etiquette
When attending a funeral, it is important to respect the religious customs of the deceased and their family. Depending on the religion, there may be certain rituals or traditions that should be followed.
For example, some religions require attendees to wear specific clothing or cover their heads during the ceremony. Others may have specific prayers or songs that are said or sung during the service.
While participation in these religious customs is not mandatory or expected, it's polite to. If you are unsure of how to participate in a religious custom, remain quiet and respectful of others who are participating.
Post Funeral Etiquette
Post-funeral etiquette is essential for showing respect to the deceased and their family during this difficult time. The most important thing you can do after a funeral is to reach out to the family with an offer of help or support. A quick phone call or handwritten letter to follow up with the family can go a long way.
You can also send flowers, sympathy cards, or even food. Any kind gesture will be much appreciated to the grieving family post-funeral.
What If I'm In Charge Of Flowers & Decorations For a Funeral?
Flowers and decorations for a funeral service may vary depending on the individual requests from the deceased or the deceased's family as well as by culture. However, most Western cultures will have similar decorative themes for funerals and memorials. If you’re in charge of providing flowers and decorations for a funeral service, there are some factors to take into consideration.
Follow the below tips for ensuring the funeral is decorated in a tasteful way.
Choosing Flowers For The Funeral Service
When it comes to choosing flowers for a funeral service, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The most important consideration is the deceased's wishes.
Talk to family members or close friends of the deceased to find out what type of flowers would have been appropriate for them. In some cases, you may even be able to talk directly with the deceased before they passed away.
Decorating The Funeral Service Venue
If you are responsible for decorating the funeral service venue, there are several key considerations to keep in mind. First, do not use bright colors or loud decorations; instead, stick to neutral tones and subtle accents that fit the solemn tone of the occasion.
Moreover, it is important to avoid any type of decoration that might be seen as disrespectful or inappropriate. Finally, keep in mind that flowers are often used to honor and remember the deceased, so make sure to include plenty of fresh flowers in your decorations.
What If I’m Invited to a Cremation Ceremony? Are there Etiquette Rules Should I Follow?
Cremation ceremonies are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to traditional funeral services that involve burial. Cremation is a process that incinerates the body, leaving behind only inorganic material such as bone mineral deposits (also known as ash or cremains). While cremation is a more affordable and environmentally friendly option, it still requires a certain level of etiquette to ensure the ceremony is respectful and dignified.
What Is The Process Of A Cremation Ceremony?
A cremation ceremony, or witness cremation, is a service held at the time of or right before the deceased is cremated. A cremation ceremony is conducted much the same way as a traditional funeral. Friends and family may gather in the funeral home to pay respects to the dead. Then they may participate in what is known as a witness cremation.
A witness cremation involves family and friends watching the cremation process through a window in a room adjacent to the crematory. These rooms may resemble small chapels or visitation rooms for witnesses to gather and watch the cremation of their loved one, much like they would watch a traditional burial.
Witness Cremation Etiquette
The etiquette for a witness cremation ceremony is much like etiquette tips for funeral ceremonies. Guests should conduct themselves in a respectful way and follow all other tips for proper funeral etiquette.
What is the Proper Etiquette for Virtual Funeral Services?
A family may decide to hold a virtual or online funeral for family and friends who cannot attend the funeral in person, but still want to pay their respects. An online funeral can be held by filming or livestreaming the funeral service using a camera or phone. Guests can watch the service virtually from their home.
Depending on the type of video streaming platform used, guests may be visible and audible to one another on screen. If that's the case, guests should be respectful of one another and keep background noise to a minimum or put their microphone on mute.
What If I’m in Charge of Planning a Memorial Service? What Etiquette Rules Should I Follow?
There are many types of memorials that can be held for a loved one, depending on what their wishes were, your budget, and the type of service you want to provide.
Some types of memorials include:
• Memorial services or tributes held at a church, cemetery, or other location
• A celebration of life service, which may have music, food, and other activities • An online memorial service with video streaming platforms
• A candlelight vigil
• A private family gathering to honor the deceased
No matter what type of memorial service you choose to have for your loved one, it is important to remember that the service should be respectful and meaningful. Below are some tips for planning a tasteful memorial service to honor the deceased.
Provide Proper Music
When it comes to music at a memorial service, there are some important etiquette guidelines to follow. First and foremost, it is important to remember that the event is intended to be a solemn occasion.
Therefore, it is not appropriate for loud, upbeat music to be played during the service. Music should instead focus on comforting melodies and lyrics that express the emotions of grief and loss. This can be anything from a classical piece to a gospel song.
Entertainment Should Be Respectful
Memorials are a meaningful way for family and friends to honor the life of someone who has passed away. Memorials can be held either before or after the funeral of the deceased. They are a way for friends and family to gather to celebrate the deceased and reminisce on their memories of them.
It is also important to ensure that any entertainment provided is respectful of the deceased and their family. Loud laughter or joking around is not appropriate during a funeral or wake, as it can be seen as disrespectful to the deceased and those in attendance. Instead, try to focus on activities that remember and celebrate the life of the deceased.
Plan Activities That Are Meaningful
Any activities planned for the memorial service should be respectful and meaningful. Though alcoholic beverages and food may be served, it’s not meant to be a rowdy party. Set the tone for the memorial by encouraging guests to take place in meaningful activities to remember the deceased, such as:
- Lighting candles in the deceased’s honor
- Reciting a group prayer
- Taking turns to tell fond memories of the deceased
- Creative art projects (such as painting a picture for the deceased, writing down a memory of the deceased in a memorial book, or creating a memorial mural together)
- Releasing lanterns into the sky
When someone dies, family and friends look for ways to express their condolences to the family. These expressions of thought and care vary and can range from a floral display to a card or handwritten note for a donation to a charitable organization.
Grieving gifts let the family know that they are not alone, and you are thinking of them and there for support. It gives the family a tangible reminder of their loved one and can bring comfort during the difficult days ahead.
What types of grieving gifts are available?
There are many options for gifts outside of ordinary flowers and sympathy cards that allow you to show the recipient that you care and offer comfort.
When do I give a grieving gift?
There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong time to send a grieving gift. Depending on the gift you select, the timetable varies.
Immediately after a loss
Flowers and food baskets are a great idea to send immediately after a family suffers the loss of a loved one. Food baskets, in particular, can come in handy with family coming together to make arrangements and additional bodies to feed.
After the services
Grieving gifts such as cremation jewelry wind chimes, and photo frames are a great idea in the days and weeks following the services. Read more here how cremation jewelry can help a child grieve.
There are many firsts after suffering the loss of a loved one. Grieving gifts like photo engraved jewelry, planting a tree and memory stones are wonderful ways to mark those ‘firsts’ and keep the memory of the deceased alive and with the family.
Want to learn more about our grieving gifts?
Learn more here about how an ash pendant can help those that are grieving, such as children. You can also watch our video highlight of one of our customer favorites, the Silver Plated Colorful Butterfly Remembrance Keepsake below.
Wake and Funeral Etiquette FAQ's
We know you have questions and we have answers! Read some of the more commonly asked questions about wakes and funerals.
What should I wear to a wake or funeral?
When attending a wake or funeral, it's important to be respectful and mindful of those who have come together to mourn - so clothing should be conservative. Black, grey or navy are the most traditional colors. It's also recommended to avoid bold designs and flashy accessories.
Suits and ties should be worn by men while women can wear a conservative dress or skirt/blouse combination with a jacket or shawl. Shoes should always be classic and closed toe, whether they are pumps, loafers, or monk straps.
Do you have to wear all black to a wake?
No, you do not. Your clothing can be darker colors such as blue or grey. Earth tones and neutral tones are acceptable as well. Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing.
What should I say to the bereaved family?
Finding the right words to say after a loss is difficult but more meaningful when they come from the heart. Express your sympathy and offer your condolences with kind words such as:
"I am so sorry for your loss."
"Please accept my heartfelt condolences during this difficult time."
"I know it is hard to deal with the sadness, but please know that you are in my thoughts and my prayers."
"If there is anything I can do to help in this painful time, don’t hesitate to ask."
"May beautiful memories of your loved one provide comfort and strength for you all at this time."
Avoid discussing sensitive or controversial topics. The focus should be on remembering and celebrating the life of the deceased. Now is not the time for bringing up old grievances.
Is it appropriate to bring food to a wake or funeral?
Yes, bringing food for the bereaved family or offering to contribute to a meal service can be a kind gesture. Food and drink are served at the funeral reception after the service is held.
Receptions are often held at the deceased's family's home or reception venue, which make a potluck style service possible. The only time bringing food to a funeral may not be appropriate is if the reception is held at a restaurant where food is already being provided.
What should I bring to a wake or funeral as a gift?
A thoughtful gesture such as bringing a small bouquet of flowers, a card with kind words, or a plant that can grow and last in memory of the deceased can be greatly appreciated.
If you have shared a special bond with the person being honored, another option is to bring gifts for family of the deceased that has personal significance, such as memorial jewelry or remembrance keepsakes. Whatever you choose to bring as a gift should come from the heart and show your care and respect for the individual who passed away.
Can children attend a wake or funeral?
Children can attend a wake or funeral, but it may depend on the family's preference and the child's maturity level. Younger children are less likely able to grasp the seriousness end of life events. They may not understand death or how they are expected to behave, meaning it may be best to leave them at home. Older children may be mature enough to attend a funeral but should be firmly instructed to be on their best behavior.
Is it appropriate to take pictures or videos at a wake or funeral?
It is never appropriate to take pictures or videos at a wake or funeral. Respect for the family of the deceased and other mourning individuals takes priority. Furthermore, taking photos or videos could be seen as insensitive and inappropriate, as it can cause further sorrow and sadness and might also be a distraction from the intended purpose of paying respects to the deceased. Taking pictures at a wake or funeral should be avoided unless an individual has explicit permission from the family of the deceased.
Is it appropriate to bring religious symbols or materials to a wake or funeral?
Yes, it can be appropriate to bring religious symbols or materials to a wake or funeral, but it varies greatly based on the traditions and personal preferences of the individual or family of the deceased. As a general rule, it is important to bring only symbols that have significance for the deceased, their family, and friends.
Bringing religious symbols or materials may be appropriate for some wakes and funerals but not for all; if in doubt, it is best to ask beforehand what is being wished by those organizing the ceremony.
What should I do if I can't attend a wake or funeral in person?
If you cannot attend a wake or a funeral in person due to distance or other commitments, you can still express your condolences via phone call, by sending flowers, writing a card or letter expressing your sympathy and remembering some special moments of the deceased.
You can also contribute to the family of the deceased financially if this is an option. Expressing your feelings through social media can also be thoughtful and be appreciated. Most importantly, make sure to stay connected with those affected in any way that you can.
What is the proper way to offer condolences at a wake or funeral?
The proper way to offer condolences at a wake or funeral is by introducing yourself to the family and offering your sympathy. Be sure to explain why you are attending and why you are expressing your sadness. Avoid giving advice or saying negative things about the deceased.
Stay as long as you can, or until the family is ready for you to leave. Additionally, a small gift or card may be appropriate depending on the relationship between you and the deceased's family. Most importantly, just provide a shoulder for comfort in this sad time and show your care and respect.
Is it appropriate to express condolences via social media?
Expressing condolences via social media can be both appropriate and inappropriate, depending on the context. It may depend on the relationship you have to the person who has passed away and their family. If it is someone you know personally, a direct message or comment expressing your sympathies may be more meaningful. On the other hand, if it is someone you do not know personally, public postings or comments may come across as insincere. If in doubt, take cues from what other people are doing in response to such an event.
Is it appropriate to bring up happy memories during a wake or funeral?
It is perfectly appropriate to bring up happy memories of the deceased during a wake or funeral. In fact, it is often encouraged in order to provide comfort and solace to attendees who are grieving. Focusing on the positive moments of life will allow those gathered to reflect upon the good times they shared with their friend or loved one. The sharing of such memories can be a healthy means of honoring the life lived by the deceased and holding onto that person's spirit for future generations.
Is it appropriate to send flowers or gifts before or after a wake or funeral?
Sending flowers or gifts to a funeral is generally an appropriate gesture to provide comfort and support for those dealing with their loss. There is no set rule as to when these gestures should be made, but most people send flowers before the wake as they can provide solace while the family is preparing for the funeral service.
After the service, you may consider sending food baskets or a donation in memory of the deceased. Whatever you choose, it is important to keep in mind that your sentiments extend past words and make sure that you express your sympathy in whatever way feels right for the family.
Should I bring a donation to the wake or funeral?
It is appropriate to bring a donation to a funeral or wake. Donating to a charity in memory of the deceased is a common way to show sympathy. This might take the form of money, food, flowers, or some other item the family has requested. Keep in mind that you should avoid bringing gifts that are too extravagant or religious in nature.
The main point is to show sympathy and support for the bereaved family during this difficult time. Try to think of something meaningful and personal that they can keep and remember their loved one by.
What should I do during the service at a wake or funeral?
There are many ways to show respect during a wake or funeral service. During the service, it is appropriate to stand if necessary and be respectful throughout. When interacting with the deceased’s family members, approach them with compassion, embrace in a hug, offer sincere words of condolence and support.
The most important thing you can do is be present and provide emotional support to those who are grieving. Other forms of showing solidarity include wearing apparel that is conservative, respectful, and not too distracting; following any special requests such as lighting candles or saying prayers; and offering any help the family or friends may need in their time of loss.
How can I continue to support the bereaved family after the wake or funeral?
After the wake or funeral, continuing to support the bereaved family is essential. You can offer to check in with them throughout the grieving process and be there when they need someone to talk to. Practical assistance such as helping them around the house or providing meals can also be a great help.
Additionally, you can send cards of condolence, put together memories about the deceased, create a fundraiser for donations if needed and pass out any relevant information like contact details for any counselling services that may be beneficial.
Is it appropriate to send a sympathy gift to the bereaved family's place of work?
It is definitely appropriate to send a sympathy gift to the bereaved family's place of work. It is important to show compassion and support, as it helps with dealing with the loss. Depending on the person's job, sending something such as flowers, a memorial note, or a card expressing your condolences would be ideal gifts to show your care and thoughtfulness during this difficult time. It will also remind them that they are not alone and help them feel appreciated for their hard work during this difficult period in their life.
What should I do if I can't afford to send a sympathy gift or flowers?
If you cannot afford to send a sympathy gift or flowers, there are many other ways you can show your support. Some thoughtful ideas to consider include making a donation in the person's name, writing or recording a meaningful message of condolence, and providing an offer to help with practical tasks like childcare or errands.
Ultimately, offering comfort is not so much about what we give but what we do - often kind gestures such as visiting the bereaved family and spending time talking together can mean more than any material gift.
Can I attend a wake or funeral virtually?
Yes, you can attend a wake or funeral virtually. Due to COVID-19, many families and mourners are now taking part in funerals and wakes via web streaming services such as Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts. Virtual viewing rooms are also available for those who wish to pay their respects without attending the physical event. This provides those around the world to stay connected and share memories of their loved one with the family during this difficult time.
Is it appropriate to discuss the cause of death at a wake or funeral?
While discussing the cause of death at a wake or funeral is understandable and can be helpful for those in attendance to understand, it is important to consider the feelings of those closest to the deceased. It can be difficult for family and friends to hear a discussion about how the deceased died, and even more distressing if it was due to tragic circumstances. Therefore, unless it is necessary for understanding the situation, respect should be given by limiting this type of conversation at a wake or funeral.
The family asked me to give a eulogy, and I don’t know how! What do I do?
It is an honor to be asked to give the eulogy for a friend or family member. Brainstorm some ideas on paper and think about your favorite memories of your loved one. You can read our How To Write An Outstanding Eulogy for a step-by-step process to help you knock it out of the park!
Can I offer condolences on behalf of a group or organization?
Absolutely. When offering condolences on behalf of a group or organization, it can be helpful to start with a brief greeting expressing sorrow for the loss. Follow this up by mentioning the name of the organization and its collective connection to the deceased. You may also want to include some words of comfort from the larger group in order to provide meaningful and sincere support during such a difficult time. Finally, if appropriate, offer concrete assistance where available, such as a donation or volunteer work if feasible.
What should I do if I can't attend the wake or funeral due to Covid-19?
If you cannot attend a wake or funeral due to COVID-19, there are still ways you can honor the deceased. You can send flowers, and/or write a heartfelt card filled with memories you’ve shared with the loved one. A thoughtful telephone call, video chat, or letter to those who have lost someone is also beneficial and comforting in times of grief. If available, attending a virtual memorial service is another way to show your support from afar. However you decide to reach out, make sure it comes from a place of love and respect for the family's grief process.
My child won't sit still during a church ceremonywithout some sort of electronics to play on. Is it okay to bring an Ipad or Iphone to a funeral or wake to keep them occupied?
If your child cannot sit quietly, finding a babysitter would be a better option than bringing them to the funeral and having them be on a phone, Ipad or tablet. If your child is unable to do so than they are most likely too young to be attending that sort of ceremony and other arrangements should be made.
Showing Support In The Proper Way
The conclusion of a guide to wake and funeral etiquette is simple: treat the family of the deceased with respect and kindness. Show up on time, dress appropriately, follow any religious customs that may be observed, and maintain a respectful silence during the ceremony.
Remember that this is an incredibly difficult time for those who are mourning, so do your best to be sensitive to their needs. Offer condolences or share your memories of the deceased when appropriate and offer practical help where you can. Above all, be respectful, kind, and compassionate in your interactions with those affected by the loss.
Updated March 11, 2023 by Jeri K. Augustus