If you’ve attended a funeral in the past, you know there are various unspoken rules about what can be said, done, and even worn in order to properly respect the person who passed away and their loved ones.
Though most people won’t call you out publicly for failing to follow the expected conduct, not following proper funeral etiquette can be embarrassing, disrespectful, and, in some cases, hurtful to those grieving.
In this post, we discuss five common things that are inappropriate to do while attending a funeral or memorial service
1. Snapping Photos of Your Grieving Relatives or the Deceased
In this day and age, taking pictures during an event is normal, but a funeral is one place you should always avoid doing so. Not taking photos can be challenging, especially because funerals often bring together family and friends who may not have seen each other in a while. However, it’s recommended that you find a location away from the service or meet at a different time and place to take those pictures.
Even more inappropriate is taking photos of the deceased or their casket. Unless you are a spouse or a close relative like a child or parent, this can seem extremely impolite and should be avoided.
There are times, of course, when posing for a photo during a memorial service is acceptable, for example, if the deceased’s spouse wants to take a group photo at the burial site. Overall, though, unless a close relative asks for a picture (or you’re a close relative and want one)—don’t do it.
2. Using Your Cell Phone During the Service
Many of us use our cell phones constantly. We pause conversations and dinners to send texts or make calls; we interrupt interviews and meetings to turn our ringers off; we look at our phones when there is no reason to look at them.
However, one place you shouldn’t be using your phone is at a funeral service. It’s also a good idea to turn your phone on silent so your ringer doesn’t go off and interrupt the service or burial.
If by chance you’re expecting an important call that cannot be ignored, consider letting someone in the family know that you may have to step out for that reason and make sure your phone is on vibrate. That said, unless it is a medical emergency, it’s probably best to let your voicemail answer the call and handle it later.
3. Attending the Funeral Wearing Flashy or Risqué Clothing
Wearing black to a funeral service is one of the most well-known funeral customs in western culture and probably the first one you considered when reading this list. For many, the color black represents mourning and, traditionally, wearing black to a service is a sign of respect.
Nowadays, wearing any dark color, like dark grey or navy, is typically okay at a funeral. In some instances, wearing white is also acceptable.
Keep in mind, however, that different cultures may have other customs regarding the appropriate colors to wear at a funeral, so you should educate yourself on those customs before attending the service.
The style of clothing you choose is equally as important, and dressing for a funeral like you’re going to the club or the gym can seem very inconsiderate. So, though your short dress, deep v-neck tee, or sneakers may be black or dark colored, it probably shouldn’t be worn to a memorial service.
Instead, opt for more conservative styles of clothing, like a plain sweater or a button-up shirt over a pair of dress pants. Not only will it probably be a lot comfier for the day, you also won’t stand out from the crowd for the wrong reason.
4. Not Following Appropriate Cultural Funeral Practices
Different cultures have different ways of honoring their deceased, and not following their practices can upset the deceased’s loved ones. It can also be pretty uncomfortable for you, if all the people around you are aware of your mistake.
There are a few ways that neglecting culture can cause you to seem rude or disrespectful, such as:
- Giving a culturally inappropriate gift to the deceased’s family (for example, Jewish people typically send donations after someone has passed—not flowers)
- Wearing the wrong color of clothing (although western cultures typically wear black, in Chinese and Hindi cultures, people attend services wearing white)
- Walking or sitting in a place you shouldn’t walk or sit (in Muslim culture, the graves are raised or marked with stones, and obviously it is not appropriate to walk or sit on the deceased’s burial site)
There are many different funeral customs around the world, from whether playing music is appropriate to what is done with the deceased’s remains, and knowing them before attending the funeral can help ensure you do not say or do the wrong thing and unintentionally upset people while they are mourning.
5. Not Respecting the Deceased’s End-of-Life Wishes
Depending on your situation, your loved one may have communicated how they want to be remembered and honored in their End-of-Life Plan (sometimes called a funeral plan) or another similar estate planning document. If they did, not accommodating those wishes to the best of your abilities can be incredibly disrespectful.
One example of an end-of-life wish that would be fairly easy to neglect or forget is how the deceased wants their loved ones to pay their respects. For instance, they may have asked for people to provide charitable donations as opposed to flowers. You can imagine, then, how showing up with flowers after they’ve made this request can seem inconsiderate.
Paying Your Respects
How you behave at a funeral is very important, and your improper conduct on your loved one’s somber day can turn you from a favorite relative or friend to someone they avoid at all costs.
By sidestepping these five funeral faux pas, you can grieve without unintentionally disrespecting or upsetting others.
Do you know of any other etiquette rules for attending funerals? Let us know in the comments.