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Attending a Funeral

Funerals and memorial services provide an important opportunity to say goodbye to someone who has died, acknowledge their life, and gather with others who knew them.

Funerals come in many forms. The experience will also differ depending on whether you're involved in arranging or speaking at a funeral, how close you were to the deceased person, or if you're attending to support someone else.

Most of us don't like going to funerals, and it's normal to feel unsure about what's expected of you.

We've included some common questions about funerals below which may help.

No, holding a funeral service is not compulsory.

You can make arrangements through your funeral director for burial or cremation without a service.

You may also choose to hold a private or small ceremony, rather than one that is open to a wide circle of people. Please talk to your funeral director for advice.

There's no one style that applies to all funerals.

Historically, many people wore black or dark colours to funerals. While this is still followed sometimes, it is not automatically the case anymore.

Some families may ask guests to wear something that had meaning to the deceased person, such as a particular colour, uniform or theme.

If there aren't any special instructions, these general guidelines should cover most services:

  • Avoid anything too casual (eg tracksuit pants), revealing or 'loud'.
  • Make sure you are tidy and well groomed
  • Stick to subdued colours.

You may also be able to contact the funeral director overseeing the service for advice.

If the funeral notice does not say otherwise, it should be fine to send flowers, particularly if you are unable to attend the service.

Other options which may also be acceptable include:

  • Sending flowers to the family's home, rather than to the funeral service
  • Sending a sympathy card or personal letter
  • Sending an alternative to cut flowers, such as a potted plant or fruit basket.

Some families may ask that people do not bring or send flowers to a funeral. It is also common to ask for a donation to a charity instead (in lieu) of flowers. You should always respect and follow any special requests.

In most cases the immediate family will sit in the front rows, with extended family in the following rows, and then friends and colleagues.

However, some cultures or religions may have different traditions, so feel free to ask when you arrive at the service if you're not sure.

You should aim to support the family of the person who has died, and not do anything to make them uncomfortable.

Some general advice that should apply in most cases includes:

  • Don't be late. Plan ahead so you have plenty of time to get there.
  • Turn off your phone, or switch it to silent as soon as you arrive.
  • Make sure you have tissues or a clean handkerchief.
  • Sign the guest book if there is one.
  • If you're not sure where to sit or what to do, ask any ushers or the funeral director, or other guests.
  • Follow any instructions and take part during the service if you can. For example, join in singing, and stay quiet in moments of silence. It's also ok to laugh if a speaker shares funny stories about the deceased person.
  • After the service, wait for the immediate family to leave first - don't rush for the exit.
  • If you're going to a service for someone from a culture or religion that you're not familiar with, try to do your research first. An internet search, or a call to the funeral director for advice, can help to point you in the right direction.

This decision should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Allowing children to attend a funeral can be helpful for them to deal with loss.

For babies and very young children, think about whether they'll be able to sit through the service without disrupting others. If they may not be able to do this, either try to make other arrangements for them, or be ready to quickly take them out of the service if they become disruptive.

For children who are a bit older, talk to them before the funeral to help them understand what to expect. During the service, keep them close so you can comfort or guide them if needed.