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Etiquette Resources

Attending funeral services can raise a host of questions, from what do I do to how should I dress. Here are a few of the most common etiquette questions that we get asked.

Many different types of services and ceremonies surround the death of a loved one. At first, they may appear very different from one another, but all of them have three things in common. Each one is:

  1. A gathering of people who share a common loss.
  2. A way to support the grieving family by surrounding them with caring friends, neighbors and colleagues.
  3. A way to help all affected by the loss to acknowledge the death of their loved one.

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The type of service the deceased person’s loved ones select is a very personal choice, and may include one or more of the following:

Visitation: Sometimes called a “wake” or a “viewing”, the visitation is held at the funeral home, usually a day or two before any type of service. This is the time when people come to pay their respects to the deceased, and support and comfort the family and other loved ones.

Funeral: A traditional funeral is held within several days of a person’s death, usually in a place of worship or the funeral home. A funeral service generally begins with the body being brought in by pallbearers. The service is led by a pastor, funeral director or other officiant, during which people may say prayers, deliver eulogies, read passages from scripture or literature, and sing songs. At the end of the service, the body is removed by the pallbearers to the hearse.

Burial: If the deceased is to be buried, the site of the interment will be announced. Unless the gravesite is on the place of worship’s grounds, a processional of cars will form to drive to the cemetery. Everyone attending is welcome to follow the family to the gravesite service unless it is announced that the burial will be private, but no one is obliged to attend.

Cremation: If the body is to be cremated after the service, it will be taken back to the crematorium.

Memorial Service: Increasingly called Celebrations of Life, these types of services focus on celebrating the deceased person’s unique personality and achievements—in other words, telling their story. And unlike a traditional funeral that takes place immediately, a memorial service can be held weeks or even months after a person’s death—allowing more time for the family to plan a creative tribute. As you might imagine, the form these types of services take varies widely.

Reception: After the funeral or memorial service, families often choose to host a gathering at their home, the home of a friend, a restaurant or reception hall, or some other venue to share memories of the person who has died, and to continuing supporting one another. If, when and where this type of gathering will be is often announced at the end of the service by the officiant or a family member. Attendance is optional.

Cell phones and smartphones should be left in the car or off before, during and after the service (not set to vibrate which is still audible). Out of respect, you should be completely present 100% of the time. Even glancing at a phone while waiting for the ceremony to begin is disrespectful. Photos should not be taken during the ceremony, but may be taken of groups of people who don’t usually get to see one another if done discreetly afterwards.

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