By M. Kotch
About a year ago, I attended a funeral with a friend who—if you can believe this—had never attended one in her life. As if this weren’t challenging enough, she was also a foreigner and was unfamiliar with the customs of an American funeral. From the prospect of an open casket to attending church for the first time—she found it all very confusing. So for anyone who finds him or herself in a similar situation, or for those of us who need to brush up on our funeral etiquette, here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to attending a wake or memorial service.
What to Wear:
• Women should generally wear a dark dress, blouse and skirt or blouse and pants.
o Color: stay away from loud patterns and stick to black, dark gray and navy to reflect the somber occasion
o Fit: avoid skin-baring tops, too-short skirts, and overly-tight clothing. Remember that most funerals are held in a place of worship and the last thing you want is to seem disrespectful to mourners.
o Makeup: This isn’t the time to show off your favorite red lipstick or smoky eye. Go for a minimal look—tears will probably wreak havoc with any heavy makeup. If you never leave the house without mascara, use a waterproof formula.
o Jewelry: Avoid loud accessories and keep it limited to the jewelry you typically wear to work (your favorite necklace, everyday watch and wedding ring for example).
o Shoes: Keep your sky-high stilettos, open-toed sandals and special occasion footwear for special occasions. It is best to wear moderate heels or flats in a dark color.
• Men should generally pull out their best attire: think suit with tie or dress pants with button down dress-shirt.
o Color: Choose black, navy or gray with a basic white shirt. Avoid a loud or fun tie.
o Shoes: Break out your best loafers or dress shoes—socks are a must (unless the funeral is by the beach). Stay away from sneakers or sandals.
o Beware of: Jeans, T-shirts and shorts.
o Grooming: Unless you have a beard, be sure to attend a funeral clean-shaven. Comb your hair back or pull it into a neat ponytail if it’s on the longer side. Now is no time to sport a Rock’n’Roll look.
Now that we’ve covered wardrobe, here are some other important funeral Dos and Don’ts:
• Stay quiet and respectful during the service
• Turn off your cell phone
• Sit in the middle or toward the back of the church or memorial site. The front pews/seats are usually reserved for family and close friends
• Bring tissues for you and others, funerals tend to leave everyone a little teary-eyed
• Show your respect to mourners by saying something along the lines of “I’m so sorry for your loss” upon entering or exiting the service
• Keep conversations light and friendly; now is not the time to air your differing political views
• Remember that mourners, especially family members appreciate your presence
• Take faith into account; respect other cultures, religions and funeral rituals
• Offer to bring food, run errands or transportation if you’re driving
• Be patient if you find yourself hugging someone in mourning
• Write a sympathy card if you cannot attend
• Avoid an open casket. Walk up to the deceased, pause for a moment then move in the same direction every one else is moving in (to the exit or back to their seats for example)
• Text or email during the funeral or service
• Laugh unless a mourner is telling a funny story about the deceased
• Network; exchanging business cards or work-related information at someone’s wake or service is disrespectful
• Get drunk at the post-funeral gathering if you choose to attend
• Eat, drink or chew gum during the service
• Cry harder than the deceased’s family and friends. Tears are one thing, false grief is another
• Take pictures, a funeral is not a photo-op
• Bring children unless they are closely related to the deceased
• Be surprised at raw displays of emotion