Funeral Etiquette

23 February 2022
Funeral Etiquette - Bunurong Memorial Park

Finding out that someone you know has passed away can be distressing. Knowing what to say or do next is often challenging, and this can add an extra layer to the grief or sadness you may be feeling.

In the article below, we explain some of the etiquette surrounding funerals and the grieving process – from sending sympathy cards to watching live streamed services, dressing for a funeral and more.

Two wooden benches face each other under a tree at Bunurong Memorial Park, with flowers and memorial plaques scattered around
Expressing your sympathy is a small gesture that can be very impactful for the deceased person's family.

Expressing your sympathy

If you are a family member or close friend, you may consider visiting the family home to express your sympathy and offer help. This might include minding children while arrangements are being made, doing some shopping or providing a meal. It is best to keep visits short unless it is apparent that they need company or would like to talk.

If you are not a family member or close friend, then it is more appropriate to offer your sympathies at the funeral. If you are not well known to the family, remember to introduce yourself and explain how you knew the deceased. You may also consider sending a sympathy card or letter to the family.

It is a good idea to express your sympathy, even if you find it difficult. It doesn’t matter what you say – making the gesture is more important than the specific words. You could simply say, “I am very sorry for your loss”.

White memoire floral arrangement from Café Vita et flores
Sending flowers is a traditional, thoughtful way to show that you are sorry for the family’s loss.

Sending flowers

Sending flowers is a traditional, thoughtful way to show that you are sorry for the family’s loss. You can send flowers to the family home or arrange for them to be present at the funeral service.

Springvale Botanical Cemetery and Bunurong Memorial Park have an on-site florist specialising in floral arrangements for funerals, and can directly send your arrangement to the funeral service if it is to be held at one of our locations.

Before you order a bouquet or arrangement, do be aware that there may be considerations when it comes to sending flowers to people of certain faiths. If you are unsure, it’s best to check first.

Donations to charity instead of flowers

Some families will state that their preference is for donations to be made to a charity in place of flowers. The correct etiquette in this case is to follow the wishes of the family.

Attending the funeral

It is appropriate for the deceased’s family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances to attend the funeral. Your presence will mean a lot to the family and they will remember that you were there. If for some reason you are unable to attend, it is appropriate to send a sympathy card or letter, expressing your regret that you could not attend.

However, you should not attend the funeral if:

  • It has been communicated that the funeral is ‘private’ and the immediate family has not invited you
  • For some reason, your presence may cause the immediate family further distress
  • You have been specifically asked not to attend – even if you believe the reasoning behind the request is not justified
SMCT Live stream on website
You can view your selected burial or funeral service online

Live stream etiquette

Some families choose for a funeral or burial service to be live streamed. This means that friends and family members who are not able to attend the service on the day are able to watch the service while it takes place using a computer, tablet or smartphone. If you are attending the service in person, it is a good idea to be mindful that other people may be watching from home or abroad.

Who can watch a funeral live stream?

Watching a live stream of a funeral is much like going to the funeral in person. As a rule of thumb, if it would be appropriate for you to attend in person, then it’s appropriate for you to watch the live stream – if attending in person is not possible.

Sometimes a family may choose to stream the service but only make it accessible to those with a password. In this instance, you should consider the live stream as you would a private in-person service. If you have not been directly invited to attend or view the service, it’s best to assume it is not appropriate to do so.

Chapel seating in Wilson Chapel at Springvale Botanical Cemetery
Chapel seating in Wilson Chapel at Springvale Botanical Cemetery

Seating arrangements

Whether the funeral is in a chapel, church or another venue, there are common seating arrangements that are generally followed.

The immediate family sits in the front rows, the extended family in the following rows, followed by close friends. Acquaintances and co-workers sit or stand towards the back of the venue or wherever space is left once others have been seated.

Dress code

Traditionally people think of wearing all black to a funeral. However, it is not essential that black is worn. The key is to wear conservative clothing and to ensure good grooming. In some instances, the family may request that people attending the funeral wear something specific to celebrate a passion of the deceased, for example, a football jumper. In these instances, it is entirely appropriate to follow the wishes of the family.

Being a pallbearer

The invitation to be a pallbearer is a great honour. Historically the pallbearers would carry the coffin, however now it is more of a symbolic gesture. The coffin is often transported on specially designed trolleys, with pallbearers resting their hands on the coffin as it moves and then lifting to load and unload into the hearse.

If you are chosen to be a pallbearer, make sure you arrive early and find out from the immediate family precisely what they would like to do and where they would like you to stand.

A photo from underneath looking up at the branches of a tree with pink blossoms, sunlight and a blue sky
Dressing for a funeral doesn't necessarily mean wearing black - but conservative clothing and good grooming are key.

Funeral do's and don'ts

Finally, to minimise your chances of inadvertently causing offense at a funeral or memorial service, it's best to keep these do's and don'ts in mind.

Do turn your mobile phone off, rather than on silent, before walking into the funeral. Don't check it during the service. It could be seen to be very disrespectful.

Do be punctual. Ensure that you do not arrive late or leave early.

Do take any children under your care outside if they are not content, to keep disruption of the service to a minimum.

If you are required to drive in the funeral procession, do turn your car headlights on, follow the speed of the lead cars and do not overtake any of the cars in the procession.

If you are close to the family, do keep in touch with them in the weeks and months after the funeral, particularly on key dates. These dates may include the birthday of the deceased, Mother’s or Father’s Day and the anniversary of the death.

Do research before you attend, if you are not familiar with the customs and traditions of the family's culture or religion. Remember that different communities may have different expectations around funeral etiquette.

Do share memories that you have of the deceased. If they did or said something that meant a lot to you, tell the immediate family, either verbally or in a card or letter. If you have photos of the deceased, copy them and share them with the family as well.

Unless you are an immediate family member, do not post anything on social media, unless it is a response to something an immediate family member has posted.

Do use your discretion when it comes to taking photos at a funeral.

The loss of an acquaintance, colleague, friend or family member can bring a range of different emotions to the surface, sometimes confusing and often challenging. Please remember that it's ok to ask for support - you can reach out to any of the organisations listed on our resources page, or alternatively contact the Centre for Care & Wellbeing at Springvale Botanical Cemetery.

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