Death, dying, and funerals are part of every human’s life, but each one of us experience them differently according to our culture and beliefs. This is even more applicable to South Africa, as a country with 11 official languages, each one with its religion, culture and traditions.
It is essential to realise that your role as an attendee at the funeral is to console and give support to those who are grieving the death of their loved one, as well as to take part in the communal grieving. When it comes down to proper etiquette at a funeral, common sense, discretion, and respect will always stand you in good stead.
Sonja Smith Funeral Group provides some advice below if you are still unsure about the particulars of funeral etiquette.
Should I attend a funeral or not?
Funerals are an opportunity for family, friends and colleagues to show their respects and to remember a life that has now passed. Prior to Covid-19 restrictions, funerals were not “by invitation only” and were attended by anyone who knew the deceased or the family and wanted to support them. With the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, this is no longer the case and a strict “by invitation only” policy applies. Should these restrictions be lifted in future the only instance where you should consider not attending the funeral is if you know that your presence would make the grieving family uncomfortable.
Do I have to wear black at a funeral?
While wearing black is no longer a requirement for all funerals, your colour choice should not be limited to darker colours. In line with denoting respect, dress style should be conservative, and you should avoid wearing a more casual attire such as jeans, shorts and t-shirts to funerals. However, a Life Celebration tends to be more informal and may even be held outside. At an event such as this, less formal attire is acceptable.
Where can I sit at a funeral?
Traditionally, the first few rows of seats are reserved for close family of the deceased with the remaining rows open to friends and everyone else. With additional social distancing regulations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is best to be guided by the funeral director in terms of seating.
Where do I sit at a gravesite?
As you make your way through to the prepared gravesite, be careful not to step on other graves and plaques or disturb memorial stones. There may be some chairs lined up at the gravesite, but these are for close family members. If you are not an immediate family member, you will need to take your place standing near the chairs. While Covid-19 regulations remain in place, we also recommend following the guidance of the funeral director.
What happens if I arrive late at a funeral?
It is preferable to arrive 10 – 20 minutes earlier for the funeral so that you can greet other guests and find a seat before the service starts. However, should the occasion arise that you arrive late for the funeral, quietly enter from the side or rear of the building and find a seat at the back. It is highly recommended that the grieving family should not notice your late arrival as they will be distracted from the service.
What if my beliefs clash with funeral practice?
If you are a non-practising member of the faith of the deceased, simply keep quiet and listen to the ceremony to show your respect. You will never be forced to say a prayer or take part in a practice that you are not comfortable with. It is also a time to witness and appreciate the different cultures and customs of others.
What do I say to the bereaved?
This depends on your relationship with the deceased and their family. It is always better to keep it short and straightforward. Remember that many people will want to pass on their condolences, so it is probably better to let them know that your thoughts are with them and that you are sorry for their loss. Sharing a sweet memory about the deceased can also go a long way to alleviate some of the loss that they may be feeling.
Can I take photos at the funeral?
Taking photos at the funeral is not appropriate, nor is posting them on social media. Although you may be happy to see long-lost relatives, remember that this is a sombre time for the grieving family and you need to respect their grief and privacy. Similarly, switch off your cell phone and put it away for the duration of the ceremony. A funeral is not the place to take or make phone calls.
How do I sympathise on social media?
Please be mindful that some family members and close friends might not have been informed yet. Don’t rush to post your farewell message. Do follow the family’s lead. Keep the ‘miss you’ messages to a minimum. Do share memories in private messages. Don’t constantly tag the deceased. Don’t ‘showboat’. Do keep your questions offline. Do know your place. Don’t share anything too personal. Don’t appropriate an image of the deceased. Read more: A guide to Facebook etiquette after someone has died
What can I give the grieving family?
Generally, flowers are an acceptable way to express your condolences to the family. These can either be delivered directly to the family home or the funeral home. In some instances, the family may prefer a donation to a charity or a hospice instead of flowers and will state this in their funeral notice. Bereavement causes a lot of stress on the family, and they may also appreciate one less meal to worry about. Consider giving them a cd “Conversations on Grief” which is available at Sonja Smith Funeral Group. If you do not know the family well, a sympathy card is in order.
Some of these guidelines may differ from culture to culture. Sonja Smith Funeral Group suggests that if you are still unsure of the etiquette required, that you call the relevant house of worship or the funeral director for advice.