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Funeral Etiquette for Family Members of the Deceased

Gabrielle Applebury
Crying Woman Hugging a Man Before a Funeral

If a loved one has passed away, you may be in the process of planning a funeral service to honor them. To help you navigate before, during, and after the service, there are some tips in terms of funeral etiquette for family of the deceased to keep in mind.

Funeral Etiquette for Family of the Deceased

While proper funeral etiquette may not be in the forefront of you mind, and rightly so, knowing what may be expected of you, when people are likely to interact with you, and where to sit may help you feel more comfortable the day of the funeral. Being prepared and knowing what to expect can help you decide what you feel comfortable with the day of the funeral service.

Funeral Etiquette for Immediate Family

The immediate family members of the deceased individual:

  • May greet guests as they arrive at the service, but this is absolutely not expected of you. If you would like to sit quietly with loved ones and not speak with anyone until later, that is perfectly acceptable. If you do opt to open yourself up to connecting with others prior to the service, you can greet guests by the door as they arrive.
  • In terms of proper funeral attire, wearing dark business casual clothing is typically acceptable. Religious and cultural specifications may apply, so be sure to check in with whoever is planning the funeral, or the venue to see if there are any dress code requirements.
  • After the service has concluded, guests may want to pay their respects to you and your family. If you do not wish to speak to anyone, you can have the officiant request that guests give the immediate family some space at this time. If you would like to speak with guests, you can stand by the door and thank them for attending the service.
  • Guests may attempt to say something to make you feel better, but it may end up being offensive. Go into the situation being prepared that not everyone knows what to say or may act awkward in this situation. Know that you don't need to engage with anyone, can excuse yourself at any point, and can just say "thank you" to end the conversation more quickly.
  • If you have very small children, you may want to consider sitting at the end of the row so you can step outside if need be, to avoid disrupting the service.
Family Receiving Guests at a Funeral

What Is Considered Immediate Family at a Funeral?

Immediate family, as it applies to a funeral, may include:

  • Parents of the deceased
  • Siblings of the deceased
  • Children of the deceased
  • Partner of the deceased
  • Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents
  • Partners and children of the immediate family

Family Seating Order at a Funeral

The family seating order at a funeral may be discussed beforehand with the funeral director. Otherwise, immediate family can sit with their siblings, partners, and children in the first two rows of the venue. Typically, those who were closest to the deceased will sit closer to them. For example, the deceased individual's spouse may be seated in the first row, while their close cousin may be in the second row.

Microphone Against People Sitting In Church

Order of Family in Funeral Receiving Line

Family line up for a funeral can vary, and there is no right or wrong way to line up in a receiving line. Usually, those closest to the deceased will be the first few in line, followed by uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents. An example of a funeral receiving line up:

  • First: Deceased individual's partner
  • Second: Deceased individual's child
  • Third: Deceased individual's child
  • Fourth: Deceased individual's parent
  • Fifth: Deceased individual's parent
  • Sixth: Deceased individual's sibling

Who Walks in the Funeral Procession?

The funeral procession goes from the funeral home or religious venue to the burial site. The officiant and/or funeral director usually leads the way, followed by the pallbearers carrying the casket. Immediate family usually make up the funeral procession, while other guests may drive or follow further behind.

Funeral procession

Family Line Up for Wake

The family line up for a wake will depend on which family members feel comfortable chatting with guests. During the grieving process, some family members may not feel okay with greeting and chatting with guests, and that's okay. The family line up typically includes the immediate family, beginning with the deceased individual's partner and children (if applicable), followed by their parent(s), siblings, grandparent(s), aunts, uncles, and cousins. Each family line up will be unique, so as a family, it's important to decide what you all feel comfortable doing.

Can You Stop a Family Member Attending a Funeral?

If there is a family member who may cause physical and/or emotional harm to guests, it's best to notify the funeral director that you do not want them present at the funeral. If they show up anyway, the funeral director may arrange to have security present to handle the situation. If the family member is behaving appropriately, it may be easier to allow them to attend, and forgo inviting them to the repast.

What Is the Family Gathering After a Funeral Called?

The gathering after a funeral is called a repast, but it may also be referred to as a small get together. These usually take place at the home of an immediate family member of the deceased individual. Light refreshments are typically served.

Family repast

Should You Attend the Funeral if You Didn't Have a Good Relationship With the Deceased Individual?

Whether you decide to attend the funeral is a completely personal decision. If attending won't impact your physical or emotional safety, you may consider going, but it truly is up to you to decide what you feel most comfortable with. Consider how you'll feel if you do decide to attend versus not and sit with that feeling. If possible, sleep on your decision to gain a bit more clarity.

What Is Funeral Etiquette for the Family?

Understanding proper funeral etiquette for the family of the deceased individual can help you feel a bit more prepared the day of the service.

Funeral Etiquette for Family Members of the Deceased