6 min read

Funeral Etiquette: The Unspoken Need to Knows

Funerals are loaded with overwhelming emotion and unspoken social norms. Making the dread of ‘getting it wrong’ all the more overbearing at this difficult time. Obviously every funeral is different, but today we uncover some of these general ‘rules of thumb’ for funeral etiquette in Australia. Providing a general guide for everything you need to know; from what to wear, how to dress and where to sit on the day.


Ever feel like you're walking on eggshells at a funeral? Unsure on what to say, when to say it and even how to communicate your sympathies to the bereaved? Efforts to support in the lead up to, during and after a funeral can feel like stabs in the dark, with explosive emotional potential if you misstep. This can be especially relevant if you're attending the funeral to support a bereaved loved one.

Luckily, we’ve seen the full spectrum, from disastrously inappropriate, funeral faux pas to meaningful expressions of reverence and respect. With this insight in mind, we’ve compiled the ultimate funeral guide so you avoid the frowned upon pitfalls. Read on to cover:

  • Reaching out before the funeral; to gift or not to gift?

  • Understanding the invite system

  • Arriving & what to do if your late

  • Safe options for dress code

  • How to act & what to say

  • Reaching out after the funeral

So let's dive in, to give you the confidence and know-how to best support your bereaved loved ones at that upcoming funeral.

Leading up to the funeral:

To preview; the ‘can’t go wrong’ rules on before the funeral:

  • Read death notice

  • Reach out

  • Keep communication personalised

  • Respect boundaries

  • Don’t just show up to the funeral

Pre-funeral communication with the bereaved:

Gifts: One option for reaching out to express sympathy before the funeral is sending flowers of sympathy gifts. If your'e considering this, it's important to read the death notice for stipulations made by the family on any gifts. Some request no flowers and find them upsetting, many prompt a charity donation and others may find traditional gestures of a meal or flowers comforting. At this stage, playing safe is all about keeping it personal.

Writing: Another way to express support is sending a letter or even a text to let your bereaved loved one know your'e thinking of them. If the family has requested or given no guidance on gifts, this can be a safe way to express meaningful sympathy whilst respecting boundaries. We’ve a whole guide on things to avoid saying to express sympathy, but keeping it focused on them and expressing support is a guaranteed safe option for most.

Privacy: However you choose to express your sympathy, it’s important to do so without invading the privacy of the bereaved this time. Whether it's sending that text or mailing a package- the nature of your relationship will determine how much physical distance you give the bereaved at this time.

How does the invitation system work?

In Australia, it's common for families or funeral directors to send out invites to funerals via texts or letters. Or if not, they may stipulate guidance on who is welcome to the funeral within the death notice. Keep an eye for any additional rules on bringing children, or guidance on specific times for family and friends to arrive.

Key etiquette here is letting the family know either way if you can make it or not, rather than just showing up, and also sticking within any guidelines they’ve sent out.

During the funeral service:

To preview; the ‘can’t go wrong’ rules on during the funeral:

  • Arrive on time or wait outside

  • If in doubt, dress formal & dark

  • Phone on silent

  • Wait for close family to sit first

  • Be a calm, collected & stable presence

Arriving & what to do if you're late: It’s important to arrive on time for the funeral service. Being punctual shows respect for the deceased and their loved ones. If you are running late, it is best to wait outside until the service has begun before entering.

Dress code: Follow the guidelines set out by the family, but if in doubt conservative and respectful is the safe zone. Typically, this means avoiding bright colours, revealing clothing, and anything that is too casual. Black or dark colours are typically worn to funerals as a sign of mourning, and if in doubt it's safer to assume traditional.

Electronics: During the service, it’s crucial you keep your phone on silent and refrain from taking photos or videos. This is a time for solemn reflection and respect, and the use of electronics can be disruptive and disrespectful.

Sitting Etiquette: Generally, close family and friends will sit at the front sections during the service. There's not generally a seating plan, so if you're wider family or friends, or just there to support a bereaved person at the front, it's good etiquette to wait until other people have taken their seats. On the other hand, if everyone sits and the venue’s not very full, try to sit just behind the family.

How to act: When paying your respects to the deceased and their loved ones, it is important to approach them with a calm, quiet and composed demeanour. This is not the time to express your own grief, but rather to offer your condolences and support to the bereaved. It is also important to avoid making statements that may be interpreted as insincere, superficial or triggering for the mourning. Often, it's appropriate to save your condolences until after the service as it might be overwhelming for the family before.

After the funeral

Reaching out: Checking in with the bereaved in the weeks after can be incredibly helpful, representing support at a time where they likely need it the most. It might also be when they’re more ready to meet face to face, and be supported through their grief. In contrast, it can be important to maintain boundaries and so texts or calls are a safer bet than showing up or delving into their grief unprompted.

Get support with Safewill today

Considering planning your funeral ahead to avoid all this guesswork for your loved ones? Thinking about protecting your assets and providing for your family by writing your will? Or, just looking for support in organising your loved ones cremation? Safewill can help. We offer flexible, simple and affordable estate and end of life planning, personalised to your needs.

To discuss your options with one of our experts today, get in touch via 1800 103 310 , or live chat now.

Last updated 20th January 2023
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Hannah Comiskey
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