Etiquette at funeral/cremation: clothing, flowers, behavior

A funeral or cremation. In such a sad situation, as an invitee you at least want to do the right thing. Customs when attending a farewell are no longer as firmly established as they used to be. But there are some things it is best to take into account. Not only to be a little prepared, but especially to support the surviving relatives and not to burden them unnecessarily. The funeral is not nearly as highly orchestrated an affair as it once was. The emphasis was once on the ceremony itself, but has shifted to the person we are saying goodbye to. Because we like to give our loved ones – and ourselves – a farewell that is tailored to their personality, much more is possible than was ever customary. Firstly, church guidance has in many cases been taken over by non-church counselors, so that rituals and fixed customs have become unsettled. This leads to the rise of the profession of the ritual counselor, who, regardless of religious affiliation, can help give a philosophical interpretation to a farewell. But the importance of non-professional funeral supervision is also increasing. People talk about personal experiences with the deceased, that favorite song or piece of music of the deceased is played, whether it is AndrĂ© Hazes or classical.

When to condole?

What to do? When to say something? Nowadays this often has a lot to do with sensing the situation. Experts often (still) advocate the condolence queue, but there are opposing views. Something that we do not always consider is that forming a condolence line is not necessarily pleasant for the relatives. On the one hand, it offers a clear and fixed moment to express condolences. On the other hand, it can tire the relatives to hear from another newcomer – no matter how well-intentioned! – to receive and respond to a condolence formula. There are people who prefer to receive condolences at an appropriate time, even if it is before the cremation or burial, for example. Creating an opportunity for condolence is therefore not a must, but something that can be shaped by the needs of the relatives themselves. If you don’t know, there’s really no shame in dawdling and seeing what others are doing. Certainly the closest family and friends may know better what is desired than those perhaps a little further away. If you are one of the relatives who are organizing the funeral or cremation, it is important to discuss such wishes with the funeral director; he or she can then also give those present instructions about the wishes of the surviving relatives.

Clothing: black or.. white?

Practically speaking, the question is of course what to wear to a funeral. The funeral card can often provide clarity. The black that was once common has basically been abandoned as a ‘fixed’ mourning shade. People now sometimes ask to add a white accent to the clothing, or even to come completely in white or another (symbolic) color. Because the religious and spiritual palette of society has changed so much, it is also good to take into account the fact that in every religious or spiritual movement, a different symbolic color is possible that is associated with death and/or funeral or similar ritual. If you are in doubt and in more or less Western circles, there is a good chance that a muted color such as dark blue or matte gray is always good. Also consider that anyone who organizes a funeral or cremation and unintentionally leaves the guests in the dark about such matters probably does not attach extreme importance to ‘the perfect’ clothing, presentation, etiquette, etc., and rather attaches great importance to a genuinely interested presence.


The custom of bringing a specific gift to a wedding, even possibly of a certain value, does not apply when attending a funeral or cremation. If you wish to donate flowers, for example, you can do so, but there is a real chance, if not great, that the relatives would rather receive the flowers well before the ceremony than on the same day. After all, during the ceremony people often have their minds on saying goodbye. It is striking that a number of sources in the field of etiquette warn that the well-intentioned gesture of sending flowers often causes some friction when those flowers are delivered on the day itself and wreaths still have to be included in any arrangement made by the funeral director. There is a growing group of people who give a small gift before or after the farewell, which, for example, focuses on the character of the deceased. Will they be flowers after all? Err on the side of caution and know which ‘flower language’ goes with it. You don’t want to accidentally pass on the wrong underlying message…

In case of doubt and/or blunders…

Finally, you should always remember that your attendance at a funeral or cremation is the most important gift, a gesture of commitment and respect. The arrival of a sympathetic guest at a funeral or similar ceremony will be remembered more quickly than the question of whether you followed all the written and unwritten rules to the letter. It should be noted that you must always pay attention to the basics: the deceased and the surviving relatives come first, and guests are the fellow human beings in the background, who are also prepared to take a modest place. Nowadays people not only cry but are also sometimes encouraged to laugh at the funeral, but even then a modest and appropriate expression must be paramount. Being late is a real faux-pas, so leave home on time and know the driving time to the location. Turn off your mobile phone and feel free to let those around you guide and prompt you through the entire process. If necessary, asking the funeral home staff a discreet question on the sidelines can be very illuminating; after all, they are the experts. news highlighted

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