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Funeral Etiquette

Updated on April 16, 2010

When someone dies, it is wiser to appoint a close relation or friend to handle the funeral arrangements, as the immediate family are generally too distraught to do so. The person in charge should advise any members of the family and close friends who do not know of the death by telephone, or telegram, if telephoning is not pracĀ­ticable. The doctor who attended the deceased at the time of death will sign the death certificate. If the family belongs to a particular church and they wish to have a service there, the clergyman must be contacted; he will arrange a time to suit the family at which the service can be held. If the family has no regular church, the service is often held at the funeral parlor and the funeral director will suggest a clergyman.

Death Notice

The death notice for the newspaper will be organized by the funeral directors, after consulting the family on the wording and the papers in which they want the notice printed.


If the funeral notice says 'Private funeral', one does not send flowers or attend the funeral service. However, it would be a thoughtful gesture to send flowers to the bereaved family either on the same or the following day.

Photo courtesy of Elvis Santana
Photo courtesy of Elvis Santana

Clergyman's Honorarium

A check for the clergyman is placed in an envelope by a member of the bereaved family; this is either handed discreetly to him after the funeral or posted to him the next day. The amount is governed by the size of the funeral and the financial circumstances of the family. It would be gracious to add a thank-you note. Some ministers prefer not to accept remuneration for a funeral, especially if a church member is involved. On the other hand the financial position of many makes them grateful for such recognition.


As soon as possible after the funeral, friends of the deceased should call at the family's home to offer their sympathy and condolences in person.

After the Funeral

It is usual for the bereaved persons' relations and close friends to be invited back to the house for afternoon tea or a drink. As a rule, Australian women do not go to the cemetery, although they may do so. At a Jewish funeral women do accompany the men to the cemetery.

Answer to Letter of Sympathy

Dear xxxxxx,

Thank you for your letter of sympathy. It is a great comfort to me, at this time, to know that you are thinking of me.

Sincerely, xxxxx

Letters are handwritten to very close friends only. Printed acknowledgments are sent to all others who wrote or sent flowers.

Letters of Sympathy

Write these as soon as possible after you hear of the death. They need only be brief, but should sound sincere. A letter is more correct than a sympathy card.

For example:

Dear xxxxx,

It was very sad to hear the news about xxxx. She was a wonderful woman and will be sadly missed by everyone who knew her.

Please accept my deepest sympathy.

Sincerely, xxxxxx

Points to Remember

  • When sending a printed card to close friends, it is a pleasant gesture to write a few words of your own.
  • It is incorrect to put a notice in the newspaper thanking friends and relations. This is far too impersonal.
  • At the funeral, the immediate family should wear black or conservative clothes.
  • A man wears a dark suit and black tie.
  • You can say "I'm sorry for the death of..." to the family but don't say "I apologize for the death of..."!


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