Funeral Etiquette

Cell Phone Funeral Etiquette

Cell phones often go off when we least want them to. In church. In school. During sex. And at a funeral. As other funeral directors can attest, the oddest thing about a cell phone ringing during funerals is how many people will actually answer.

“Hello. Yeah. I’m at a funeral service. Can I call you back?”

A funeral director friend once told me that the pastor’s cell phone rang while he was giving the funeral message. He answered it. Confirmed the time for his afternoon golf outing. Hung up and continued on with the service. The family – according to the funeral director – was “pissed.”

If you’re attending a funeral, the best piece of advice I can give you is this: Turn your phone off.


But, they aren’t JUST phones. And it isn’t that simple. Funerals also double as family reunions. So, you pull you phone out. Show off your recent photos of your children and your relatives “oh” and “ah” about how much your children look like a young version of your great uncle Ned.

If you keep your phone on, turn it to — preferably — silent and — at least — buzzer.

Is it appropriate to text?

During a viewing and/or visitation, yes. During a funeral, probably not.

As with talking on your cell phone, if you’re going to text it would be polite to step outside or to a discreet area of the funeral home.   Sexting, though, is off limits at any time during a funeral.

Can I take a photo of Aunt June laying in her casket?

That’s up to Aunt June’s next of kin. And when you ask, ask before the viewing starts. People aren’t always able to think straight during a viewing, so the polite thing to do is ask while they’re thinking straight … which is before and not during.

Don’t just take a photo like this guy:

I’m bringing the kids to the funeral. Can they play “Angry Birds”?

It’s common sense, but turn the sound off. Everyone else doesn’t need to hear screaming birds and snorting pigs. And, it’s probably NOT appropriate for them to play during the funeral.

“We’re gathered here today to remember the tragic loss of ______” At which time your kid yells “yes” as he overcomes a level that’s taken him a combined 1,000 birds to clear. Not cool.

Also, video. If your children want to watch video on your cell. Either find a separate place that’s out of the way for them to watch. Or, get them to wear headphones.

What do I do when somebody else is breaking funeral cell phone etiquette?

The biggest culprits for committing funeral cell crimes are old men and women who aren’t cell phone savvy. Their phone rings in the middle of the service and they frantically pull it out of their pocket or purse and start hitting buttons. After finding the “silence” button, they breath a sigh of releif ONLY to have their phone start ringing again a minute later.

At this point they start muttering. And it’s at this point someone should step in because if you don’t their next action will be to turn it off, which will only create another loud “turning off” noise and more muttering.

The difficulty isn’t with the cell phone newbies, it’s with the cell phone addicted. The young people. And when young people commit cell phone faux pas, and you can tell that it’s annoying people around them, you have to confront them.

“Excuse me. Can you please turn your cell phone off?” Then wait until they turn it off. That’s what I do.

And if they don’t turn it off, pray for cell phone karma (example of cell phone karma in the video below)


10 Things You Should and Should Not Do at a Funeral

Time for a Top Ten list from your local funeral professionals! Now I am by no means a “Miss Manners” of funeral etiquette, but some things should be non-negotiable when attending a funeral service:

  1. One.  Silence your phone. Seriously that means you.

  2. Two.  Silence your insatiable curiosity. If the cause of death is common knowledge, then you will already know about it. Please don’t badger the family for “gory details” at the funeral. Likewise, don’t expect the funeral home staff to let you in on the family dirt. We will not be the source for #NOTTHEBABYDADDY on your Twitter feed.

  3. Three.  If you call the funeral home and explain that you were unable to attend the visitation, the service and the committal, but would still like to know where the luncheon is being held? “I’m sorry sir; I don’t know where the family has made those accommodations but thank you for your call.”

  4. Four.  Don’t bring a date. By all means, if your longtime partner knew and loved your Aunt Matilda they should be included, but if you met someone yesterday at Subway and they seem real nice, a family funeral is not a great second date.

  5. Five.  Don’t NOT have a funeral. This sounds like funeral home marketing gobbledygook but it’s not. I’ve worked with a number of families who have abided by the “He never wanted a funeral” reasoning. It is very difficult for these families to move to the next level of their grief without the closure of a memorial service of some sort. I would never suggest that someone go expressly against the wishes of their loved one, but a brief moment of remembrance and sharing privately with your pastor or even at a family meal can go a long way toward starting the healing process.

  6. Six.  Did I mention silence your phone? Think about other sounds your phone makes also. If you plan to take a photo of Grandma’s headstone during the committal service, maybe disable the cute voice on your cell phone that squeaks “Say CHEESE!” as a photo is snapped.

  7. Seven.  Don’t overdress. I know it is black, but the dress you wore to your BFF’s bachelorette party, the one that all your friends agreed that “Oh My Gawd!” made you look “So Freakin’ Hawt!!!” may not be the right dress for the Catholic Mass part of Uncle Dick’s funeral. Bring a sweater. And some pants.

  8. Eight.  Don’t underdress. Now I don’t think I’m going very far out onto the limb when I say that most families don’t give a hoot about what you wear when. They are just touched that you took the time to come. That being said, if you are attending the funeral for a person who is part of a large inter-racial and diverse family, it might be a good day NOT to wear the T-shirt that says “I Had a Swig at Nig’s!”

  9. Nine.  Don’t think you will come up with the perfect thing to say. One of the epiphanies I had when I first started officiating at funeral and memorial services in 2001, was that there was NOTHING I could say that would make this family not be sad. I realized all I could do was to be present and non-anxious with people who were grieving. Sometimes the best that you can do for someone who has endured a loss, is to look them in the eye and let them see that you care.

  10. Ten.  TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! Recently, we had a committal service at the Southeastern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove. While I was speaking, a lovely older woman’s phone rang. I continued speaking while all in attendance gave her the “death stares of contempt” while she loudly explained to her friend that she couldn’t talk because she was at a funeral. A few minutes later, while the Marines were folding the flag in silent respect for their fallen brother, her cell phone rang again, and again she chattered loudly. There was nothing that could be done to rescue this moment for the family that day, but I make a vow personally that if your cell phone rings at a funeral, I will kick your butt from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. Semper Fi.

Today’s guest post is written by Patti Fitchett.  This from Patti: I am an apprentice funeral director who started performing funeral ceremonies in 2001 when I was hired to sell pre-need burial insurance. That was a bust,( no sales chops!) but the funeral business grew on me. My first degree is in Theatre Arts and I have two adult sons.

5 Tips for Creating a Personal Sendoff

Today’s guest post is from Elizabeth Meyer.  Elizabeth is an expert in planning personalized funeral services, and hopes to make funeral planning a less taboo, more approachable subject. After planning a unique funeral for her own father in 2006, she joined Frank E. Campbell funeral home in New York City as Family Services Liaison, where she served Campbell’s and Riverside Memorial Chapel helping families create exceptional services. She earned an MBA from Cass Business School in London and a BA from New York University. She is currently the Funeral Guru at

All the highlighted words in the following article are live links that allow you to further explore each topic at Everplans’ website.


When I tell people that I work in the funeral industry, most become speechless. Looking at me questioningly, they’ll mange to ask, “But…why?” I tell them about the funeral I planned for my father 6 years ago. It was the most emotionally challenging thing I’ve ever done, but it was also the most rewarding. I understand the power that a meaningful funeral or memorial service has in the emotional processing, grieving, and healing after a death. And so I use what I learned from my own experience to guide and empower others to create meaningful sendoffs for their loved ones. I deeply understand the power that a meaningful funeral or memorial service has in the emotional processing, grieving, and healing after a death.  I hope that by helping people create personalized services I am alleviating some pain for these families.

Obviously, I can’t tell you what specifically will be meaningful to you or loved ones. I can, however, share the lessons I learned from planning my dad’s funeral and the dozens of special funeral and memorial services I’ve helped other families plan. So without further ado, here are my top 5 things to consider when creating a personalized sendoff:

1. Religion

Religion is an important factor in funeral plans, and religious rites and traditions can dictate everything from whether the body should be buried or cremated, to where and when the service should be held, to what foods should be eaten afterward. If you’ll be following any religious rituals, get a sense of the traditions before you make any solid plans; the specific rituals you’ll follow may override any other desires you might have.

For example, you might want an ornate casket for your loved one and a lot of flowers at the service. But if you’ll be following Jewish customs, you’ll want to purchase a plain pine casket and forgo flowers, which are not traditional. Or, if you’ll be following Catholic customs, you’ll want to have people deliver eulogies and other speeches at a wake before the funeral service, since the service will be a Mass.

My father was raised Jewish, but was much more frequently found in church with my Catholic mother than in synagogue. While this meant that we were not constrained byto any religious norms at his funeral, it also meant that we were left custom-less, working with a blank canvas. If you’re like us, then the next four issues can be really important, since you’ll basically be traveling without a map.

2. Venue: 

When my father died, hundreds of friends wanted to support us; we needed a venue that could accommodate everyone. It was most practical to hold the funeral in the large non-denominational chapel at the funeral home. But we had other options, too: we could have held the funeral in a large church or synagogue, at an event space, or even a restaurant if we’d wanted.

Some funerals are quite large and others are very intimate; finding a venue that can cater to the number of guests is what matters most. (Remember: a funeral isn’t a popularity contest.) If you have a large number of guests, you’ll want to be able to fit everyone in the space. On the other hand, if there will be only a handful of guests, you’ll want to choose a smaller venue and create an intimate environment where everyone is comfortable.

So whether you choose a funeral home chapel, a church, mosque, or even your own living room, consider the number of people who will be in attendance, and think about where you’d be most comfortable remembering your loved one.

3. Music

When my father died in the prime of his life, my family and I were beyond distraught. But I didn’t want my dad’s funeral to be overwhelmingly morbid. Rather than concentrate on my family’s loss, I focused on making the event a celebration of my father’s incredible life. And one of the ways I made sure the funeral was a celebration was through music.

We had jazz playing as the guests entered. I chose songs that dad always played at home, and I was comforted listening to Miles Davis and feeling like he was there. At the end of the service, guests were caught off guard when Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” come blasting out of the speakers. By the time the Rolling Stones came on, everyone was dancing in the aisles as they wiped the tears from their eyes. Dad would have loved this!

Having a pianist or organ would not have been appropriate for my dad; he just wasn’t that kind of guy. But that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be perfect for your loved one. To figure out the right music for your situation, ask yourself: What were his or her favorite songs? What songs do you associate with him or her? What songs do you think he or she would like people to hear as they say goodbye? By choosing meaningful music you’ll feel like you are giving them a fitting sendoff—and it’s likely that the songs will elicit warm memories, too.

4. Speeches, Eulogies, and Readings

At my dad’s funeral, I selected speakers who knew my dad from different walks of life. My brother and I were the first speakers, and we shared our heartfelt and entertaining memories of our father. Dad’s cousin spoke about growing up with my dad; his, business partner spoke about what an amazing attorney and colleague my dad was; and a couple of friends also spoke about who he was as a man and a friend. By having all the speakers from different times and areas of his life, they were able to jointly create the most beautiful and complete image of my dad.

If possible, I would try to replicate have people deliver that same variety of speeches on a variety of topics.  In addition, No matter how entertaining the deceased was, repetitive stories are never fun! Also, it can be nice to consider incorporating readings into the service.  These can range from religious passages, hymns, and to poems from either the reader or the deceased favorite poets.

5. Flowers

I knew when I planned my dad’s funeral that flower choice was crucial. My dad was not particularly passionate about flowers—but flowers are so important to my mother, and I knew that she would be consoled by seeing flowers ones flowers that reminded her of dad.  So I opted for peonies, the flowers he always brought home to my mom.

Moreover, I opted to cover dad’s casket in a blanket of flowers. I knew it would be too difficult for my mom to walk in and see a casket at the front of the room; this way she was distracted and only saw her favorite flowers.

Flowers can remind us of the person we loved or distract us from our pain. Flowers can be in the colors of the person’s favorite sports team or in the shape of a heart, a cross, or even a golf club. They help set the mood, and they help make a funeral feel like a celebration.

These are my broad guidelines for creating a meaningful funeral. But please, get creative! Have a memorial service on a golf course or in a restaurant. Send ashes into outter space or out to sea. The only solid advice I can give is to honor the person who died with a fitting sendoff. I know it made me feel good about the final gift I gave my dad.


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Words From a Grieving Friend

A facebook and real life friend of mine posted this in his status yesterday.  It was so good that I wanted to share it with you.

If you know someone who is grieving, this is probably how they want you to treat them:

Dear Friend,
Please be patient with me; I need to grieve in my own way and in my own time.

Please don’t take away my grief or try to fix my pain. The best thing you can do is listen to me and let me cry on your shoulder. Don’t be afraid to cry with me. Your tears will tell me how much you care.

Please forgive me if I seem insensitive to your problems. I feel depleted and drained, like an empty vessel, with nothing left to give.

Please let me express my feelings and talk about my memories. Feel free to share your own stories of my loved one with me. I need to hear them.

Please understand why I must turn a deaf ear to criticism or tired clichés. I can’t handle another person telling me that time heals all wounds.

Please don’t try to find the “right” words to say to me. There’s nothing you can say to take away the hurt. What I need are hugs, not words.

Please don’t push me to do things I’m not ready to do, or feel hurt if I seem withdrawn. This is a necessary part of my recovery.

Please don’t stop calling me. You might think you’re respecting my privacy, but to me it feels like abandonment. Please don’t expect me to be the same as I was before. I’ve been through a traumatic experience and I’m a different person.

Please accept me for who I am today. Pray with me and for me. Should I falter in my own faith, let me lean on yours. In return for your loving support I promise that, after I’ve worked through my grief, I will be a more loving, caring, sensitive, and compassionate friend-becauseI have learned from the best.

(Your name)

By Margaret Brownley

How to Speak the Language of Grief


You walk into a house full of fresh grief.  It’s fresh because the death just occurred.  Your best friend’s husband went out to the bar last night, drowned his hard day in hard drink and he never made it back home.  Fresh.  Because both you and your friend have never experienced death this close.

You open the door like you have so many times before, but this time the familiarity of the house is unexpected different, dark and lonely.  What once housed parties, life and love now houses something you’ve never known before.  Like a river, everything is in the same place it was when you last saw it, but this home has changed.

You see your friend’s children sitting on the sofa, staring into space.

You ask them, “Where’s your mom?”

And as you reach to hug them, they snap back to reality and whisper, “Upstairs.”

Each step brings you closer to what you know is only an apparition of your friend.  The nerves build.  Fear begins to build.  You repress it as you ready yourself to meet your closest friend who has all of a sudden become someone you may no longer know.

“Can I come in?” you ask.  No response.

You push open the cracked bedroom door and see the body of your friend collapsed on her bed, with used tissues surrounding her like a moat.

You tip-toe into the room, slowly sit down on the bed, and not sure if she’s awake or asleep, you reach for your friends shoulder and begin rubbing her back.  Her blood shot eyes open, look at you and then, they slowly look through you.

You fill the weird silence with an “It’s going to be alright”.

“It’s not”, she whispers.  “I’m alone with two kids and no job.”  Her voice suddenly raises as anger courses through her body, “Why the f*** would he do this to me?”

The curse word chides you into recognizing that you’ve not only misspoken, but you’ve spoken too soon, so you decide to wait in silence.  She starts to cry.  You respond to her tears with your own.  Even though you want to respond with words, you know this isn’t the time for words.  There’s no perfection words here.  There’s no perfect anything here.  And so you wait.

You stay.  Listen.  Silence.  You take her pain into your soul.  Hours pass.  She rises out of bed and makes the children dinner.

You’ve spoken, not with words or advice; not by trying to solve the problem; nor by placing a limit on your time.  You’ve taken the uncomfortable silence, allow the grace for tears, for brokenness; you’ve allowed yourself to sit in the unrest without trying to fix it.

With your presence.  With your love.  In your honest acknowledgement of real loss, you’ve spoken the language of grief.

Although the language of grief is usually spoken in love, presence and time, sometimes it’s spoken in words.  And when it is, here are five practical “do”s and “don’ts”

The “DON’T”S:

1.       At least she lived a long life, many people die young

2.       He is in a better place

3.       She brought this on herself

4.       There is a reason for everything

5.       Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for awhile now

The “DO”S:

1.       I am so sorry for your loss.

2.       I wish I had the right words, just know I care.

3.       I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in anyway I can.

4.       You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.

5.       My favorite memory of your loved one is…

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