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Memorial Etiquette

Memorial Etiquette also known as social graces, the rules of etiquette ease us through challenging social situations. Most of us know how to behave in common circumstances but unless you’ve been to a lot of memorials, you may not know the rules of proper behavior in this often uncomfortable social situation.

Emily Post once said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” Much of what we know today about etiquette comes from this woman, who published her first book of etiquette in 1922. When you use those words as your guide, the rules of funeral etiquette become easier to understand.

The Basics of Memorial Etiquette

What to Wear

Tradition has always required a certain level of formality in dressing for a memorial service. However, today’s end-of-life services are so varied — ranging from the traditional funeral to the often more relaxed celebration of life — that it’s challenging to know exactly what’s expected of you.
The advisers on the Emily Post website tell readers that “Attire isn’t limited to just black or dark gray. Remember, though, that it is a serious occasion and your attire should reflect that, especially if you are participating in the service. At the very least it should be clean, neat, and pressed as for any other important occasion.”

What to Say

No one expects you to say more than a few words and bereaved family members are often unable to give you their full attention anyway. So, keep it short and make it sincere.
“I’m so very sorry for your loss” may work very well. If you have time to add to those seven words, you might want to share a personal story about a time you shared with the deceased. But, watch closely for signs that your audience needs to move on to receive condolences from other funeral guests.
When speaking to other guests, speak quietly. This is not a time to discuss business or share stories about your recent vacation. Instead, focus on sharing and listening to stories of times spent with the deceased.

What to Do

If you’re unsure about what actions to take when being led by a pastor or celebrant, simply follow along. If you’re not comfortable, don’t draw attention to your unwillingness to participate. Be discrete and respectful of others.
Always leave your cell phone in the car or at the very least, turn it to vibrate mode or turn it off.

Follow-up with Kindness

If you’ve not already done so, this is a good time to send the family a sympathy note or card. About a week after the memorial service, pick up the phone to check in with them to see if there’s anything they need.

“Good manners,” wrote Emily Post, “reflect something from inside — an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.” That just about sums it up; no matter the situation — wedding, baptism, dinner party or cocktails with friends — her observations about good manners (when followed) will serve us all well.