Most of us don’t attend funerals very often, and so we don’t always know what the proper funeral etiquette is. What to take to a funeral really depends on your role in the service. If you’re part of the family, for example, you may need to bring items like the registry book and a photo of the deceased. Those attending the funeral really only need to bring themselves, although there are a few items that can be helpful to have along. Read on for more tips on what to bring to a funeral.
What the Family Should Bring to a Funeral
Often, family members will bring framed photographs or small mementos for guests to see. You may want to have a favorite photograph made into a larger, poster-size image that can be placed on an easel at the funeral service. Ask the funeral home if they can supply and easel if you don’t have one yourself.
Family members will also want to make sure that they have at least one guest book or registry book for visitors to sign. If you expect a relatively large number of guests, you may want to have a second book available. This gives guests the opportunity to write a brief message of condolence without worrying that they’ll use up too much space. Bring several pens as well, in blue or black ink.
Many families choose to have a funeral program printed as well. This program may have a photograph of the deceased, and typically includes the order of service, any expected actions or responses from the congregation, and information on the graveside service and reception, if they are being held.
You may also want to order memorial cards to give to guests before or after the service. These cards usually have a photo of the deceased, the year of their birth and death, and a poem, prayer, and/or other message. Simple custom memorial prayer cards are also available.
Don’t forget your own needs during this time of mourning. Bring along a handkerchief or tissues, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. If you’ll be outside for a graveside service, you may need sunglasses or an umbrella, depending on the weather.
What Guests Should Bring to a Funeral
If you’re unsure of what to take to a funeral, the answer is actually quite simple: You really only need to bring yourself. In the days before and after the funeral, there are a number of other contributions that you can make including giving money to help the family, making charitable donations, and sending flowers, but none of these actions should actually take place at the funeral itself.
The most important thing, when considering what to bring to a funeral, is to be respectful and kind. Dress formally and conservatively, in a dark suit and tie or a dress or blouse and skirt combination. Arrive early and put your cell phone on silent or turn it off. Don’t bring food or drinks into the service with you; if there is a potluck reception following, you may be able to leave your dish before attending the funeral, but don’t bring it with you to the service. Be prepared with brief words of condolence for the family and something to write in the register book. Participate in the funeral service and be respectful of the service and your fellow mourners.
It’s also a good idea to bring a handkerchief or pack of tissues. Even if you don’t think you’ll need them, you may be unexpectedly overcome with emotions. You can also share a clean handkerchief with another mourner, if needed. Make sure that you check the weather if any part of the service will take place outdoors, and bring along sunglasses, an umbrella, and a jacket or sweater, if you think they may be needed.
Sending Sympathy Cards
Before the funeral, you should send a sympathy card to the family of the deceased. It’s best to send the card through the postal service, and not bring it to the funeral with you. Add a brief note to the card, but there’s no need for a lengthy letter unless you were particularly close to the family or the deceased. You may want to include a short explanation of how you knew the individual or the family in your note.
If you know that the family is struggling financially after their loss, you may want to make a donation to help them through their difficult time. When considering what to take to a funeral, leave your cash or checkbook at home. Ask the funeral home or a friend of the family if a special bank account has been set up to accept donations, or if a donation website has been set up. If there is nothing set up for donations, consider other ways that you may be able to help, such as running errands for the family or providing them with a meal.
Some families will request a charitable donation in the place of flowers, and you should always honor this request. Typically, the funeral notice will include this information, or the funeral home can provide it. When making the donation, let the charity know who it is in honor of so that they can tell the family. Many funeral homes also offer cards so you can notify the family of your gift. It’s best not to mention the amount of your donation.
It’s common to send flowers to the family’s home or to the funeral home for a funeral, but they are not something that you should take to a funeral. Often, only the immediate family’s flowers will be placed on the coffin during the service, so don’t be too concerned if you don’t see your flowers displayed. In addition, while it’s usually acceptable to send flowers to the funeral home for a Catholic funeral, don’t send them directly to the church.
If the deceased is Jewish, do not send flowers. Flowers are not a part of the traditional Jewish funeral practice, which emphasizes deep mourning, self-reflection, and religious healing. Mourners should not be worried about their appearance or the beautification of their surroundings, making flowers inappropriate.
What do you bring to a funeral if you’d like to give a gift to the family of the deceased? Again, it’s best to save any type of gift for a different time, either before or after the service. Many families appreciate the gift of food, especially if they are hosting out of town visitors during the funeral. Make something that’s easy to freeze and reheat. You can also give the gift of your time – offer to run errands, babysit children, or find other ways to relieve some of the everyday stress that the family is going through. If the family seems uncomfortable with your offer, however, don’t push your presence on them.
You may want to give a small token or gift to any children in the family. This is a difficult time for them, after all, and a book or quiet toy may be a good distraction. Make sure that any gift is not noisy or overly extravagant. Remember – these gifts are not something to take to a funeral. Give them when visiting the family to express your sympathy.