8 Memorial Etiquette Rules You Should Know

Memorials, funerals, and wakes are somber events, and it's common for people to find themselves uncomfortable and unsure of what's expected of them.

This isn't overwhelmingly surprising, especially since many avoid talking about death whenever possible. Because of this, however, sometimes accidental missteps are made during a time that should be treated with sensitivity and care.

In this post, we're going to take a look at 8 memorial etiquette rules that everyone should know. 

1. Remember the Hierarchy 

While all grief is valid, it’s important to remember to be respectful of those who are grieving more. Someone’s sibling may not grieve as much as a beloved spouse, for example, and a neighbor likely won’t grieve as much as that sibling.

It's not a competition, but grief does have a hierarchy.

memorial etiquette

You can grieve and you should express your sympathy and sorrow, but make sure you aren't accidentally becoming an emotional vampire to those higher up in the hierarchy by making it about you. Instead, if possible, offer to help support them. 

2. Stick to Sharing a Happy, Fond Memory 

Sharing why you'll miss the person who has passed or how they impacted your life is wonderful and can be meaningful to the family of the deceased. Aside from that, however, focus on sticking to sharing a happy memory of the decades if you're unsure of what to say

Make sure that you aren't asking about the cause of their passing or other painful topics that the family may be struggling with at this time. 

3. Choose Tasteful Black Attire 

Tasteful is the key word here; opt for modest, non-flashy clothing. A funeral or memorial isn't the time to make any sort of fashion statement or to strut your stuff. If your outfit will draw attention, it's likely not the right one. 

If you don't have anything that fits the bill in black, grays and navy blues are also a safe choice.

This should apply even if the event is outdoors. You don't need to wear a suit, but skip the shorts and flip flops. It's a sign of respect, and it will mean a great deal to the mourning family. 

4. Respect Religious or Cultural Customs 

Not all memorials and funerals are the same, and it's important to take religious or cultural customs into respect.

At Jewish funerals, for example, you don't send flowers; it's not considered an appropriate gift. And at a Hindu funeral, it's not customary to bring food as a gift.

If you know or suspect that the family will follow certain funeral traditions, try to do some research ahead of time. If you're unsure, you can ask a friend close to the family. Information on the memorial announcement can also be used to clue you; a memorial held in a Jewish temple is a good tip-off that Jewish customs will be observed. 


5. Send a Personalized Gift

You can send a personalized gift after the memorial, or bring it with you.

Come with food that they love, personalized memorial wind chimes that can help them heal and remember their loved one in nature, or even a gift card for something that can help them. 

memorial etiquette

Think about your relationship with the family and the deceased; this can help you determine the right gift that will be appreciated during this time. And remember if you're unsure about food allergies, you can always ask.

You can bring the gift later or send it before the memorial (if there's time), but as a good practice bring a sympathy card with you on the day of.

6. Be Mindful About Small Children 

It can be difficult to find a babysitter, especially on short notice. Or maybe you want your children to pay respects or have a final goodbye to someone they loved.

That being said, it's still important to be mindful of the fact that small children don't always go hand-in-hand with somber, quiet events. 

Young children (especially those under eight) may struggle at funerals and memorials for a number of reasons. They may find it too emotional, frightening, or confusing. Some may have trouble sitting still or being quiet for an extended period of time. 

Prepare your kids first, and considering leaving very young children at home if you think they may be afraid, loud, or even uncomfortable in the weather. 


7. Triple Check Your Phone is On Silent 

You never want to interrupt a funeral service for any reason. We'll say it again: they should be quiet and respectful. Even "mingling" at a memorial typically involves soft voices and a gentle tone.

funeral etiquette

Turn your phone off if you're worried about that one random app notification that somehow seems to override your silent settings. Consider shutting it off entirely, at least for the service; you don't want to disrupt others with the sound of it buzzing in your pocket or rattling around in your purse. 

8. Don’t Treat It Like a Family Reunion 

Weddings and funerals are two occasions that are capable of drawing in long-lost family and friends from all over the country.

A funeral, however, should never be treated like a family reunion.


Don't snap selfies during the mortal, and try to avoid overt excitement at seeing someone. This is inappropriate, and extremely hurtful to the bereaved. 

If you want to catch up with someone (or even multiple someone's from the family), choose another day when you all want to catch up. You can even have a separate family dinner later on where there's more time for happy reunions, but always be mindful of those grieving most intensely. Hierarchy of grief, and all that. 

Final Thoughts 

Memorial etiquette really boils down to being respectful of the grieving environment and the close friends and family of the person who has passed. This is likely one of the most (if not the most) challenging periods of their lives, so attending to show your support and keeping the focus where it needs to be is the way to go.

And most importantly, don't forget to check in after the memorial, too! This may be when the family needs you most, after everyone else has left and they're adjusting to a new life. 

Looking for an appropriate gift to send to a mourning family? See if we have what you're looking for here