New York State Funeral Directors Association

The New Funeral Etiquette for Funerals and Memorialization

A century ago, most funerals took place in the home.

Families lived close together and were part of a tight-knit community, making it possible for friends and relatives to attend funeral ceremonies and make personal visits to console the bereaved. Word-of-mouth was sufficient to advise neighbors and friends that someone had died. Etiquette for those in mourning was strict. Custom dictated wearing black for immediate family members, even children, for lengthy periods following the death. Social activities were severely restricted and condolence or thank-you notes were written on black-bordered, white stationery.

Over the years, funeral etiquette evolved to keep pace with changing lifestyles. Today's funeral etiquette recognizes the need to express grief and sympathy but in a more individualistic and practical way. For instance, black is still most appropriate for funerals, but grey, navy blue and other subdued colors are also acceptable. Those in mourning go back to work or resume social activities just days after a funeral. Today, families often write a short message on a thank-you card provided by the funeral director.

Communication features provided by the Internet have made even more dramatic changes in the ways we memorialize loved ones and participate in funeral ceremonies. A funeral home in North Syracuse, New York is the first to broadcast funerals live on the Internet to accommodate shut-ins or distant relatives who can't attend services in person. Families give written permission to have any portion of the funeral service transmitted.

Proper etiquette dictates that we treat grieving friends and family with kindness, dignity and consideration. Social and technological changes just give us another way to memorialize loved ones and offer our condolences.