What Is Proper Funeral Procession Etiquette?

by Susan Peterson
When the cemetery is near the church, the procession typically takes place on foot.

When the cemetery is near the church, the procession typically takes place on foot.

When a funeral is held in one place, and the burial is in another location, the mourners and the casket travel between the two places in a funeral procession. Though customs can vary somewhat depending on the family's religion and ethnic background, certain basic rules of etiquette apply to most funerals.

Leaving the Funeral Site

When the funeral is over, the officiant, the casket and the family leave the church or hall first. It is customary for the mourners to stand in respect while the casket is carried or wheeled from the building. Often the officiant or the funeral director will give instructions regarding the burial, specifically where it will be and whether it will be public or private. The pallbearers will load the casket into the hearse. The hearse will lead the procession and the family will follow the hearse in limousines or in private cars. The remaining mourners follow the family.

Cars in the Procession

If the procession is going to travel through a populated area, it will usually have a police escort to help the procession get through traffic lights as a single unit. Sometimes the funeral home will put magnetic signs on the cars in the procession. Whether or not your car has a sign, you should turn your headlights on to signal to other drivers that you are part of the procession. Funeral processions have right of way. Other cars should yield to you. That means you shouldn't stop at traffic lights or stop signs unless it is an emergency. Keep your place in line and be patient. Funeral processions typically drive slowly.

Cars Not in the Procession

If you are not a part of the funeral, and you are on the road with a funeral procession, you must grant them right of way. Wait at traffic lights or stop signs until the entire procession has passed. Look for a car with flags, a sign or flashing hazard lights. That is the last car in the procession. Make sure you don't cause cars in the procession to be separated. Don't join a funeral procession unless you are a mourner. Above all, be respectful. The people in the procession are in mourning. They shouldn't have to deal with disrespectful or impatient drivers.

At the Cemetery

Once you get to the cemetery, speak with lowered voices and avoid unnecessary socializing as you leave your car and find your way to the grave. Conduct yourself with respect and dignity. The procession is part of the funeral rite, from the church all the way to the gravesite. If there are more mourners than chairs, find a place to stand. Leave the chairs and the standing places nearest the grave for the family. When in doubt about etiquette, look to the officiant or the funeral director for cues. Throughout the procession, an attitude of quiet respect can make up for lack of knowledge of specific traditions.

About the Author

Susan Peterson is the author of five books, including "Western Herbs for Martial Artists and Contact Athletes" and "Clare: A Novel." She holds a Ph.D. in text theory from the University of Texas at Arlington and is an avid cook and gardener.

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