YES, THERE IS FUNERAL ETIQUETTE. I've been to many funerals/memorials recently. What can you do? How can you help? What not to do? Here are some suggestions that I have observed over the years speaking on manners and questions/comments from friends and clients. I'm known for my sense of humor but I am serious about my comments on this topic.
#1 Write a note to the family. Even if they don't remember you sent it, you'll feel good about communicating with them. Over the years my extensive research on etiquette has said to send "ecru-colored or white blank notes" and yes, I've done that and bought them from Tiffany, Crane, Mrs. Strong's and other high-end stores but if you're at a store and find a sympathy card just buy it. Or, use any stationery you have. My late mother, Phyllis Hillings , a journalist, author, speaker and my role model, would always say how people would write a note but then not mail it. She said "be unique and write a note but be more unique and mail it." What to say in the note? Notes are so special. See #3.
#2 If you arrive late to the mass, service, memorial, don't make a "show" and go to the front because you want everyone to see you; you will not make a good impression. If you end up just being able to go to the reception/gathering, don't say "sorry I couldn't be at the service." Just express your thoughts for the family.
#3 What to do for the family.
Write a note as mentioned in #1. What to say even if you never met their relative? My neighbor Monica wrote us a beautiful note. It said, "Chris and I are praying for your family. We are so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother-in-law. May you all be blessed with happy memories and the solace of your family. Our love always." I think that is a wonderful way to word a note. My friends Linda and Robertine send notes all the time for our birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, condolences, etc. How they remember or have the time I'll never know. I'm so appreciative of their thoughtfulness.
Find out if someone is arranging dinners for the family and offer to drop off takeout or cook if you would like to help. Send them an e-mail or call them and say it will be there at a certain time and drop it off on the doorstep. Find out if they have any dietary requests or allergies. DO NOT RING THE DOORBELL and expect them to invite you in. My neighbor Caroline is the best cook and brought over dinner for two nights. My friends/neighbors were incredible with notes, mass cards, plants and roses. One of my best friends, Dana, dropped off an orchid the minute she heard about my relative's passing and I was so moved by her kindness. It was so unexpected but so appreciated.
If it's a close family member or friend, offer to help write condolence notes. It's overwhelming. I just did this for the daughter of my husband's brother-in-law and I bought the stationery, put stamps on them, sat down with her, she wrote the notes, I addressed them and then I mailed them. It was a great feeling of relief for her. I also contacted his law firm, associations/firms/boards her father served on as well as his college/law schoool because we knew people would want to be informed of his passing. Or, offer to be at the home to answer phone calls, help with any errands, etc.
#4 How to you respond to people who sent you a note or a gift? It's nice to acknowledge their comments/gifts/charitable contributions by sending a note. Yes, the charities send out notes but you need to send a note as well even for a condolence note. There are pre-printed notes from companies saying "the family of..." but at the bottom you need to write a handwritten note on the card. Again, mail it; don't worry about the proper type of stationery.
#5 Be a friend. My friend Susan has helped me so much in every way and when my mother passed away she came over to my house in a minute. At my mother's service she brought our young daughter a silver"tussy" with flowers. So unexpected. The gift of friendship is priceless. Everyone needs a friend like her.
Bottom line: Do something now for your friend/neighbor/relative/client/customer/co-worker. It's your special attention, time and the warmth of your words and gestures.