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Funeral Etiquette

My friend’s relative just passed on and I am going to pay my respects at the wake. Could you advise me on the funeral etiquette that I should take note of when I am at the wake?

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Attire / Dress Code

Visitors to a wake should dress in simple pastel colours and avoid extremely bright colours. Never dress sloppily to a wake as it can be seen as a sign of disrespect to the deceased and the family of the deceased.

Conversation

In approaching any conversation with the bereaving family, it is advisable to exercise caution and tact. For cases involving unnatural deaths, it is best to avoid comment or speculation so as not to add on further emotional pain to the bereaving family members. A hug or a comforting hand speaks louder than words. Don’t worry too much about trying to find the most appropriate words. In such situations, words may be difficult to come by. Saying you don’t know what to say will usually be more appreciated than cliché statements.

Religious Sensitivities

Inherent within a funeral wake are rituals and embedded traditions that may be in conflict with your religious beliefs and traditions. Visitors who do not share any close ties to the bereaved family are not obligated to participate or conform to the rituals and traditions during the funeral wake.

At a Chinese funeral, you may be offered a red thread. As red is an auspicious colour for the Chinese, it is often a respectful gesture on the part of the bereaved family to have a red thread / a bucket of water with fresh flowers in it ready for its visitors as they do not want to inconvenience their visitors with the perceived possibility of “bad luck” that may be associated with the attendance of a funeral wake.

The Actual Visit

It is best to first contact the bereaving family before paying a visit to the funeral wake. It is common to see individuals from different groups related to the deceased or their family members arriving at a funeral wake together. Keeping noise to a minimum especially after 10.30pm in the evenings is the responsible thing to do.

Additionally, there is no hard and fast rule to young children and heavily pregnant women attending funeral wakes. While it may be a taboo to some, we neither encourage nor discourage them from attending a funeral wake. It is the individuals' or parents (in the case of children) decision especially after serious consideration of their relationship with the deceased or bereaving family.