Attending a Funeral - Cemetery tips

    A few people have recently asked me about cemeteries.  It appears many are unsure how to act, how to behave, how to dress at a cemetery.  I would say many are unsure how to be.  I thought that a simple little guid could be useful for mourners.  Follow the things here and your trip to the cemetery for a funeral should be much easier and more pleasant.

    One big thing to remember is that the cemetery is almost exactly like the beach.  It is hot in summer and cold in winter, the ground is soft and slippery, there is limited parking, there is basically no shelter from the rain or sun.  Overall think of going to the cemetery as going to the beach in formal clothing.

Do not worry: Unfortunately a lot of people have issues with cemeteries.  However cemeteries are not spiritual, not creepy, they're just a place.  And they're everywhere.  Sydney Town Hall Station is built on an old cemetery and when they were building Town Hall they never found all the bodies.  Cemeteries are scattered and forgotten under many cities, especially older cities.  So chances are you walk through them regularly.  Cemeteries are just spaces, and often quite beautiful spaces.  Waverley cemetery is one of the most beautiful places in Sydney with the right light.  In the end a cemetery is what you make of it.  So make it what you want it to be.

- Look up the time and location: As with almost all my funeral tips knowing where and when you should be is key.  Look up the address and directions before the day.  It is rather embarrising to get lost on the way to a funeral  Most cemeteries cannot be put into a GPS, and even then people get lost within the cemetery grounds.

Find the grave: Do not bet on following a cortege to find the grave.  If you get lost, separated or there is no cortege contact the cemetery office.  The office details can be found by simply 'googeling' the cemetery name.  Many cemetery websites also have downloadable maps to help navigate the place.  Cemeteries are like mazes, there is something that makes most of them difficult to navigate.

- Umbrella: Bring one or two even if there is no chance for rain.  They are a great source of shade which will keep you cool and comfortable.  The funeral directors should provide umbrellas if you ask (you can even keep it if they aren't looking as you leave).  However do not rely on this and be prepared.

- Water: This one is obvious but so many people forget.  Bring a small bottle of water and sip at it just before, during and after the service.  Being in a cemetery is surprisingly dehydrating even in cool weather.  And it is always better to risk needing to go to the bathroom over risking fainting due to dehydration/heatstroke (which I have seen happen).  Australia is hot, be read for it.

- Sunscreen: Again, this should be obvious and if you do not bring and use sunscreen on sunny days it is your own loss.  Skin cancer is a big issue in Australia and sunscreen is cheap and easy, so why not?

Chairs: Funeral homes and cemeteries should provide some chairs.  But does not always happen, and even then they will usually only provide 4 to 6 chairs.  So if chairs are needed make sure the funeral home knows before the day and how many they will need.  Or bring a few chairs yourself if you are able.

Food: Bring snacks to have shortly before you arrive at the cemetery.  You may not think about it but this does make a difference.  A few biscuits are good, or a couple of mints.  Lollies or other high sugar and 'quick to eat' foods are not good for the cemeteries.  You want to get the sugar and food, but not too much or too quickly.

Stay out of the way: Keep out of the way of funeral and other staff.  If they look like they need help then offer, but otherwise let them do their job.  This makes everything go quicker and smother for everyone.

- Keep up and keep together: Most cemeteries are big or confusing places with narrow and twisty roads.  It is incredibly embarrassing to get lost only a corner away from the grave.  So do not fall behind and stay behind the hearse.

- Do NOT get out until the right time: At almost every cemetery the cortege will stop by an office to get paperwork before going to the grave.  These offices usually have a car park and toilets, so quite often people will park thinking that this is where they should stop.  Next thing they know the hearse and other cars have gone leaving them lost and alone.  It happens too often, even if the funeral staff warn people.  So STAY IN YOUR CAR until you either see the grave itself (make sure it is the right one though) and/or it is obvious that the cortege has arrived.  You know this has happened when all the undertakers get out of their cars/hearse and not just one person.

- Walk: You do not have to park right next to the grave.  Sometimes you it is dangerous or inappropriate to park close by and you will just take a space of an older or less able person who cannot walk far or over rough terrain.  Other times your car will get in the way of staff or other funeral processions, so do not park on corners, do not park too close together and be ready for a short 2 minute walk.  I will say I find it is generally but not always SUVs (o four wheel drives) that park inappropriately in their attempt to get as close as possible.

- Wear appropriate shoes: The ground at cemeteries is spongy, slippery and soft, so wear shoes for this.  The most common inappropriate shoe is a stiletto.  I have seen women seriously damage their ankles because of their shoes.  And I have no sympathy for them.  To wear high stilettos to a cemetery is stupid and dangerous.  It will inconvenience everyone and just make the person with the shoes look silly.  It is better to wear sneakers or boots and look a little strange than bend an ankle in front of everyone.

Clothing: Obviously one should wear what is appropriate according to the funeral.  Some funerals are more formal than others.  Yet either way think of the weather when choosing clothes.  A three piece suit might not be the best option in the heat of summer.  A thin dress might not be suitable in winter.  Look up the cemetery on Google Maps.  If it is near the coast or on a hill you can assume it will be windy.  If it is in a forest or gardens it will be shaded and cool.  Know where you are going and what it will be like when deciding on clothes.

- Mud, live with it: Cemeteries are dirty places, there is a lot of digging going on and as such there is a lot of lose dirt.  So when it rains there is a lot of mud.  Live with it and deal with it later.  There is no point holding people up while you scrape the mud off your shoes before you get in the car.  Simply get the bigger lumps off, get in the car and more out of the way of others.  Once the mud dries it will scrape off very easily and usually as people try to clean it off their shoes they spread it over their clothes.  If desperte use the corner of gutters or grates of drains to scrape away mud.  Tissues are also handy.

- Know how to drive: Most cemeteries, especially old ones, tend to have narrow streets.  With tight corners, slopes, and dead ends.  Driving through a cemetery may mean squeezing down a narrow street between graves and cars.  Or perhaps you will have to go around an incredibly tight corner.  Either way, knowing how to drive will help.

    Just remember, think of the cemetery as the beach.  Prepare for it in the same way except you will be wearing formal clothing.

    If there's any specific questions or concerns not addressed here feel free to contact me and I if I can I will help however possible.



  1. I agree, it's so important to be sensitive at funerals. It's also important to find the right funeral planner/home. It's such a difficult time in anyone's life. Good decorum is so important. http://www.bowraodea.com.au

  2. I really thought you hit every point for a successful funeral perfectly. For the food section, we're probably going to order caterers to comfort everybody throughout the funeral. We'll keep all of these ideas in mind, especially the "do not worry" section. I really appreciate everything you suggested for the last moments of your loved one.

  3. Since when is stealing a funeral home's umbrellas okay?!

    - Umbrella: Bring one or two even if there is no chance for rain. They are a great source of shade which will keep you cool and comfortable. The funeral directors should provide umbrellas if you ask (you can even keep it if they aren't looking as you leave).

  4. Great read! Thank you for sharing these great points for when going to the cemetery for the burial service. Our Blue Ridge Funeral Service often see some of these points happen.

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