Funerals are typically somber events brimming with grief. People deal with grief in many different ways. Some people stay in bed and cry, others keep themselves busy, and then there are those that take selfies.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Consider Before You Snap a Photo
- When it Might Be Okay to Take Selfies at a Funeral
- When it’s Definitely Not Okay to Take a Selfie
- Are Other Funeral Photos Okay?
One school of thought is that funeral selfies are disrespectful and tasteless. However, many believe that taking funeral selfies and even posting these photos to social media is a way to both grieve a loss and share a human connection.
Some religions and cultures actually encourage picture-taking at funerals and memorials. When attending any end-of-life ceremony, it is important to consider proper funeral etiquette.
Make sure you carefully consider what to wear, what to say, and what to bring to a funeral. This can depend on the location of the service and the religion or culture of the deceased and their family. Taking photos is no exception!
What to Consider Before You Snap a Photo
Before you snap a photo at a funeral, there are several things worth considering.
Does the funeral location have a policy on this?
Some funeral parlors, churches, synagogues, and mosques have very strict policies about photos. Make sure you know the venue’s policy before taking any pictures.
How close were you to the deceased? How would the family feel if they saw your picture?
If you are at a funeral to pay respects to a friend or coworker, unless you know for sure that the family wants you to take pictures, it’s probably not a good idea.
If the person who passed away is someone in your immediate family, it might be perfectly acceptable to snap a photo. Make sure you consider if it might offend another family member before you take the picture.
Is this a particularly somber funeral or a joyous celebration of life?
There is an infamous photo of President Barack Obama snapping a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. After the moment was heavily scrutinized in the media, the photographer who captured the moment came to President Obama’s defense. He said that the picture was taken during a particularly joyous moment in the ceremony. Attendees were singing, dancing, cheering, celebrating, and taking pictures.
This might be an appropriate time to snap a photo during a ceremony, whereas a teary eulogy, burial, or wake is likely not an appropriate moment to take a picture.
Are there any religious or cultural considerations?
In some religions and cultures, snapping a photo during a funeral is perfectly acceptable and may even be a traditional part of an end-of-life ceremony.
Other cultures and religions would be strongly offended by a photograph at a funeral. Make sure you are being sensitive to the grieving family’s cultural and religious beliefs before taking a picture at a funeral.
When it Might Be Okay to Take Selfies at a Funeral
There are times at funerals when it might be okay to take a selfie. This is particularly true if you are a family member of or extremely close to the deceased and know exactly how they would have felt about photos at their funeral.
You are grieving an immediate family member
If this is your family member or best friend’s funeral, and you think it will help you grieve, then it might be okay to take a selfie.
Consider the wishes of other family members, the timing of your photo, and any rules the venue might have.
You are reunited with family that you haven’t seen in a long time
If you are attending a family member’s funeral and your whole family is there, it may be the first time you are seeing them in a long time.
If this is the case, it could be a good opportunity to get some family pictures. If everyone is okay with it, and it feels like an appropriate time, a family selfie shouldn’t cause any harm.
If it is the cultural or religious custom of the deceased and their family
Some cultures and religions encourage picture taking during funerals.
For instance, in some Latin American cultures, taking pictures of the deceased during a specific part of the funeral is an important tradition. The photos are used to mark the death as an important historical event in the family’s history. If this is the case at the funeral you are attending, it may be appropriate to snap some photos.
At a living funeral
A living funeral is likely a great time for a selfie, especially with the person of honor. This is often a very joyous event. You are celebrating the life of someone who is still alive!
Some people choose to have their funeral before they pass away. They want to be part of the celebration of their life, and to hear the impact they have had on the people who love them. Have the honoree strike a pose, and take a selfie to commemorate the day.
What it’s Definitely Not Okay to Take a Selfie
There are times when it would be quite inappropriate and not okay to take pictures at a funeral. When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to skip the selfie.
If you are not part of or close to the family
Taking a selfie at a funeral where you are not personally grieving can be deeply offensive. If you are attending a funeral to support a friend or coworker, for instance, leave the selfie stick in the car.
If you think it might offend
Are there a lot of tears? Was the death sudden or tragic? Is the family very private? Don’t take a selfie if it could come across as tasteless or offensive.
If it is against the religious or cultural beliefs of the deceased or their family
Taking selfies at a funeral could go against the grieving family’s cultural or religious beliefs. Some cultures even believe that photographs steal the subject’s soul. Don’t risk offending the family or making their grieving process more difficult by snapping a photo.
With an open casket
Unless you are an immediate family member or an open casket selfie is part of the family’s religious or cultural traditions, it is never okay to take a selfie with the deceased’s body at a funeral or wake.
During poignant moments such as eulogies or the burial
There are moments during a funeral when it might be appropriate to snap a photo, and moments when it would be frowned upon. It’s a bad idea to take a selfie during a particularly serious or somber moment.
Ask yourself if taking a selfie at that moment would distract from the service or the grieving family. If so, wait until the time is right, or skip the selfie all together.
Are Other Funeral Photos Okay?
So, you’ve decided on the selfie issue, but what about other photos? Just like with selfies, there are times when it may be appropriate to take pictures and times when it’s definitely not okay.
If the service is located in a beautiful place
Some people request that their service be held at the ocean, on a boat, or another beautiful location. It is likely okay to take a photo if the service is visually striking. Some people choose to have living memorials after they pass.
For instance, they may choose to have a tree planted as part of their funeral. This is likely a good opportunity to take a photo. As mentioned above, there are still appropriate times and not appropriate times to take photos before, during, and after the ceremony. Use good judgment and be discreet.
If the family asks you to photograph
The family may ask you to take a group picture or to take pictures of the service or other parts of the funeral. If this is the case, you absolutely should respect their wishes and snap away.
At a celebration of life ceremony
These are often joyous occasions and even parties that celebrate life rather than grieving death. It would be appropriate to take pictures at this type of event.
My father-in-law requested a memorial party to celebrate his life rather than a somber funeral. My husband was very close to his dad and wanted to include him in our engagement. He proposed to me at his dad’s memorial party, and needless to say—lots of pictures were taken!
If you’re not sure, don’t take any pictures — use your best judgment
If you aren’t sure if it would be appropriate or okay, don’t take the risk. Check-in with yourself about why you’re at the funeral, and what the family would want.
The worst possible thing you could do at a funeral is offend the family of the deceased and make the day even harder for them.
To Selfie or Not to Selfie?
Losing someone you love and going to a funeral can be difficult. When someone from your family or a best friend passes away, if taking a selfie or photograph helps you grieve, go for it. Just make sure you consider how others may feel or if it violates any cultural or religious beliefs.
The most important thing you can consider is why you’re attending the funeral. If you are there to support the family of the deceased, it’s best to refrain. Unless, of course, they’ve specifically asked or encouraged you and other attendees to take pictures.