Most people don’t attend funerals all that often. Knowing what to bring to a funeral can be confusing—even if you’ve been to one before. You might not know how to prepare for a funeral or memorial service.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What You Should Bring to a Funeral, Memorial Service, or Viewing
- What You Shouldn’t Bring to a Funeral
What you bring to the funeral will depend on your role. If you’re part of the immediate family, you’ll likely need to bring some extras, like a guest book or a photo of the deceased. (We can help you work through this and other post-death details, including grief, with our post-loss checklist.)
If you’re a guest, however, it’s sometimes unclear. Plus, the gift-giving etiquette around memorial services is always clear. In some cases, it even depends on the culture or religion of the funeral service.
While most funerals will only require you to bring yourself, here is an easy guide for what to bring (and what not to bring) to a funeral or memorial service.
COVID-19 Tip: If you're attending a Zoom funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you might not think you can give a gift to the family for the funeral. Although you can't bring something to the funeral in person, you may be able to send a gift through the mail, instead. And since the family will probably receive fewer gifts with a virtual funeral, your thoughtful gesture will go a long way.
Post-loss tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, the emotional and technical aspects of handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
If you’re asking whether you should bring a gift to a funeral service, the answer is generally yes. While a gift is not usually required to attend the service, it’s considered polite not to arrive empty-handed. This is especially true if you’re close to the family. Here are the most appropriate, common gifts to bring to a funeral, memorial service, or viewing.
Flowers are the most traditional funeral gift. They’re a simple way to honor the person who has passed. These are so common that they’re even known as “sympathy flowers” or “funeral flowers” by florists.
Make sure you know how to send flowers to the funeral to ensure proper timing. You can bring a single flower or an entire bouquet. Here are the most common funeral flowers:
Another simple gift option is to bring a sympathy card for the family. This can be with your flowers if you choose to bring a bouquet, or on its own. Deciding what to write in a sympathy card can be stressful, but don’t overthink it.
All you need is a short note expressing your condolences. Sympathy cards are enough on their own, but you might also include one of the following:
- A gift card for a favorite restaurant
- Grocery store gift card
- Coffee gift card
Food or drink
In many cultures, it’s traditional to bring food to a funeral. However, this is something that will fit just about any occasion. The grieving family often doesn’t have the time to worry about preparing or purchasing food for the reception.
Bringing your own dish to the service takes the pressure off the family. Make sure to pack your dish in disposable containers so the family can bring home any leftovers. Not sure what to cook? These are always a good choice:
- Cultural dish
- Dessert or baked good
- Coffee and tea
- Filling casserole or pasta
If you need more suggestions, read our picks for the best meals to bring to a grieving family.
In lieu of flowers suggestion
Sometimes families make the decision for you about what to bring to a service. If you see an “in lieu of flowers” notice on the obituary, funeral website, or memorial announcement, pay attention. It’s polite to give your gift in the form of the family’s suggestion. Common “in lieu of flowers” options are:
- Charity donation
- Tree or shrub memorial
- Funds to help with funeral costs
For more ideas, check out our guide on what to bring in lieu of flowers.
Do you have any family photos? If you have pictures of the deceased, these would likely be a cherished gift for the family. They probably want as many pictures as possible, and they might not even know your photos exist. Consider bringing:
- Framed photos
- Memorial album or CD
We like the Golden State Art Square Collage Frame on Amazon.
Finally, prepare for any cultural or religious norms you might experience at a funeral. In some traditions, there are specific things that bring peace. For example, in Buddhist funerals, it’s traditional for visitors to send white flowers to the mourning family. Here’s what you should bring for:
- Christian funerals
- Japanese funerals
- Buddhist funeral
- Hindu funerals
- Mexican funerals
- Muslim funerals
- Jewish funerals
Share your wishes, just in case.
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Not everything is appropriate for funerals. Though funerals and memorials are becoming an increasingly casual affair in many parts of the world, it’s still important to know what’s appropriate.
For example, not all sympathy gift ideas are suitable for funerals. Some might be better sent to the family’s home directly, while others could cross cultural boundaries. Let’s take a closer look at what you shouldn’t bring to a funeral.
While we mentioned flowers were an appropriate funeral gift, it’s important to share the specifics, so you avoid making a faux pas. First, flowers are culturally insensitive at Jewish funerals. Instead, the family usually requests a donation.
Also, it is appropriate to send flowers to the funeral ahead of the service. You shouldn’t bring flowers yourself to the venue. Consider these factors before sending flowers:
- Arrangement type
- Funeral home rules
- Cultural norms
Expensive gifts are not usually appropriate to bring to funerals regardless of the tradition. Most funeral gifts are between $20 - $100. Any more than that could make the family uncomfortable or distract from the focus of the day. Remember, it’s the thought that counts. Sometimes the best gift is just your time. For instance, you could help with:
- Setting up the memorial on the day of the service
- Preparing or purchasing food for the service
- Caring for or cleaning the family’s home while they grieve
Leave any noisy electronics at home. It’s normal to want to have your phone with you, but make sure it won’t go off unexpectedly. Similarly, if you’re bringing children with you, pay attention to any of their electronics as well. Always follow these electronics tips for funeral services:
- Keep smartphones and devices out of sight
- Put all devices on silent or do not disturb
- Be respectful with your phone usage at funerals
Another thing not to bring to a funeral is revealing clothing. Knowing what to wear to a funeral isn’t always simple, but it’s better to be conservative in your dress. Black is no longer a strict requirement, but it’s still polite to dress modestly. When you dress for a funeral, follow these guidelines:
- Sport sensible footwear, especially if walking in a cemetery
- Wear black or neutral clothing
- If necessary, consider religious wear, such as a headscarf or shawl
While this will depend on the family, many funerals are not open to young children. This depends on a particular child’s relationship with the deceased, but it might be a good idea for the child to stay with another relative during the service. When bringing kids to a funeral or memorial:
- Ask the family if children are welcome before the event
- Plan a quiet distraction for kids during the ceremony
- Remove noisy or cranky children to avoid becoming a disturbance
Preparing for a Funeral
Knowing what to bring (and what not to bring) to a funeral isn’t always straightforward. The art behind how to offer condolences isn’t black and white. Many times, knowing what to bring comes down to the specific family or cultural beliefs.
The best way to know what to bring to a funeral is to understand funeral etiquette. From there, you need to trust your gut when it comes to helping a family during their time of need. As long as you’re heart is in the right place, you’re on the right track.