A common concern one may usually find themselves being unsure about is understanding the proper etiquette that’s expected when attending a funeral wake. Questions like what to wear, how to behave and the general do’s and don’ts are often asked – and knowing them will help you pay your respects properly and lend your support to the bereaved in an emotionally trying time.

We cover 4 things you should take note of on proper funeral etiquette so you can express your sympathies and pay respects in the more dignified manner.

1. Attire for the funeral

When attending a funeral wake, bear in mind to dress simple instead of flamboyantly – while keeping the attire appropriate and comfortable. Be neat and conservative, as sloppy dressing can be seen as a mark of disrespect to the deceased and the bereaved family members.

Depending on the deceased’s religious beliefs and customs, avoid wearing certain colours that may be deemed inappropriate such as bright shades like red and yellow. On the other hand, certain colours also represent one’s relationship to the deceased. For example, in a Buddhist funeral, family members will wear white. You can check with the family if you are unsure; otherwise, a safe choice is often black, dark shades or muted colours.

2. Speaking to the mourning family

Friends and family will be gathered at the funeral as they mourn their loss and remember their loved one who has passed on. During this emotionally delicate time, it is advisable to be tactful and cautious with your language and mannerisms. For unnatural deaths, it is also best to avoid speculations and quell your curiosity on the circumstances surrounding the death – with the bereaving family members or other attendees at the funeral.

It is always appropriate to offer your condolences and convey your sympathies for the loss of their loved one. You may find yourself at a loss for words, so being physically present is just as important – a hug or a comforting hand can also speak louder than words and will be appreciated. If you have good memories and positive attributes of the deceased in mind, it might be comforting for the family to hear as well.

3. Condolence donations

In Singapore, it is customary for people to offer cash contributions to the bereaved family. Known as pek kim, or bai jin, they are traditionally offered in a white envelope once you are done paying respects to the deceased. The minimum amount is usually $30, but the sum is entirely up to you depending on how close you are to the family and the amount you feel comfortable giving. This monetary contribution is offered to help the family offset the expenses of making funeral arrangements as funeral costs can run high.

4. Participating in religious rituals

Within a funeral wake, there are embedded traditions and rituals that may be in conflict with your set of religious beliefs. Depending on the type of funeral wake, visitors will often be led to pay their respects by stopping at an altar before the coffin and offer joss sticks to the deceased. Or in a Christian funeral, visitors will be encouraged to read and sing along to hymns, prayers and scripture readings.

You are not obliged to it if you do not wish to participate or conform to the rituals present during the funeral wake. However, you can bow your head accompanied by a few seconds of silence to show your respect to the deceased – this is a universally acceptable behaviour in any funeral service as a basic form of respect.