Where to Sit at a Funeral

People sitting in pews at a funeral

Funerals are uncomfortable for everyone, whether you’re one of those in mourning or simply a friend of the deceased or his/her relatives. It’s natural to be worried about doing the right thing, from what to say to where to sit. 

Funeral Seating Guidelines

At many funerals, relatives of the deceased sit on the right side. Friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and others typically sit on the left. The front rows are reserved for close relatives.  

If you are a member of the immediate family and there are step-parents or step-siblings, you must take into account where everyone will sit. It’s easy to unknowingly slight someone because he or she was cast aside.  

Keep in mind that the “rules” for where to sit at funerals are not as defined as they are for other occasions, such as weddings. It’s unlikely that you’ll be escorted to your seat, so you’re pretty much on your own. 

If you sit too close to the immediate family, you may be concerned that you’re taking the spot of closer friends or distant relatives. If you sit too far away, you may feel that you’re ignoring the family’s needs. 

Don’t take it personally if someone requests that you move to make room for others. A funeral is not the time to focus on yourself; your focus should be on the grieving family. 

In fact, at large funerals attendees usually are asked to move toward the center of the pews. That way, there is minimal disruption during the service. 

Also, if you are a very tall person, be considerate of others and sit in a pew farther toward the back of the room. That way, no one behind you will have to strain to see those speaking. Sure, this may seem like common sense, but at a funeral emotions run high and it’s best not to aggravate an already tense situation. 

Don’t worry if you’re not sitting where you think you should be. Families often prefer having the pews filled from the front so that the room doesn’t look empty. In a large room, this is particularly relevant. Also, those giving eulogies may have a hard time speaking clearly. So, if you want to make sure you hear every word, sit toward the front.  

Still Unsure Where to Sit at the Funeral? Just Ask

If you’re still unsure about where to sit, ask the staff at the house of worship or funeral home. They will know what the family’s wishes are, and can direct you to an appropriate seating area. 

You also can scan the room and, if you see someone you know who isn’t immediate family, you can sit with them. At a funeral, there is always comfort in numbers. 

Above all, be considerate. If you have a young child with you, sit on an aisle or toward the back in case you need to make a quick exit during the service. Likewise, save aisle seats for the disabled or elderly. 

How to Know When to Sit or Stand

During the actual service, depending on the religion, there may be occasions when you will be requested to stand. Even if you are not a member of that particular faith, you should honor its traditions out of respect for the deceased and the surviving family members. Of course, if you have a physical condition that makes it difficult or impossible to stand, then obviously you are not expected to do so. 

You should not only be concerned with where to sit at the funeral but also with how to sit. Do not sit with your feet tucked beneath you on the seat, no matter how long the service lasts. And, even if you are wearing uncomfortable dress shoes, resist the urge to remove them.  

Try to Remain Quiet

Remember to sit quietly. If you think you’ll need a tissue or a throat lozenge, remove it from your purse or pocket before the ceremony begins. Unwrap any mints or cough drops as well. Refrain from chewing gum and any snacks other than candies that might quell an uncontrollable cough. 

When is it Appropriate to Leave?

Once you’re seated, stay seated. Unless you absolutely must use the restroom, remain in your seat until the pallbearers, immediate family and other family members leave. Even if you’ve attended the memorial service but won’t be attending the graveside service, wait to leave your seat. However, don’t wait to leave the parking lot if you won’t be part of the funeral procession. You’ll need to exit the parking lot so that the funeral procession can commence. 

Where to Sit at a Funeral FAQ

Where should family members sit? 

Family members typically sit in the first row. Depending on how many family members attend or how large a family is, this may fill the first few rows. Family member’s may attend a funeral to pay their respects to the deceased but not want to associate with other members of the family as a result of divorce or past grievances. If this is the case, it is not uncommon to see family members sit in separate sections or to occupy the first rows on the right and left side of the venue. 

Where should pallbearers sit? 

The funeral director, minister, or officiant will instruct those participating in the service where to sit. Pallbearers typically sit together in one of the first rows on the right. At some funerals, pallbearers sit with their family or friends in the congregation. If this is the case, just make sure that you speak with the funeral director so you understand when you are required to leave your seat to help move the casket.  

Where should friends and coworkers of the deceased sit? 

Friends and coworkers of the deceased can sit wherever they feel comfortable. Be conscious to give the family, who will likely be in the first few rows, plenty of space. If you arrive early, sit in the middle of the row of chairs or of a pew. This will help prevent excess noise or chatter from people requesting you slide down so they can sit. 

When is it appropriate to sit down? 

If there is a viewing prior to the funeral service, visit with the family and pay your respects. Once this is done you can sit down. If there is not a viewing prior to the funeral service, you can sit down in a chair, aisle, or pew as soon as you arrive. Try to remain silent. If you are in a place of worship that has kneelers, do not allow them to drop or slam on the ground. 

What if the viewing is running late? 

If there is a viewing prior to the funeral and it is running longer than expected, it is polite to sit down instead of prolonging the process by standing in line to pay your respects. It is likely that the family feels emotional or physically drained from this day, your small effort to help the day run smoothly and on time will be appreciated.  

What if there is no seating available? 

If there is no seating available, you can stand. If seating is limited and an elderly individual, pregnant woman, or intensely grieving person is standing, it is a polite gesture to offer that person your seat. 

Want more funeral etiquette information? Visit the following pages.

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