There were some very important co-workers at Sen. Daniel Inouye's funeral in 2012
There were some very important co-workers at Sen. Daniel Inouye's funeral in 2012

Co-workers can become extended family, and individual co-workers can become close friends to those who work in the same job for years. Co-workers are familiar faces with similar interests -- or at least similar objectives -- which breeds trust, comfort and familiarity. When a co-worker dies, it can be as devastating as losing a childhood friend or a close relative. If you’re attending the funeral of a co-worker, following certain etiquette can help you to respectfully pay tribute to the deceased.

The Working Relationship

Work relationships vary widely. Some co-workers are close associates at work and spend free time together outside of the office. Some co-workers may have a close professional association but never see each other outside the office. Some dislike one another personally and some co-workers may never actually get to know each other beyond general face recognition if their workplace is large or broken into isolated departments. Your relationship with the deceased plays a big role in how you should carry yourself at the funeral or in whether you should attend. Think about it like this: If the deceased was not someone you would automatically stop to talk to on the street outside of work, the relationship wasn’t strong enough to mandate your attendance at the funeral.

Handling Social Interactions

Unless you were more of a joined-at-the-hip best friend than co-worker to the deceased, it’s likely that the family and friends of the deceased only know you by name, if at all. If you don’t know many people at the funeral, make an effort to introduce yourself and then offer condolences to family and close friends of the deceased. Something as simple as “I’m sorry for your loss” is more than sufficient. If you were close enough to the deceased to know their loved ones and have personal anecdotes, share them with the other bereaved. Amusing or inspirational memories can be a source of comfort.

The Importance of Dress

The easiest and most immediately evident way to show a respectful attitude is to dress appropriately, so make your wardrobe the first step to mastering basic funeral etiquette. If it’s not conservative enough to wear to a church service or a professional job, it’s not advisable to wear it to a funeral.

What to Wear

For men, “appropriate dress” means slacks, dress shoes and a tucked in collared shirt at the very least. A sport coat is a nice addition, and a full suit is excellent. For women, a conservative dress that falls below the knee is recommended. Other options are a nice shirt and blouse or a suit. Though black is the traditional color for funeral attire, wearing all black is not a prerequisite to good funeral etiquette. However, it is still best to wear subdued colors like black, gray and navy to avoid sticking out.