Colour is very personal, and while we all know that black is traditionally the dominant colour at funerals, there are today more options for use of colour than many people realise.
Used well, colour enhances a mood, an ambience or a moment without us being aware of its impact. Like film or television editing, sometimes you only notice it when it’s done badly. And because funerals and memorials are about honouring or paying respects to the deceased, it is important to use colour well to achieve the effect most appropriate to the occasion.
In Anglo and European cultures, black is of course the colour to wear to the funerals of adults, while white has traditionally been used in the coffins and flowers of children’s funerals, as we associate the colour with innocence. In China on the other hand, white has traditionally been used in funerals generally.
It is not uncommon now to see Australian funeral attendees dressed in colours other than black. Sometimes navy or charcoal takes its place, and sometimes guests will combine an element of black with other colours, such as a black jacket over a floral dress. This is not appropriate for every funeral, and attendees must gauge how formal the funeral will be and how traditional the family of the deceased is before deviating from the usual conventions. As well as the traditional sombre funeral, different formats and styles are evolving as society changes.
Before deciding on a colour theme for a funeral, you’ll need to determine what you want people to feel at the event. Sadness is expected as the main emotion, but the event can also involve more positive feelings such as gratefulness at having known the person, with the funeral more a celebration of their life. Without stating the tone or intent overtly, colour can help us to communicate the messages.
If the deceased was a particularly strong or charismatic personality, there may be a request to wear colours, or even a particular colour. For example, at one memorial I attended, we were specifically asked not to wear black. It was important to the family that the deceased’s life be celebrated and the occasion to not be sombre. They believed that the myriad colours would lift the mood, and it did.
When a cherished friend died a few years ago, his family requested we all wear something red. It was well known that red had always been our friend’s favourite colour, and it was lovely to see how people had interpreted the request for red into their outfits. It was something that united us and made us smile, almost as though we were together sending him a strong message of love.
Neutral hues, such as black, white and grey suggest a serious occasion and trigger little emotion. These options and very soft, greyed tones are the colours to use if you’d like a quiet and respectful event. If the room is decorated in these tones, the underlying message is that there is no room for celebration of the deceased’s life. The tone is serious and no-nonsense.
Light and cool colours, particularly those that are soft and desaturated, are low energy colours and useful when you don’t want to trigger emotion. They don’t excite us, stimulate us or raise our blood pressure.
Alternatively, deeper, richer and warmer hues are evocative. They can stir up memories and emotions, and are expressive. Use these if you’re comfortable with attendees becoming emotional, reflecting on lively anecdotes and keeping the memory of the deceased very much in the room.
The easiest and most obvious places to apply colour at a funeral or memorial are in flowers and candles, and in the funeral program. When pastel tones or bright colours are chosen for these, they help set the tone of the event.
Even before these smaller decisions are made, the choice of venue may be based more on colour than you realise. The colours in the décor and even the attire of the attending staff sets a tone. If chosen well, the colours may not even be noticed, but if the decision is misaligned with the style of funeral wanted, it will be less effective.
The information on this website is for general information only and are not (and nor are they intended to be) a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, nor is it used for diagnosis and treatment. You, or anyone you are concerned about, are encouraged to seek professional medical or mental health advice and treatment from suitably qualified medical and clinical practitioners and providers.
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