Funeral Visitation

Funeral visitation
A funeral visitation enables friends and coworkers to express sympathy to the family of the deceased. Terry Vine / Getty Images

When you attend a funeral, you'll be involved in more than the act of burying the deceased. You often have a visitation, viewing, or wake that enables the family and close friends to have some closure and pay their last respects. It gives them the opportunity to spend time with others who also want to express their sympathy.

You may get a notice that there will be a visitation or viewing before a funeral. This is something you should consider going to, especially if you are close to anyone in the family of the person who has passed. 

What Is a Funeral Visitation?

A funeral visitation is an event that gives family, friends, and associates the opportunity to express sympathy to the family of the deceased. It is generally held at a funeral home, a place of worship, or, in some cases, the home of the deceased or a close relative.

Who Should Attend the Visitation

Most of the time, a funeral visitation is open to anyone who knew the deceased or has a connection to someone in the family. However, the family might decide to make it only open to family and close friends.

Honor this request and don't take it personally if you are not invited. Doing otherwise adds stress to the people who are dealing with immense grief.

Mood of a Visitation

Remember that this is generally a solemn event, unless the family requests otherwise. Keep your voice low and your words positive. It is okay to shed tears, but this is not the place to completely break down.

If you feel that you can't hold yourself together, politely excuse yourself and leave the room. The family is already dealing with their own sadness; they shouldn't have to feel the need to console you. 

What to Say at a Visitation

When you approach someone in the family of the deceased, say something heartfelt but brief. If the person doesn't know you, introduce yourself and explain your relationship to the deceased.

Avoid the urge to go on and on about your feelings. Instead, express your sympathy toward the person in the family as briefly as possible. If you see that there are other people who want to offer their condolences, don't block them. 

This is the time when you need to employ all speech filters. Avoid saying the first thing that comes to mind, or you might wind up causing drama and making a scene.

How Long to Stay at a Visitation

When you go to a visitation, remember what you're there for. You may arrive at any time during the posted visiting hours, and you only need to stay as long as it takes to speak to the members of the family of the deceased. Most of the time you can do this in 15 to 20 minutes. However, you may stay longer if needed to support the grieving family.

Location of a Visitation

Visitations can be in any number of places, with the most common being a funeral home or church. They may also take place in a family member's home, fraternal organization facility, or conference room in a hotel.

Other places to hold visitations include art galleries, local libraries, museums, or art galleries. If the visitation is in the funeral home, there may be an open casket to view the deceased. However, if it is at any other location, the casket probably won't be there. If it is, it will most likely be closed.

Viewing vs. Visitation

In some cases with open casket funerals, there is a viewing before or during the visitation. This enables people to have one last look at the deceased and say their goodbyes prior to the burial. 

Before allowing children to go to a viewing, spend some time explaining what is happening. In most cases, it's not a good idea to have small children at a viewing. If someone is uncomfortable in this situation, there is generally an area in the visitation room where the body isn't visible, where he or she can go.

Additional Considerations for a Visitation

If you attend a visitation, dress appropriately in funeral attire. This is not the place to make a fashion statement, so don't try to stand out.

Sign the guest book when you first arrive. If you were a business associate of the deceased, you may put the name of the company so the family will know who you are when they look at the names later.

Be on your best behavior from the time you arrive at the visitation until you leave the burial site. This a time to reflect on the deceased person's life and pay respects to the family. 

Unless you have been asked by the family to take pictures, put your camera away. And whatever you do, resist the urge to take selfies during the visitation. This is crass and can cause undue stress on the family of the deceased.

You may want to bring a sympathy note or condolence card to someone in the family of the deceased. Quietly hand the person your card or place it on a table that has been set up for this purpose. Don't expect anyone to open it on the spot. 

If the deceased was your ex-spouse or partner, take your current relationship with the family into consideration before speaking with them.

If you are unable to attend the funeral but can go to the visitation, by all means, do so. Let the family members know that you will be thinking about them during this difficult time.