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    What is a Funeral Visitation?

    Visitations are a common element of the grieving process for families who are mourning the loss of a loved one. They offer a way for friends and relatives of the deceased to pay their respects and provide support for the bereaved. What typically occurs during a visitation, when does it occur, and how does it differ from a funeral or memorial service? Read on to learn more.

    Table of Contents

    1. What Is A Funeral Visitation And When Does It Occur?
    2. What Happens At A Funeral Visitation And How Long Does It Last?
    3. What Should I Wear To A Funeral Visitation?
    4. Should I Attend Both The Visitation And The Funeral?

    What is a funeral visitation and when does it occur?

    A funeral visitation is an event during which family and friends can view the body of a person who has passed, after the body has been prepared by the funeral home and before burial or cremation. More often than not, this preparation by the funeral home includes embalming, which is a process that involves washing, dressing and treating the body with special chemicals to preserve its appearance. Families can also choose to have a closed-casket visitation, if they prefer for the body of their loved one not to be visible.

    A funeral visitation is typically held at the funeral home or in a place of worship the evening before the funeral service; it is sometimes referred to as a wake in the United States and Canada, whereas elsewhere in the world (in the UK, for example), a wake is something different. There, the word “wake” typically refers to a gathering held at someone’s house after the funeral; pre-funeral visitations aren’t particularly common in the UK.

    Some families opt to hold what is called a memorial visitation after their loved one has been buried or cremated. This type of gathering is much the same as a funeral visitation, with the exception that the body of the deceased is not present (though if it follows cremation, the family may opt to have the urn present).

    What happens at a funeral visitation and how long does it last?

    Most funeral visitations take place at a funeral home or church and are often in the evening; during the visitation, family and friends are invited to gather together and meet informally with the family of the loved one who has passed. Depending on how many people are in attendance, guests may form a line to speak to the family and view the casket (if it’s present).

    Times vary, but visitations generally last at least an hour, and sometimes several hours. That doesn’t mean that you, as a guest, need to stay for the duration of the visitation. In fact, you are not at all expected to do so; a 15- to 30-minute visit is perfectly acceptable, as long as it gives you enough time to pay your respects to the deceased’s family. 

    What should I wear to a funeral visitation?

    Although a visitation may not be considered as formal as the funeral itself, it’s still important to be respectful with regard to your attire. Avoid anything too bright, flashy or revealing, and don’t wear jeans or shorts unless you’re positive that the family of the person who has passed will have no problem with it. Consider wearing comfortable shoes, too, as most visitations involve quite a bit of standing.

    Should I attend both the visitation and the funeral?

    The answer to this question is dependent on how close you are to the family of the deceased (or how well you knew the person who has passed). Of course, it may not be possible for you to attend both events due to logistical reasons, particularly if you’re coming from out of town or have work commitments. But if you are able to attend both the visitation and the funeral, your efforts will undoubtedly be appreciated by the grieving family.

    Sometimes, families planning the visitation prefer to keep the event small, and limit their guest list to a very small group. If you are not invited to the visitation but would still like to pay your respects, you can send a condolence card or letter.

    Funeral visitations offer an opportunity to lend support to families mourning a loss. And in contrast with funerals, which are often more formal events, visitations provide a chance to gather a bit more casually with friends and loved ones to share memories, express sympathy and reflect on the life of the person who has passed.
    Elizabeth Siegel

    Elizabeth Siegel

    Co-Founder, Titan Casket. Ex-Attorney.