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Visitation & Funeral Etiquette Guide

Published: July 7, 2020

A loved one, or a friends’ loved one, has just passed. You’ve been invited to the funeral viewing or visitation, wake, or the memorial service. Sure, death is a part of everyone’s life, but maybe this is your first time dealing with the ceremonies and customs surrounding something like this. It can be helpful to know the differences between these services before you attend, as well as the appropriate visitation or funeral etiquette so that you know what to expect.

First, let’s dive into discussing the difference between a memorial service, visitation, funeral viewing or a wake.

A memorial service is a gathering in which the family and friends of the deceased are invited to come together to remember the person who has passed away. This type of service typically takes place after the funeral. Sometimes there will be prayers, songs, and a eulogy. Mourners should dress the way that they would for a funeral, modest outfit in subdued colors rather than something bright and flashy.

A visitation is a set period of time in which friends and acquaintances are invited to meet with the family of the deceased and offer their condolences. Most visitations are held at the funeral home or the family’s home before the funeral itself. You don’t have to dress as formally as you would for a funeral, but stick to subdued colors and something respectable.

A funeral viewing means the body of the deceased is present, often in an open casket. The deceased will have been embalmed and prepared by the funeral home and ready for the burial or cremation. This is an opportunity to see the deceased one last time and say your quiet farewells.

A wake is often very similar to a viewing, and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. (I know, it can be confusing). The main difference is often that the wake is more religious, and may include a prayer, scripture reading, or rosary said at the beginning and end. A wake may also be more of a social event or party than a viewing, with a group all gathering together at the same time to honor the deceased before the funeral and enjoying food and drinks. Everyone has an opportunity to share stories and memories of the deceased, as well as offering their condolences to the family.

Now let’s dive into discussing proper etiquette for these types of ceremonies.

A memorial service may be held at a funeral home, a church or other house of worship, or another location. There will be a set order of events, along with a eulogy, prayers or poem readings, and often music.

It’s OK to dress a bit less formally at such services, although your clothing should still be neat, clean, and well pressed. It’s always good etiquette to arrive on time, stay until the end of the service, leave your cell phone on silent and in your pocket, and to pay your respects to the family before leaving.

A visitation may sometimes be held in the families home, or during a specific time at the funeral home. Dress nicely, but you don’t need to be too formal as you would at a funeral or memorial service. The standard protocol for a visitation is to stop by, introduce yourself to the family (if needed) and pay your condolences, and then leave after a short period of time.

A funeral viewing is typically held at a funeral home and can be held for several hours or even days before the funeral. You should dress relatively formally for this occasion. Many people are a bit uncomfortable with the idea of attending a viewing, but keep in mind that funeral viewing etiquette does not require you to actually look at or spend time with the body if you are not comfortable doing so. If you do approach the body, stop for a moment and say a silent prayer or stand quietly for a few moments.

A wake can be described as a celebration of the person’s life and their passing on to the afterlife. Wakes are often similar to viewings, and it’s good funeral wake etiquette to have a few favorite stories to tell about the deceased and words of condolence for the family. Remember that there is no requirement for you to view the body, which will typically be present. This type of ceremony doesn’t require a formal dress code, but still dress nicely in subdued colors as you would for a visitation.

If there is a funeral AND a visitation, should you attend both?

There really isn’t any right or wrong answer here. It all depends on how comfortable you feel and how close you were with the deceased or the family of the deceased.

Perhaps you recently found out that a person you haven’t seen in years has passed. You may have been close to the person at one point in your life, but you drifted apart. And maybe you don’t know any of the deceased’s family members. If this is the case, consider attending the funeral. Show your respect for your old friend. Say a prayer or two. And reflect on how that person made a difference in your life.

If you didn't know the deceased personally, maybe you know a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker who recently lost a family member - consider attending the visitation. You don’t know the deceased, but have a good relationship with the bereaved. To support them, you can go to the visitation, but not the funeral.

What really matters is you show up when it means the most. You may not know how important it is to have the people you care about around when you are grieving. Showing support during a visitation, funeral, or both is vital.

Chances are, it will be noticed if you don’t attend the visitation or funeral of someone important. Even though attending can be difficult, you should try to do it. By attending, you're providing much-needed love and support to the families of the deceased.

Are you planning a memorial service, visitation, or funeral or are you attending one? If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask any of the funeral home staff. We are used to answering questions like these every day. Feel free to call us at any time: 966-2402 or email us:

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