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What to Expect at a Visitation, Viewing or Wake

What is a funeral visitation?

A visitation is a funeral event for friends and family to gather to express their sympathies to the family of the deceased. It’s common for a casket to be present (open or closed) to allow guests to say final goodbyes before the burial. You may also hear it referred to as a viewing or a wake, although the definitions of each are slightly different.

Visitations generally occur before a funeral, mostly commonly either on the previous or same day as the funeral.

Where are visitations held?

Visitations most commonly occur at a funeral home, place of worship or in a private home. Visitation hours and location will generally be noted with the rest of a funeral announcement. Many families opt not to hold a visitation or to hold a private one, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see visitation details.

When to arrive

A visitation will often be scheduled for a few hours, and unless you’re a member of the immediate family, you aren’t expected to be there for the full time. Stop by as it makes sense for your schedule, but make sure you leave yourself ample time to speak with the family and pay your respects to the deceased (if applicable), even if there’s a wait. You should also consider attending at a time that will be less crowded, if you’re available. For example, the busiest time at an afternoon/evening wake is usually 6-7pm. If you’re able to attend while others are still at work, this will give you time for higher quality interactions with the family and the deceased.

What to wear

Attire for a visitation should be similar to that of a funeral. You don’t need to wear black, but darker, muted colors are generally a good idea. As a rule, try not to wear anything that draws attention to your outfit.

What to do when you arrive

When you arrive, you may find that family members are set up in specific places to receive visitors, or the event may be more informal. Try to visit each family member to give share your condolences. Be ready to introduce yourself and how you knew the deceased if you don’t previously know members of the family. You may also want to come ready with a few stories or anecdotes to share how your life was affected by the deceased.

If there’s an open casket, it’s your choice whether you want to stop by the casket. For some people, this helps provide meaningful closure. Others would prefer to have their final memories of the deceased be of him or her alive.

Special gestures

If you were close to the deceased, you may be hoping to do something special at the visitation, such as place a meaningful item in the casket. To avoid any issues at the visitation itself, it’s best to reach out to the family in advance to get their blessings.

Changes due to COVID-19

Many families have had to cancel or restrict visitations and wakes due to restrictions put in place by the government. It's important to remember that while you may be unable to attend an in-person gathering during these times, you can still show your support in other ways or attend virtual events. It may be worth suggesting virtual events during shelter in place as a way to help the family feel connected.

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Last updated June 2, 2020
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