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What is a Funeral Viewing?

When someone passes away, there are a few events you may be invited to attend other than the funeral service. One of these events is a funeral viewing, which is a time for family and friends to gather in order to pay their respects to the deceased. Funeral viewings are important occasions that provide an opportunity for mourning, solace, and closure. In this article, you'll learn what funeral viewings are and what to expect when you attend.

What is a funeral viewing?

A funeral viewing is an event usually held before the funeral service itself. During a funeral viewing, mourners are able to come together in order to pay their respects and remember the life of the deceased person. The funeral viewing is often held in a funeral home or at a place of religious worship, and the body of the deceased will be present in an open casket. During a funeral viewing, mourners typically have the opportunity to pay their respects through activities such as silent reflection, prayer, singing hymns, and sharing memories with other guests.

What is a viewing at a funeral?

As described above, a viewing is something that happens before the funeral, not typically during the funeral. While they are often two separate events with different locations and times, sometimes a viewing does occur immediately before the start of the funeral. Generally, a distinct time window will still be provided for the viewing.

What happens at a funeral viewing?

Funeral viewings typically last a few hours and take place before the funeral service. Here's what you can expect when attending a viewing:

  • The viewing is open to attendees to visit and view the body for a short time, then leave quietly. There is usually a funeral director or another staff member available for guidance on what to do and how to approach the casket.
  • Attendees can express their condolences to the family and show their support by offering hugs, a handshake, or simply their presence. Guests may bring or send flowers to place at the casket as a sign of respect.
  • At a viewing, you should generally expect the body to be displayed in an open casket. You aren't required to actually look at the body. However, if you choose to do so, you should approach and leave the casket respectfully.

In general, you should expect to stay at a funeral viewing for 15-30 minutes, though you are welcome to stay as long as feels comfortable, keeping in mind the family's preferences.

What's the difference between a viewing and a funeral?

A funeral viewing and funeral service are two separate events, but they usually take place on consecutive days. The funeral viewing is often held one day before the funeral service. As previously mentioned, funeral viewings usually take place in a funeral home or at a place of worship and provide an opportunity for attendees to pay their respects to the deceased in a more intimate setting. Funeral services, on the other hand, provide additional opportunities for mourning and honoring the life of the deceased. Funeral services generally include speeches and readings, a time for a eulogy or for loved ones to share a few thoughts, and funeral rites such as a funeral procession.

Funeral viewing etiquette

When attending funeral viewings, here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • A funeral viewing can be a solemn occasion, so it's important to dress appropriately. Women should wear a dark-colored dress or pantsuit and men should wear a dark suit. (This is, of course, not the case if the family decides on a more celebratory or casual atmosphere, which they’ll usually inform guests about ahead of time.)
  • Try to keep your conversations with others respectful and brief. If possible, avoid discussing topics such as politics or religion, which can be controversial.
  • Try to avoid speaking negatively about the deceased or airing out frustrations you had towards them.
  • At the funeral viewing, there is often a guest book that can be signed by attendees, you are encouraged to sign this, and doing so can show support for the deceased's family.
  • When approaching the casket and viewing the body, try to do so respectfully (e.g. it’s generally not a good time to comment on their appearance in a negative way). You are not required to look at the body, but if you choose to do so, try to avoid extreme displays of emotion (unless this is common or expected in your culture).

A funeral viewing is an important part of the funeral process. It provides a space for people to say goodbye and honor the life of their loved one in a respectful and quiet setting. Knowing what to expect when attending a funeral viewing can help make this difficult experience somewhat easier, so it's important to be sure you understand funeral viewing etiquette before attending.

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Last updated January 9, 2023
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