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What is a Funeral Visitation?

A funeral visitation is a time for family and friends to come together and remember the life of a loved one. It allows us to honor the life that was lived, pay respects to those gone, and show support for those left behind. It also offers an opportunity for comfort and closure in a difficult time. If you've never attended a funeral visitation before, it can be daunting to know what to expect and how to act appropriately. Here's what you need to know to attend (or plan) your first funeral visitation.

What is a funeral visitation?

A funeral visitation is a time for mourning and celebrating the life of the recently deceased. It’s an opportunity for friends and family to show respect, share stories and offer comfort to one another. Visitations typically take place before funeral services and are most often held in the family's home or at the funeral home.

What happens at a visitation?

While every visitation is different, there are a few things that typically happen at a visitation:

  • People will come to pay their respects and offer condolences to the family of the deceased.
  • A funeral director or clergy may officiate an informal service or say a few words about the deceased.
  • Music or pictures may be played in remembrance of the deceased.

How long does a visitation for a funeral last?

A funeral visitation can last anywhere from a few hours to an entire day, depending on the family's preferences and the funeral home’s policies. Most funeral visitations are shorter in length than funeral services and will often end with a prayer or blessing. It's typical for a guest to attend the visitation, pay their respects to the family and the deceased, offer their condolences, and then leave the visitation after a brief period of time. You are generally not expected to stay the length of the visitation.

What should I say at a visitation?

There are generally no right or wrongs when it comes to what to say at a visitation, so long as you're respectful of the family and of the deceased. When attending a funeral visitation, it's important to offer words of comfort, support, and sympathy for those who have lost their loved one. You can express your condolences through simple phrases such as:

  • "I'm sorry for your loss,"
  • "My thoughts are with you during this difficult time."
  • “[He/she/they] was so important to so many people and will be truly missed".

Funeral visitation etiquette

When attending a funeral visitation, it can help to understand what's considered proper etiquette. Here are a few funeral visitation etiquette tips to keep in mind:

  • Dress respectfully and conservatively.
  • Shake hands with the family members who you know, and offer a hug to those who you’re more familiar with.
  • Keep your conversations brief and focused on the deceased.
  • Offer words of comfort, support and sympathy to those who are mourning.
  • Respect any religious or cultural funeral customs that you may be unfamiliar with.

Should I go to the funeral visitation?

Whether or not you should attend the funeral visitation is a personal decision. Additionally, remember that funeral visitations are a time to honor the life of someone who has passed away and offer comfort to those who are mourning. If in doubt, it's usually best to err on the side of attending if you’re comfortable with doing so.

What to bring to a visitation

Most funeral visitations do not require gifts or donations, but it is polite to bring a small token of sympathy for the bereaved family. Some appropriate items to bring include:

  • Flowers
  • Potted plants
  • Sympathy cards or letters
  • A framed photo of the deceased

No matter what you bring, a funeral visitation is an appropriate time to express your sympathy and condolences in whatever way you feel comfortable. It's also important to understand that funeral visitations are not only for the family of the deceased but for funeral attendees as well. Funeral visitations can be a helpful space for people who are mourning to come together, support one another, and find strength in shared experiences.

What to wear to a visitation

It's important to know what to wear when attending a funeral visitation. Generally speaking, funeral visitations are formal occasions and attire should reflect that. Men typically wear dark-colored suits or blazers with long pants and dress shoes. Women often opt for dresses, skirts, slacks, or other tailored pieces — all in dark colors. Depending on the family, "proper" funeral visitation attire may differ as some families prefer a more casual, relaxed atmosphere. However, it's best to err on the side of caution when dressing for a funeral visitation and adhere to more formal guidelines.

Overall, funeral visitations are intended as a respectful space for those who are mourning their loved one and pay tribute to their memory. Respectful funeral visitation etiquette is important in honoring the deceased and providing comfort to their family. When in doubt, remember that funeral visitations are a time for everyone to come together and find strength through shared experiences.

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Last updated December 30, 2022
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