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April 21, 2018 Beyond The Dash

What is a Visitation?

What to expect when the funeral includes a visitation

What is a Visitation?
A funeral visitation usually includes a viewing of the body, and a place for family and friends to console each other. (Shutterstock)

All families do funerals differently. For some, the funeral process is dictated by tradition or religion; it is a celebration of the deceased person's life and qualities. As a funeral guest, it can be unnerving if you don't know what to expect at the service. Today we are exploring what it means when the service also includes a visitation.

A gathering for mourners

A funeral visitation is held a day or two before the formal funeral service. Typically guests will be those who knew the deceased person personally, making visitations a more intimate event than the actual funeral ceremony. It is a time for family and friends to gather and pay their respects. Sometimes families will request that only family and close friends attend a visitation. 

No one has to grieve alone. Visitations provide a space for guests to share memories of their loved one and support each other through this difficult time. Healing from the loss of a loved one is never easy, but with the support of friends and family, you can all heal together. 

While formal funerals are still common, it's not unheard of for a family to hold a visitation and skip the formal service altogether. This is both a way to cut down on increasingly high funeral expenses and make the funeral day less somber. 

When is a visitation held?

Often, visitations are held in the hours before the funeral service. However, memorial visitations may occur after the ceremony. During a memorial visitation, flowers and pictures take the place of a casket, but is otherwise the same as a typical visitation. 

Where to congregate

The host of the visitation will provide the location of the visitation to guests. Usually visitations are held at the church or funeral home that is also hosting the funeral ceremony. Other times, the visitation may be held at the family home. Check the obituary or invitation for the exact address.

Do visitations also have a viewing of the body?

The body of the deceased is typically present during the visitation; however families are increasingly opting for cremation over a traditional burial. This means the body will not be present on the day, and the focus of the visitation is supporting loved ones through grief and remembering the deceased person as they were in life. 

If the body is present for viewing, the family may opt to have either an open or closed casket. In an open casket visitation, guests have the choice to view the body or not. Usually the casket will be placed in a corner of the room, or in a separate room. Children should be prepared for this, and it's usually recommended that very young children do not participate in a viewing. 

Tips for guests

If you're unsure of how to behave at a funeral service, check out our article, What is Correct Funeral Etiquette

Dress as you would at the funeral service: with a low key, dignified, quiеt lооk, tо ѕhоw rеvеrеnсе fоr thе fаmilу in mourning. Click here for more funeral attire tips.

Consider bringing flowers, a card or other memorial gift for the family. Flowers show your remorse and express your condolences on a difficult day, without having to say a word.

A somber day

Though each family's style of mourning differs, expect the mood at a visitation to be fairly somber. The visitation is part of the funeral ceremony, so guests should act and dress accordingly. 

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