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Funeral Etiquette Viewing & Visitation Tips

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Death is a part of everyone’s life, not all of us have the experience of dealing with the ceremonies and customs surrounding death. There are specific funeral etiquette protocols to abide by in order to help maintain the dignity of the deceased.

You may be asked by a loved one or family member to attend a wake, visitation, or memorial service for someone who has recently passed away. Knowing the differences between these services, as well as the proper wake attire, can help you be prepared for such an event.

What's the Difference Between a Memorial Service, a Wake, a Visitation, and a Viewing?

Let’s examine the various types of occasions that are held in order to pay tribute and honor to the deceased.

What is a Memorial Service?

A memorial service is a type of gathering that is held in honor of a deceased person. The purpose of the memorial service is for the family and friends of the deceased to come together and remember the person. This type of service is typically conducted after the funeral, so the body is not normally present. However, if the deceased was cremated, a funeral urn may be present. Often, there will be prayers, songs, and a eulogy at the memorial service. Mourners should dress in clothing that is appropriate for a funeral.

What is a Visitation?

Visitations provide an opportunity for friends and acquaintances to meet with the family of the deceased and offer their condolences. The visitation is a time for friends and acquaintances of the deceased to meet with the family and offer their condolences. This can be a difficult and emotional time, but it can also be a time of healing and support.The body may or may not be present at the visitation, depending on the wishes of the deceased's family. You should dress nicely, but there is no need to be as formal as you would for a funeral.

What is a Viewing?

When you lose a loved one, you may choose to have a viewing or wake. These are opportunities for friends and family to say their final goodbyes and to pay their respects. You may also have a visitation, which is generally less formal. The body will have been prepared by the funeral home and will be present in an open casket. This typically occurs right before the funeral so that family and friends can be present.The deceased will have been embalmed and prepared by the funeral home, in most cases, and otherwise ready for the burial or cremation. This is a valuable chance to see the deceased one last time and pay your respects.

What is a Wake?

A wake is an opportunity to honor the deceased before the funeral. The term “wake” comes from an Old English term that means “to keep watch.” A wake is often very similar to a viewing, and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The primary distinction is that a wake is more religious, and may incorporate a prayer, scripture reading, or rosary recited at the beginning and end. A wake may also be more of a social function than a viewing, typically involving a group gathering to commemorate the deceased.

Memorial Service Etiquette

A memorial service is a time to remember and honor the person who has passed away. There are many ways to do this, but here are some general tips on how to act and what to wear. This will help you show respect and make the most of the experience.
While the order of events may vary, most memorial services will include a eulogy, prayers or poem readings, and occasionally speeches. Arriving on time, staying until the end of the service, silencing your cell phone and paying your respects to the family before leaving are all good ways to show etiquette and respect.

Visitation Etiquette

Here are some tips on what to wear and how to act during a visitation. Depending on the location and length of the service, the family may hold the visitation in their home or at the funeral home. It's important to dress nicely, but you don’t need to be too formal.

While the standard protocol for a funeral visitation is to stop by, introduce yourself to the family (if needed) and pay your condolences, you may want to consider staying for a little while. Funeral visitations provide an opportunity for the bereaved to receive support from friends and family. By staying for a while, you can show your support and care for the family during this difficult time.

How long you need to stay or should stay depends on several factors, including how you perform well to survive with others, how busy the family members seem to be, and where the visitation is going to take place.

If you are visiting a loved one's home, it is appropriate for you to stay for a slightly longer period of time, as you talk about the deceased, as you talk to discuss their accomplishments with them and as you stay longer to gain firsthand knowledge about their life. If you are visiting a funeral home, you may want to stay for a short time and then leave. The family may not be able to provide you with the support you need at that time, but you can still show your support by visiting and staying for a short time.

Funeral Viewing Etiquette

Although it is not required, many people choose to attend a funeral viewing to pay their respects to the deceased. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of viewing the body, keep in mind that funeral viewing etiquette does not require you to actually look at or spend time with the deceased if you are not comfortable doing so.

You can still show your respects in other ways, such as by attending the funeral service or sending a sympathy card.You should always be prepared for dead loved ones to be in the room with you, however, and for the possibility of an open casket, which is very common.

A viewing usually isn't a religious service, so there is unlikely to be a formal prayer said or any type of structured order of events. Rather, this is a time for you and others who knew the deceased and his or her family to come and say a last goodbye.

A viewing will usually last a few hours, but you don't have to stay for the entire thing if you don't want to. It's usually best to wear relatively formal, conservative clothing. Don't forget to give your condolences to any family members of the deceased who are present. You might want to stick around for a bit to chat with other mourners about the person who died.

Once you've decided whether or not to view the body, try to do so when no one else is around, out of respect for those who are grieving. If that's not possible, stand quietly nearby until other people have finished. Then, take a few moments to stand by the casket.

Take a moment to stand by the casket. You may want to kneel, say a prayer, or simply bow your head for a moment of silence. You may also want to say a few words silently to yourself about the deceased. You don't need to stay for long; a minute or two of silent respect is more than enough.

Wake Etiquette

A wake is commonly thought of as a happy occasion, where alcohol is consumed and toasts are made in honor of the deceased. This is largely due to the influence of the traditional Irish wake, which was a joyous send-off to the afterlife.

A wake is an opportunity for the friends and family of the deceased to come together and share stories, offer their condolences, and celebrate the life of the person who has passed. It is often held in the home of the deceased, with the body present, so that everyone can pay their respects. The wake can also be held in a church or other public place.

When you are invited to a wake, you should expect that you will be offered a refreshment. The formality of the affair depends on the wishes of the family--it may be a religious event or not. Wakes are similar to viewings, and part of the proper etiquette is to have a few favorite stories to tell about the deceased and to offer words of condolence to the family.

Should you go to both visitation and funeral?

Members of the immediate family and close friends should attend both the wake and the funeral. People will want to offer their condolences to those who are part of the immediate family. Even though it can be difficult, it is necessary to be there.

Here are some other scenarios that may help you decide when to attend both services.

If you knew the deceased personally

Losing a loved one is always difficult, but it can be especially hard for close friends. If you are a close friend of someone who has lost a family member, it is important to attend both the wake and the funeral. You may even want to offer your help to your grieving friend.

Even though your friend may not be able to spend time with you because they have to host the event, they will appreciate your support. Something as small as bringing them coffee or helping to serve sandwiches can go a long way.

What should you not wear to a funeral visitation?

Visitations, or calling hours, are generally more low-key than funeral services. They often take place after work hours, so it’s perfectly acceptable to attend a visitation wearing your usual business or business casual clothes. In order to make the atmosphere more comfortable for everyone, it’s best to avoid wearing dark colors or clothing that is too dressy.

It’s important to show respect to the grieving family by avoiding wearing casual clothes like shorts and jeans or flip-flops and athletic shoes. Instead, opt for more formal attire. Women should wear a long dress or pants with a blouse, and men should wear a suit or sport coat. Avoid wearing bright colors, logos, or graphic designs.

Do I send flowers to visitation or funeral?

If you are a member of the immediate family, you may either send your flowers to the funeral or take them to the graveside, whichever you prefer.

If you are extended family, you may be wondering whether or not you should send funeral flowers to the place of worship or funeral home. While you certainly have the option to do so, you may find it more appropriate to send sympathy flowers, messages, or gifts to the home.

If you knew the deceased well, it may be a nice gesture to write a message that can be read out at the funeral service. Oftentimes, flowers can be forgotten and left behind after the funeral, so maybe a gift to the family would be appreciated more.

It is generally considered more appropriate for friends and colleagues of the deceased to send flowers to the family home, or even the office of the bereaved, rather than to the funeral service.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. We hope that it has provided you with a better understanding of what to expect should you choose to attend a visitation service in the future.

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