Funeral Visitation Etiquette
By now, most of us know how to behave ourselves at a funeral or memorial service. We understand the importance of funeral attire, punctuality, keeping kids and technology devices quiet, and offering condolences. Because funerals are more like a church service, in that mostly what is expected of you is to sit and listen, they are not quite as difficult to navigate as other funeral events.
Visitations, viewings, and wakes fall under this category. Because you are expected to mingle with other guests, there are a few additional rules for behavior. If you will be attending a funeral visitation and are not sure what is expected of you, here’s a quick guide to visitation etiquette.
Punctuality Isn’t the Most Important Thing…
One of the nice things about visitations or viewings is that they tend to be open-ended events, so you can stop by any time during the hours it is being held. If you have work or other obligations, it is okay to arrive when you can without worrying about offending anybody.
…But Leaving on Time Is
Although a visitation might last for two hours, your attendance is not required (or expected) for the entire time. Be sure and give the family time and space to grieve by leaving in a timely fashion.
Always Introduce Yourself
If you were not close to the family, be prepared to state (probably more than once) who you are and your relationship to the deceased. People will be interested in knowing your connection so they can share their own stories and grief.
Know Who’s Invited, and Who’s Not
Most visitations and viewings are considered more private than the funeral itself. Because the body is often on display, it can be a very personal process. If the visitation is publicized in an obituary or online, then it is probably okay for you to attend. If it is for family or by invitation only, be sure and check to make sure guests are welcome first.
Bring a Small Gift if You Want
Funeral flowers are best sent to the funeral home separately, but you may want to come with another kind of gift in hand. Food is usually welcome when the visitation/viewing is held at someone’s home, or you can bring a small token that reminds you of the deceased (a favorite book or poem you shared, a gift basket, a photo the family might not already have).
Be Prepared to Listen
If you are unsure of what to say or how to act in these kinds of social situations, come prepared to listen. Many other people in attendance will be working through their own grief, and verbalizing that grief is often one of the best ways to do it (especially in the visitation setting). Lend a sympathetic ear and have a few stories of your own to share, and you will do fine.