Visitations and funerals are both events held after someone has passed away. They give friends and family a chance to come together and mourn. However, they’re not the same thing. If you’ve been invited to one or both, you may be confused about the difference. Below, we’ve explained what they are, as well as visitation vs funeral service etiquette. Hopefully, this will help you know what to expect and decide how you’d like to pay your respects.

Visitation vs funeral - the difference

A funeral is a formal service held after someone has died while a visitation is a set period of time before the funeral where people come and pay their respects to the family. A funeral takes place at a set time and is led by a funeral director or religious leader. A visitation is a time in the day or afternoon when friends can drop by and offer their condolences in a more relaxed setting.

What is a visitation?

Holding a visitation is a common practice in many religions and cultures. People are invited to visit the family of someone who’s died to pay their respects. The visitation takes place before the funeral, often the afternoon or evening before. The family invites people to drop by within a certain period to offer support and condolences. It’s less formal than a funeral so it gives people a chance to chat. They might share fond memories and anecdotes of the deceased. The visitation can be held at the family home, a funeral home, or a religious place of worship. The family will share the time and date of the visitation in the obituary or via written invitation.

Is a visitation the same as a viewing?

A visitation isn’t the same as a viewing — at a viewing there is an open casket so people can come and see the person who’s passed away. Both a viewing and a visitation are held before the funeral. The family may decide to combine the two. 

Is a visitation the same as a wake?

No — a wake is like a viewing but is usually a religious occasion. As well as viewing the body of the deceased in an open casket, guests are invited to share in prayer, religious readings, and customs.

What is a funeral?

A funeral is a formal service that marks someone’s passing. It gives friends and family a chance to say goodbye. Typically, a funeral is led by a funeral director or religious leader. It includes speeches about the person’s life and readings on the topic of death. Religious funerals also have their own customs and rituals and are often held in a place of worship. The funeral is often followed by a burial or cremation ceremony.

Funeral etiquette at visitations vs services

While visitations and funerals are both somber events, there are slight differences in the etiquette expected for attendees.

What should I wear to a visitation vs a funeral?

You should wear dark and muted colors to both a visitation and a funeral. However, at a funeral, you’ll typically be expected to wear more formal clothing, such as a suit or a dress. 

How should I act at a visitation vs a funeral?

You should be respectful of people’s emotions at both events. During a funeral ceremony, you typically stay silent unless invited to speak during the service. At a visitation, you usually chat with the family and other guests.

How long do visitations and funerals last?

A funeral usually lasts around an hour, and you’re expected to arrive on time and stay for the whole service. A visitation usually lasts a few hours and you’re welcome to attend whenever you like during that period and stay however long feels comfortable. This might be just 15 minutes if you don’t know the family well. If you’re a close friend, you might want to stay a few hours to show your support.

Should I send flowers for the visitation or funeral?

You can send flowers for a visitation or funeral. You should organize for these to be delivered in advance of the event. The family will probably share details of where to send flowers. If not, you can call the funeral home or religious place of worship where the service is being held for information on where and when to send the flowers. 

Should I go to the visitation or the funeral?

Whether you attend the visitation, funeral, or both depends on your relationship to the deceased and the family’s wishes. They may hold a visitation for relatives only, and if so, you should respect their wishes. If you’ve been invited to both but you’re unable to attend the visitation, it’s fine to simply attend the funeral. It’s typically considered more important to attend the funeral service. Perhaps you’d feel more comfortable only attending the funeral; however, you might like the chance to speak to the family in a more relaxed setting at the visitation. As long as you’re kind and respectful, the choice is yours.

If you’re unsure when or how to show up on the day of the visitation and funeral, you can always ask the family or reach out to the funeral home.