Close up of white candle and white rose at a funeral visitation

What is a visitation?

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When honoring the life of someone who’s recently died, a visitation might be a part of the funeral arrangements. Different from a funeral, this is a time to pay your respects and offer condolences to the family in a more intimate setting. 

If you haven’t attended one before or aren’t familiar with what a visitation involves, you might not know what to expect. In our guide below, we answer your FAQs about this event, including what to wear and what happens at a visitation.

While these events are both opportunities to celebrate the life of someone who’s died and show your support for the family, they differ in their format and formality. A visitation is a time to pay your respects and offer condolences to the family in a more intimate setting and is typically held the day or evening before the funeral. A funeral is a more formal gathering where an order of service is followed and loved ones say goodbye to the deceased.

If you haven’t attended one before or aren’t familiar with what a visitation involves, you might not know what to expect. In our guide below, we answer your FAQs about this event, including what to wear and what happens at a visitation.

Read more: Visitation vs. funeral: what’s the difference?

What is a visitation? Everything you need to know

Below we’ll explain what to expect at a funeral visitation, what to wear, and other frequently asked questions. 

What is a funeral visitation?

A visitation is a more casual gathering with the family of the deceased to show your love and support before the funeral and is typically held at their home or at the funeral home. A common practice in many different cultures and religions, this is an opportunity for loved ones to pay their respects to the family before attending the funeral, which often takes place the following day. Funerals can be busy events and the family might have several obligations, so there isn’t always much time to visit with them. A visitation provides you with a chance to let the family know you are thinking of them in a more intimate gathering.

What happens at a visitation? 

During a visitation, friends and family of the deceased spend time expressing their sympathy and sharing memories and stories of the deceased in a more casual, intimate setting than the funeral. Sometimes, the family will serve refreshments during the visitation, too. 

What is proper visitation etiquette? 

If you’re attending a visitation, it’s proper etiquette to introduce yourself to the family and offer your condolences for their loss. If you’ve never met them before, state your name and how you were acquainted with the deceased. It’s also customary to express your sympathy by saying something like, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

A visitation is usually a come-and-go event, meaning you’re free to leave after you’ve paid your respects to the family. Of course you’re always welcome to stay longer and visit with the other guests, but you’re not required to stay the entire time. Just remember to arrive during the scheduled hours, and don’t linger after the visitation has ended. 

Read more: What to say instead of sorry for your loss? Try these 35 alternatives 

Is it okay to just go to the visitation and not the funeral?

While many consider the funeral more important to attend than the visitation, there aren’t any rules on attendance. You can attend a visitation but not the funeral — and vice versa. For instance, if you didn’t personally know the deceased but have a close relationship with the bereaved, you may feel more comfortable just attending the visitation to offer your love and support. 

What is the difference between a visitation and funeral service?

A visitation differs from a funeral service in that it’s an informal event that usually occurs the afternoon or evening before the funeral. It provides a casual, relaxed setting to visit with the family and other guests, supporting each other while grieving their loss. A visitation can take place at the family’s house, the funeral home, or a place of worship. There isn’t a service or any formal sharing involved.

On the other hand, a funeral is a more formal event that typically takes place at a place of worship or in a funeral home.This is a structured, organized event where friends and relatives gather to remember the person who passed away. During a funeral, there is an order of service, which typically includes eulogies, songs, and prayers. 

Read more: Funeral home etiquette and FAQs

What is the difference between a visitation and a viewing? 

A viewing is a gathering where friends and family can view the body of the deceased — usually in an open casket — and say their final goodbyes. A visitation differs from a viewing in that the body isn’t present. 

Sometimes a family will combine the visitation and viewing into one event, giving guests the opportunity to say goodbye to the deceased and offer their sympathy to family members. 

What do you bring to a visitation? 

While you’re not required to bring anything to a visitation, some people like to send flowers ahead of time or bring a sympathy card or food for the family to enjoy. At the visitation, you may have the opportunity to provide a donation to a charity that was important to the deceased.

What do you wear to a visitation?

A visitation is less formal than a funeral, but it’s still best to wear modest, conservative clothing. Wear dark or neutral colors, and avoid anything bright that could be distracting to others or feel disrespectful during a somber event. 

Read more: What to wear to a memorial service

Are there funeral visitation costs?

Yes, there may be some costs associated with hosting a visitation. On the low end, a funeral visitation may cost as little as $150, but on the high end, it could cost upward of $1,175. Costs will depend on various factors, such as whether you’re renting space or supplying food for guests.

A visitation provides a beautiful opportunity to offer your love, support, and sympathy to your loved one’s grieving family members. If you still have questions about visitation etiquette, reach out to those making the funeral arrangements for more information.

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