Viewing and Visitation Etiquette

By: Kate Nypaver
Tuesday, April 16, 2019

If you’re planning to attend a visitation or viewing, be prepared for the deceased to be present in the chapel of the funeral home. The casket might be opened or closed, or an urn may be present, but it is wise to mentally prepare yourself if need be.

Wear something nice, but not necessarily too formal (for more on that, you can check out our previous blog post titled “What Should I Wear to a Visitation?”).

Don’t feel obligated to arrive right at the start of calling hours. And definitely don’t arrive before the hour begins—the family may want private time with their loved one before seeing guests.

There will almost always be a register book, so by all means, sign your name and perhaps take a prayer card or folder if you’d like. Sometimes, surviving family members see so many people during a visitation that they may forget who came to visit, so signing your name is very useful to them later on.

Don’t feel obligated to spend much time near the casket; if you’re uncomfortable, you don’t need to step up to the casket at all. But if you’d like to, make sure no one else is also standing by the casket and paying their respects. Hovering around them is uncouth, so try to maintain a decent distance. If there is a line, follow suit. If there is a kneeler, you may kneel and silently pray or think of a fond memory. If not, simply stand by the casket and bow your head in silent prayer or reverie.

Now, say you don’t know the deceased. Maybe she is your coworker’s mother. You might feel awkward kneeling down in front of the casket or attempting to show signs of grief. The key here is to be comfortable and respectful. Again, if you’re uncomfortable near the casket, simply don’t approach it—no one will notice. But if it feels appropriate, by all means.  

Typically, the deceased’s family members stand near the casket or urn so that the visitors form a line. If so, greet each family member and express your condolences. If you don’t know the family member you’re meeting, introduce yourself and express why you’re there, such as, “Hi, I’m Kate, I work with Janet at Such-and-Such. My sympathies for your mom, Janet told me so much about her.” It’s much less awkward if you state who you do know, and why you’re there.

Viewings and visitations normally don’t involve public speaking, but if the family wishes, a rosary may be said or a member of the clergy may come in to say some prayers—if this occurs, follow the crowd. Most likely, everyone will be seated and the music will be silenced while prayers are said. If you’re uncomfortable, you can always step into the lobby. But if you stay in the chapel, please try to stay off your phone. This is a time to pray and reflect.

The amount of time you spend depends on certain circumstances. If the chapel is packed with people and the family is bombarded with visitors, pay your respects and kindly head out. But if groups of people are mingling and sharing memories, feel free to socialize. And if it seems like the family is enjoying having company (smiling, chatting, hugging guests, laughing), it’s okay to stay for a little while. Try to gauge the situation and be mindful of what other guests are doing.

Now, if refreshments are available, it’s best not to hang around the food too long. Maybe have a cup of coffee with something small, but don’t load up!

And of course, if you bring small children, please keep an eye on them to ensure their behavior is not disruptive.

If nothing else, just put yourself at ease and go with the flow of things. I understand social interaction can induce some serious panic for some, especially when death is thrown into the mix. Just remember that your presence is supportive, and it will mean volumes to the family.

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