Funeral Viewing Guide and Etiquette

If you've never been to a funeral viewing, you might be apprehensive about what to expect. Terminology around this type of event can make it hard to know what you are walking into. Being prepared is one of the best ways to make sure you can get the most out of a funeral viewing.

If you want to go to a funeral viewing, understanding how things are done there can help prepare you for what may happen if you participate. In this guide, we will answer some common questions that arise around funeral viewings so you can be properly prepared for the event.

What is a funeral viewing?

A funeral viewing is a gathering of family, friends, and acquaintances to pay their final respects to the deceased. The body is present at the funeral viewing, and people may line up to view the body and say a final goodbye. 

You can choose to have an open or closed casket, and the viewing can be held at various locations such as the funeral home, a religious venue, or someone's house. The viewing is typically held either the day of the funeral or the day before.

Why have a funeral viewing?

A funeral viewing provides an opportunity for people to gather together in one place to share their grief and support one another. It also gives people a chance to say goodbye to the person who has died.

Basic Funeral Viewing Etiquette

Since funeral viewings are not events where guests stay for extended periods of time, it is common for people to come and go throughout the event. There are a few things you should know if you find yourself attending a funeral viewing:

  • How to dress: It is important to dress respectfully for a funeral viewing. This means avoiding clothing with profanity or offensive images, as well as short skirts or low-cut tops. You should also avoid wearing bright colours, as they can be considered disrespectful.
  • What to say: When speaking to the family of the deceased, it is appropriate to offer your condolences. You may also want to share a memory of the person who has died. If you don't know what to say, it is perfectly fine to simply express your sympathy.
  • What not to say: There are certain things that you should avoid saying to the family of the deceased, as they can be considered insensitive. Save the office or personal chit-chat for another time and focus on the deceased and their family's needs.
  • Don't expect to stick around for long: You should expect to stay for around 15-30 minutes, depending on how many people are in attendance. If there are more people there, it might take longer to speak to the entire family and express your condolences.
  • Think carefully before taking children: It can be particularly distressing for young children if it is an open casket, so it might be best to leave children at home. Older children should be given a choice and their wishes respected.

What to say to the family at a viewing

This is your time to pass on your condolences and let the family know you are in their thoughts. There is a chance that you won't know the family, in which case you should introduce yourself and let them know how you know the deceased. You don't have to go into extensive detail.

What is a funeral visitation?

Funeral viewing and funeral visitation may be used interchangeably, but they typically refer to a small ceremony before the funeral where the casket is present and the family gather to say their goodbyes. They will invite close friends to join them in this incredibly difficult time.

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What to wear to a funeral viewing

The same rules for attending a funeral apply to attending a funeral viewing. Unless the family request otherwise, you should wear dark and muted colours for a funeral visitation. You should also avoid strong perfumes or colognes as they can be overwhelming in such close quarters. If the funeral viewing is happening immediately before the funeral, you will want to make sure your attire is appropriate for both occasions. Sometimes the family will make specific requests, such as wearing bright colours, and you should always honour these requests.

Do I need to bring anything to the viewing?

If the viewing is held at a family member's home, it's common to bring food or a sympathy card. You could also bring flowers or a gift if you know the family particularly well. Take note of any specific requests, as some families don't want their homes filled with flowers and would rather these are delivered to the church, funeral home or crematorium. If the viewing is taking place at a funeral home, travel light and bring a sympathy card.

Do I need to attend the viewing?

It's a deeply personal choice whether to attend the viewing or not. The viewing is often separate from the funeral, so you will have another chance to say goodbye and pay your respects. If it is to be an open casket viewing, the family are likely to understand if you don't want to attend. However, it is possible to attend the viewing and not visit the casket. You can simply pay your respects to the family and then leave without seeing the open casket.

What is expected of you at a viewing?

Your attendance at the viewing shouldn't take very long. You can expect to arrive at any time during the viewing window and leave when you feel you have expressed your condolences. You don't have to arrive at the start or stick around until the end. When you arrive, there may be a line of people waiting to speak to the family. Wait your turn, and then introduce yourself and let them know how you knew the deceased. You can then express your condolences before visiting the casket. Visiting the casket isn't a requirement and it is possible to speak to the family without seeing the body. Once you feel you have said goodbye in your own way, you can leave.

Is a funeral viewing the same as a wake?

No, a funeral viewing is not the same as a wake. A funeral viewing is a small ceremony held before the funeral, usually at a funeral home or church, where the casket is present and the family gather to say their goodbyes. A wake is typically held after the funeral, either at the deceased's home or at a venue close by. The wake is a chance for everyone to get together, support one another and share fond memories. The wake is sometimes used as an opportunity to invite a wider group of people that may not have been able to attend the funeral viewing or the funeral. The wake is sometimes held a few weeks after the funeral, particularly if the individual is cremated. The ashes may be on display for you to express your condolences.

What is expected of you during a funeral viewing?

There are very few expectations of you during the funeral viewing. You don't have to stay very long, and all you need to do is introduce yourself to the family members and express your condolences. You should be dressed in appropriate attire and avoid using your phone, eating or drinking. If you offer to help with anything, be prepared to take on a specific role in the planning of the funeral viewing.