Depending on the area of the country in which you live or your religious tradition, viewing, visitation and wake are generally synonymous terms for an informal gathering that precedes the funeral. Traditionally, it takes place the day before the funeral, but many families today will hold same-day visitation and funeral services. Often, the deceased is embalmed and in an open casket, but the casket may be closed or not present at all. This ceremony is an informal time for family, friends and colleagues of the deceased to stop by and offer condolences to the bereaved and socialize with others.
A visitation typically lasts for several hours, allowing people to drop in and depart as they wish. It is not necessary to remain for the entire time, and guests may feel comfortable leaving after offering words of support to the bereaved. It is customary, upon arriving at the visitation, to offer your condolences to the family first. Remember to introduce yourself if you are not well-known to the family. It is acceptable to talk about the deceased and offer a fond memory or a few kind words about him or her to the grieving family. You may also wish to send flowers to the family. If you order them ahead of time, the florist will deliver your gift directly to the funeral home and it will be on display during visitation hours.
A visitation is often the site of a wide range of emotions. You may see individuals crying, and it is important to not stare and allow them to grieve with dignity. You may also see individuals smiling and hear their laughter as they share happy memories of the deceased. Always remember to sign the guest book with your full name before you leave.