Visitation Etiquette: What You Need to Know

When people have lost someone they love, they can feel isolated and lonely. After a death, it’s customary to visit the grieving family. A visitation before the funeral gives people an opportunity to pay their respects and offer condolences — but if you plan to go, it’s important to know the appropriate, expected behaviors.

Sometimes, the visitation is limited to close family members and friends, and the family’s wishes must be respected. In most cases, however, if you knew the person who died or you know the family, you should probably go to the visitation. Your physical presence is important — and at the funeral, it won’t be as easy to reach out and talk to the family because they are likely to be crowded by other mourners.

At the visitation, people drop in over the course of several hours but don’t typically stay for long. This makes it easier to say a few private words to the family. To handle your time at the visitation:

  • Dress appropriately. You don’t have to dress up as much as you will for the funeral, and it’s not necessary to wear all black, but it’s important to avoid dressing too casually. A sports jacket and slacks are a good option for men, and women should wear a dress, skirt outfit, or pantsuit. Jeans are frowned upon, and even children should wear nice clothing to show respect.
  • Express your sympathy, introduce yourself and share memories of the deceased. If you didn’t know the person but you know one of the family members, that’s OK. Introduce yourself to the others, and tell your friend how sorry you are for his or her loss.
  • Sign the registry with your full name and address but no additional comments. If you’d like to leave a note for the family, write it in a condolence card and leave it with them. The only time it’s appropriate to write something other than your name and address in the registry is if you’re a business associate and the family might not know of your connection. In that case, feel free to write the nature of your relationship with the deceased along with your name and address.
  • Remember to give a memorial gift. If the family has designated a charity, donate there. You can also send flowers to the funeral home or memorial flowers and gifts to the family home.
  • Keep your visit brief. This is a time for reaching out, not for chatting or catching up. Speak to the family, offer your condolences, say something nice about the person who has died, and then make your exit so that they will have time to speak to others.

Grief shared is grief lessened, and that’s why attending a visitation is such an important way to show you care. If you’ve recently lost a loved one, planning a visitation gives others the opportunity to offer support and pay their respects. Chapel of the Chimes Oakland has been helping families plan visitations and meaningful funeral services since 1909, and we would be honored to guide you through this unfamiliar terrain. Call us at (510) 379-5200 to learn about our proud history, beautiful property and all the ways we can help you create a life-honoring service for your loved one.

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