When someone experiences the loss of a loved one, visiting the bereaved in person is a thoughtful way to convey the deepest sympathy and offer support.  Finding the proper way to express condolences can be difficult. There are several ways to show honor and to respect the memory of the departed, including visiting in person.

When to Visit in Person

Upon learning of the death of a family member, friend or colleague, it is common to contact a member of the family to express condolences and offer help and assistance. During the initial communication with the family or family’s representative, the details surrounding the funeral, burial and memorial service may be obtained.  Visiting in person and/or attending one or more of the traditions and rituals – the visitation, wake, or shiva, the funeral or memorial service, and the burial or final resting service – can be appropriate and will be appreciated by the mourning family.

Who Attends the Visitation, Funeral or Visits in Person?

Distant relatives and more casual friends and acquaintances may prefer visiting the family at the funeral home. This setting gives the family a larger space to accept visitors and allows easier interaction with others. Here are some thoughts and guidelines when considering a personal visit at the funeral home:

  1. Determine if the visitation is open to the public. If the visitation is to be a private gathering for close family only, the family will make note of this in the obituary. If there is a doubt about the status, contact the funeral home for specific details.
  2.  Visit during the times of mourning. Visitations are usually held one or two days prior to the funeral service during a fixed set of hours. Often there will be some open visitation for an hour or so just prior to the funeral service. The grieving family may be visited by many wishing to express their sympathies and the time any individual can spend with them may be quite limited. Though the chance to speak with them may be brief, your presence will be duly noted and appreciated. The support of friends and family will provide encouragement and strength.
  3.  Attend the funeral if possible. During the funeral, fewer people can rearrange schedules to make attendance possible. The grieving family will be struck with the reality and finality of the death. The intense emotions that accompany the actual burial can shake even the strongest person. Your presence at the funeral itself with reaffirm the closeness of your friendship.
  4.  Plan a visit sometime after the funeral. After the funeral, the love and support of family and friends naturally dwindles. People go back to the routine of their lives, but for the family of the deceased,  life will never be exactly the same. Schedule a time to visit or call three weeks, even three months later to reconnect. Care and compassion for the friend’s grieving process will be greatly appreciated.
  5. Give careful thought to bringing children. Many visitation services will have the casket present. Circumstances and customs may dictate whether the casket is open for viewing the body or closed. If the child was close to the deceased, their presence may be acceptable, but should be considered age-appropriate.

What to Expect During the Visitation or Funeral Service

Upon arrival, go to the family and express a simple condolence. Brief words like “I am sorry for your loss” or “You are in our thoughts and prayers” are both meaningful and comforting. If there is a line waiting to see the family, keep your thoughts and comments brief. If there is no relationship with the family, introduce yourself and briefly explain your relationship with the deceased.

Viewing the body is not mandatory, but is usually considered respectful if the casket is open and displayed near the family. The time there can be brief and quiet.

Time spent at the funeral home may vary. Moments with the family will usually be driven by the number of people waiting to offer their condolences. Seeing other friends and family members at the service may prompt conversations and shared stories about the deceased, lengthening the time of the visit.

What to Wear to a Visitation or Funeral Service

Though etiquette is slowly changing, custom has usually dictated that those attending a visitation or funeral should wear semi-formal clothing. Suit and ties for men and dresses for women, usually in greys or dark colors, are common clothing choices. The choice of clothing should be made to show respect for the deceased and those grieving.

Weather conditions, circumstances and setting of the funeral, and religious and cultural traditions may affect the choices for clothing made. In general, it is never inappropriate to dress in a way that reflects respect and sorrow for the somber moments of mourning a loss.

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