Funeral Wake Etiquette: Best Practices for Viewings and Visitations

Knowing what to expect ahead of time and showing up prepared to practice proper funeral wake etiquette can ensure that you come across as respectful and sincere. While attending a wake, viewing, or visitation for someone you know who has died is a wonderful way to offer support to their grieving family, it can be an emotional and sometimes awkward endeavor. Keep these etiquette tips in mind before attending a wake, viewing, or visitation.

Are wakes, viewings, and visitations the same thing?

Wakes, viewings, and visitations are all opportunities for family and friends to spend time with the deceased person’s body and offer support for the grieving family before the funeral. They can be quite similar, but do have a few distinct¬†differences.¬†

  • Wakes & Viewings: Events held with the deceased person’s body present, often with an open casket. They’re usually held the day before or of the funeral at the same location. The primary difference between the two are wakes are usually religious in nature, and include some sort of prayer or spiritual reading.
  • Visitations: Set periods of time before the funeral where the deceased member’s family will receive guests in their home or at the funeral home. Visitations may or may have the body present, and can take place over several hours or days.

Should you attend if you weren’t directly invited?

In some circumstances, wakes, viewings, and visitations are reserved for family only. If this is the case, it’s best to respect the family’s wishes and not attend. If you weren’t directly invited and the family doesn’t specify that the event is family only, it’s usually acceptable to attend. If you’re uncertain, consider attending the funeral only or sending the family a sympathy card or flowers.

How long should you stay at a viewing?

There is no rule to how long you should stay at a viewing. It will likely depend on when you’re able to reach the family to offer your condolences and view the body if you wish to do so. After you’ve shown your support to the grieving loved ones, it is typically best to leave rather than linger for an extended period of time.

Is it alright to attend a viewing and not the funeral?

There are circumstances where it is acceptable to only attend the viewing and not the funeral or vice versa. For instance, if you didn’t know the deceased person, but would like to show their family your support, stopping by the viewing would be a kind gesture.

On the other hand, if you don’t know the family at all, but were close with the deceased person, attending the funeral rather than the viewing may make you more comfortable. Likewise, if work or travel keeps you from attending both, it’s ok to choose one event over the other. However, if you’re related to the deceased person or knew them very well, you should make an effort to attend both the viewing and the funeral.

What is the appropriate attire?

While wearing black to a wake, viewing, or visitation is your safest option for attire, any conservative, relatively formal outfit would be appropriate. Be sure to avoid anything that would draw unnecessary attention to yourself, as well as overly casual clothing, such as sneakers.

How do you offer condolences?

Viewings can be stressful, emotional, and uncomfortable for many people. Even if you feel awkward, you should approach the deceased person’s family at the viewing to offer your condolences.

If they don’t know who you are,¬†briefly introduce yourself, then say something along the lines of “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Keep in mind that they are grieving and have to speak to many people, some of whom they’ve never met before, so be sure to keep the interaction brief and respectful.

Should you bring anything to the viewing?

If you feel inclined to give the family flowers or a gift, be sure to do so in advance rather than at the viewing or funeral. They shouldn’t have to worry about anything other than mourning their loved one at these events. 

When should you arrive?

Be sure to confirm the time of the viewing before you arrive, so that you don’t show up too early or late. Many viewings take place over many hours, so it isn’t necessary to arrive immediately when it begins, but at some point within an extended period.

You may be torn about whether or not to attend someone’s wake, viewing, or visitation, but doing so could mean the world to the deceased person’s grieving family, especially if you knew them well. Even though it can be an uncomfortable experience, you’ll be thankful you made the effort.