Funeral Viewing Guide and Etiquette

Published October 6, 2020
man at funeral viewing

If you haven't attended a funeral viewing before, you may feel a bit nervous about what to expect. Understanding funeral viewing etiquette can help you anticipate what may take place if you choose to go.

Funeral Viewing

A funeral viewing is a time set aside to view the deceased individual one final time prior to burial. Caskets may be open or closed, and the viewing may take place at the funeral home, in a religious venue, or in someone's home. The viewing may take place the day of the funeral or the day before the funeral service.

Funeral Viewing Etiquette

A funeral viewing is not typically an event where the guests stay long, but rather trickle in and out. If you attend a funeral viewing:

  • Know that you only need to stay about 15 to 30 minutes, just long enough to pass along your condolences.
  • Introduce yourself to the deceased individual's loved ones if they are standing by the casket when you go up.
  • Know that you don't need to actually view the casket if you aren't comfortable doing so and can chat with others paying their respects while at the viewing.
  • Stay off of your phone, unless you need to make an emergency call. Otherwise, keep your phone on silent and put away.
  • It is up to you to decide if your child or children are of an appropriate age to attend a viewing. If they are uncomfortable going, it's best to respect their wishes.
  • Keep in mind there may be music playing, someone may say a prayer, and there also may be decorations surrounding the deceased individual's casket commemorating their life.

What to Say at a Funeral Viewing

At a funeral viewing, you can chat with other guests paying their respects and pass along your condolences to the deceased individual's family. If you haven't met them before, be sure to introduce yourself and let them know how you came to know the deceased individual.

Funeral Visitation

While a viewing entails the moments involved in viewing the deceased individual one final time prior to burial, a funeral visitation refers to connecting with others in mourning at this particular event. Some individuals may use funeral visitation and viewing interchangeably to refer to this particular event.

Sharing a tissue

What to Wear to a Funeral Viewing

If the funeral viewing is taking place prior to the funeral service, it's best to wear funeral appropriate attire. If the viewing will take place the day before the funeral service, it's best to dress in dark, conservative clothing, or to follow the cultural and/or religious customs of the deceased individual's family when it comes to respectful attire.

Should I Bring Anything to a Viewing?

If the viewing takes place at someone's home, you may bring food, a sympathy card, flowers, or another gift that expresses your condolences. If the viewing takes place at a funeral home or religious venue, you may opt to bring a sympathy card and send the family flowers or food at a later time so they don't have to worry about carrying a ton of items back home. Sympathy cards can also be sent to their home.

Should I Go to a Viewing or Funeral?

It is up to you to decide if you would like to attend a viewing and/or funeral. If you have a conflict, know that you do not need to attend both. If you are very close with the deceased individual's family and you are unable to attend one of the events, it's best to let them know in a respectful way beforehand. If you are not comfortable with the idea of a viewing, know that you can pay your respects to the family and leave without viewing the body.

What to Do at a Viewing

Viewings are usually a come and go event that may or may not be an open invitation to all who knew the deceased individual. If you do not know the family of the deceased individual, but were invited, you can introduce yourself, express your condolences, and let them know your connection to the deceased individual.

Wake Versus Viewing

A wake and viewing may be used interchangeably to refer to the same event by some individuals. A wake may be more likely to take place in someone's home and be a longer event compared to a viewing, which may be briefer. At a wake, loved ones may stay up all night sitting with the deceased individual until the time of the funeral the next day. A viewing may or may not take place in someone's home, but frequently takes place at the burial location prior to the service.

What Is the Etiquette for a Viewing?

Understanding what to expect and what may be expected of you at a viewing can help you feel a bit more prepared if you opt to go.

Funeral Viewing Guide and Etiquette