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Visitation and Funeral Etiquette

Visitation and Funeral Etiquette

by Legacy Staff

It is difficult enough to deal with a death but it can be unnerving to attend funeral rituals and find they do not follow traditional, conventional standards. A funeral director shares advice on what to expect.

Along with society’s shift toward informality, the funeral industry appears more flexible, moving away from the rigid formality of the past. This became clear when some funeral attendees shared how they dressed, not in dark and somber clothing, but in unconventional colors or attire, at the request of the bereaved family and even the deceased, as detailed in their funeral instructions.

While formality does prevail and you can’t go wrong in dressing in traditional and dark clothing, there tends to be a more modern tone to funerals, visitations, and memorial services. This can be very confusing; it’s difficult enough to deal with a death but it can be unnerving to attend funeral rituals and find they do not follow traditional, conventional standards.


To get a better understanding of what we may expect, I turned to a funeral professional, Stuart Clark, owner of McClelland & Slessor Funeral Home in Ontario, Canada. He shared some of the current options in visitation, funerals, and memorial services.

Should I consider funeral planning in advance for my family’s sake?

Visitations, most often at the funeral home, tend to be a time when friends and family members gather together. It’s common practice to have the body present; the casket is open or closed according to the family’s wishes. The funeral or memorial service is normally the next day followed by burial or cremation.

There are occasions when the family opts just for visitation, with or without the casket, choosing not to hold a formal service. Visitors arrive during a set time frame, visit with the family for as long as they deem appropriate, and then leave. No service follows. Sometimes, they may incorporate a eulogy, but most often there isn’t a religious service or the formal structure of a service.

Another option is memorial visitation. In this case, the burial or cremation has already taken place. A combination of pictures, flowers, and the urn are set-up in place of the casket; some families choose to not even have the ashes present. People attend and offer support to the family. The memorial service would follow the next day, with the same concept with pictures, flowers, and perhaps the urn. This option may cause confusion, with guests arriving and expecting to at least see a casket.

The published death notice will give clues on what format to expect; it should list whether there is a visitation, including location and time, and whether a funeral or memorial service follows. If you are still uncertain of the plans, call the funeral home directly.

Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don’t Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: “Illness & Death,” “Suicide” and “Miscarriage.” Additional titles are available as e-books: “Death of a Child,” “Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby,” “Pet Loss,” “Caregiver Responsibilities,” “Divorce” and “Job Loss.” All titles are in Amazon’s Kindle StoreClick here to order.

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