A visitation is when the body is laid out in the casket (which may be open or closed) before the service so that family and friends may come to “visit.” Some people refer to a visitation as a “viewing.” A viewing means to have an open casket.

A visitation offers a chance for people to “pay their final respects” to the deceased person.

Just as important, the visitation can be a time for mourners to meet and console each other in a more informal setting than at the funeral.

You can schedule a visitation for as little as half an hour on the day of the service, or it can last for several days before the service. Most of our client families receive friends for two hours on the afternoon or evening prior to the day of service.

The visitation can be restricted to just close friends and family or be open to the public. You can even have a combination of private and public hours.

As part of the visitation, you can arrange a formal ceremony, an informal ceremony, or none at all. The formal ceremony might be a brief service with the saying of the rosary (for Catholics) or prayers for the dead led by a mourner or member of the clergy.

The term “wake” is sometimes used to describe an informal service usually the evening prior to the funeral or memorial service that usually consists of comments and sentiments from those attending and may also include musical selections. Traditionally, a wake means the friends and family keeping watch over the body (especially through the night). Hence the term “wake.”

For those who are comfortable with it, an informal storytelling session can be a wonderful way to remember the person.

The stories don’t all have to be solemn, nor do they all have to show the person as a saint. We often love people as much for their flaws as for their strengths.

And if the person had a good sense of humor, there are bound to be some funny stories.

Remember, too, that laughter is as much a sign of strong emotion as tears or anger.

This sharing can be a rich and powerful experience. You might even want to record this event to re-play it again later.