It’s easy to feel uncomfortable when you don’t know what to expect and that’s what happened to someone who recently attended a visitation. Visitations and funerals are not the same but they usually go hand in hand.

The visitation is a little less formal than the funeral and it’s an opportunity to provide support to the bereaved and spend some time visiting and speaking with the family. Funerals don’t afford that interaction. Some folks go to the visitation and the funeral but if they can’t attend the funeral, they may attend the visitation.

The death notice usually provides information on the visitation, or, you can call the funeral home. Visitations are often in the evening and sometimes there are two sessions; one in the later afternoon and one in the evening. You might encounter a receiving line or, the bereaved may be sitting down. There may or may not be a casket and if there is a casket, it may or may not be open, usually dependent on the customs of the bereaved. There is usually no food.

What do you say and do? The bereaved have so much on their minds so remember to sign the guest book when entering so the bereaved will know you attended. You can give each person in the receiving line a warm clasp with your hand while introducing yourself with your name and relation to the deceased. Add “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

If you have attended the visitation, the funeral, and/or reception and signed the online guest book, it is always appropriate to write a condolence note. Condolence messages are truly appreciated and it’s a good feeling to know you’ve made a difference.


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.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons / DerrickT

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Comment by Andy Barham on August 10, 2011 at 8:17am

Here is another way to say what you mean when sometimes you really don't know how.  When approaching the family at a visitation, try emphasizing on something positive about the deceased.  When saying sorry for your loss, you are subconsciously reminding them of a void they have.  They have heard this by the time you've reached them many, many times.  Say this, " I loved your mom so much" or "I thought so much of your Dad", " Your brother was one of the greatest men I ever knew".  I promise you, when you speak these kind words to them, a smile will come over their face.

     Also, you could share a memory with them.  If you do, the most important thing to remember is to make it power packed.  That is to say, make the words you speak count.  Do this with the thought that there is indeed a "line" behind you...make it very breif.

     Follow these ideas up with a " If you need me for anything at all, please don't hesitate to call on me".

     These are a fewe ideas in trying to avoid the dreaded, "loss" word.  There loved one is not lost.  They will be with them forever.

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