Should I Attend the Funeral, Wake or Visitation?

Q. When is it a “must” to attend a funeral or a wake, viewing or visitation? I’m confused about how close you have to be to the people involved, and what is and isn’t appropriate. 

I’ve recently received a number of queries on this subject. The questions range from “Is this occasion only for relatives and very close friends? I’d like to attend, but is it okay for a casual friend to show up?” to “I’d rather not attend. Can I make a donation to a charity or send flowers instead?” And the answer is, in general, do what feels most comfortable to you.


Naturally, if the bereaved and/or deceased is a close family member or friend, you should attend the funeral if at all possible. “If possible” covers a lot of territory, however. If you live far away, and finances are an issue, you may find it too costly to attend. Or health considerations may stop you from making a long trip. In such cases, you can be there “in spirit,” stay in contact with other bereaved via phone or email, and possibly watch the funeral online if such arrangements have been made.


If you have a less close relationship, your attendance is optional. You can choose to stay home, and write a  condolence note instead. A printed sympathy card with a handwritten line or two to personalize the message is fine, as well. Or yes, you can send flowers or make a donation in memory of the deceased to a charity designated in the obituary.


As for a wake, viewing or visitation (where the casket, open or closed, is present), you have no obligation to attend unless you have an important connection. But if you do go, your presence is likely to be appreciated by the bereaved. The schedule and other details are often indicated in the obituary, or you can call the funeral home or ask the bereaved or other family member.   


Some celebrity viewings draw crowds of strangers, as fans flock to pay their respects. For example, when Hollywood composer Marvin Hamlisch recently died, his two-day wake at a funeral home (before his funeral at a synagogue) was open to the general public from 2PM-5PM and 7PM-9PM. A Jewish wake is unusual, however, and this was probably a family decision.


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons/sridgway

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