How To Pre-Plan a Viewing, Wake or Visitation

In many cultures, a common practice is to spend time with the body or the family before the funeral service, burial, or cremation. This usually takes the form of a viewing, wake, or visitation.

Viewing or wake

At a viewing (also called a wake), the body is on display, usually in an open casket. A viewing may be brief and take place immediately before the funeral service, or may last for up to three days before the service. Viewings and wakes are often organized and staffed by the funeral home you’re working with.

Basic features of a viewing or wake

  • The body is on display in a casket
  • The casket may be open or closed
  • Takes place at the funeral home, your own home, or the social hall at a place of worship
  • Takes place before the funeral and burial or cremation
  • May be family-only or open to the public

Visitation

At a visitation, the body may or may not be present, though if it is present it is usually not visible (i.e., closed casket). A visitation is can take place any time, before or after the funeral service or disposition, and can last for hours or days. A viewing can be a formal event, with the body present and the funeral home staff on hand, or it can be an informal event that provides an opportunity for friends and mourners to spend time with the family, without the body present.

Basic features of a visitation

  • The casket is closed or the body is not present at all
  • Takes place at the funeral home, your own home, or the social hall at a place of worship
  • May take place before or after the funeral and disposition

Cost

If you are planning a viewing or visitation at a funeral home, the funeral home may charge you for use of the facility and room setup or decoration, as well as the time of any funeral home staff who may be helping. Some funeral homes will charge by the day while others will charge by the hour. If you are planning a viewing or visitation at a location other than the funeral home, the funeral home may charge you for setup and transportation services. Any arrangements you make while pre-planning can be paid for in advance, if you'd like.

In addition, many funeral homes require that the body be embalmed if it is going to be on display, which can add an addition cost (usually $600-$800).

Personal advocacy

Be aware that many funeral homes will require that the body be embalmed if a viewing or wake is to take place. If you do not want the body to be embalmed, consider finding a funeral home that does not require embalming in the event of a viewing or wake.

Religious perspectives on holding a viewing, wake, or visitation

Many religions and cultures have strict opinions on viewings, wakes, and visitations—while some religions forbid the tradition, other require it, while others are flexible. If you will be following any religious or cultural traditions, those rules may influence your choice in the matter. In addition, if the funeral home you're working with requires embalming in order to have a viewing or wake, you might want to check that embalming is acceptable accoring to your religious and cultural traditions. To learn more about different religions' perspectives on embalming, see our article Religious Funeral Traditions.

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