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Funeral Visitation – Who Exactly Is This For?

I’d like to get other’s opinions, I’m guessing the community will be split half/half.

Recently my aunt’s mother died. As in common in the area I live in, the evening visitation is usually when people come in to pay their respects who knew the deceased, while the funeral is kept to mostly those who were close family and friends.

This time my aunt and her father were overwhelmed by visitors at the visitation. They, of course, were still reeling from the sudden death of their mother/wife, were very overcome with emotion, and began to tire from the visitation line that went on for hours. Finally at one point, they were both so overwhelmed that they left the visitation area and sought refuge in another room in the church, they just couldn’t do it anymore. What was most upsetting to them was that they didn’t know most of the people they were shaking hands with….and these people-strangers were making them upset with constantly asking “what did she die from?” and “was she in much pain?” or crying uncontrollably so that my aunt and her dad had to comfort THEM. Their leaving upset a lot of people though, who obviously had come to support them and offer their condolences.

A few days after the funeral, they sat down and looked through the sign in book and said that there was so many they didn’t know. While they agreed that there would be some people their mother/wife had known that they didn’t, they agreed there wouldn’t have been many since they all go the same church, and same civic activities (they all lived together, and only my aunt drove them places). My aunt’s father was so overwhelmed that he actually rewrote his will so that there would NOT be any visitation before his funeral.

So, what do you think? I’ve always thought of visitations as my way to go and offer support and let them family know I was thinking of them, but now I’m wondering if my presence should only be limited to those that I knew really well, and maybe just send a card to others that I wasn’t that close to. Did my aunt and her father have the right to leave the visitation when they became overwhelmed? Was there something else that could have been done to alleviate this problem? 0510-17

This is merely my personal opinion.  I do not attend funeral visitations unless I know the grieving family well or the deceased well.   I feel I show my respect and support when I quietly attend the funeral service itself.  In other words, I try to give those grieving some space in those days immediately following the funeral because I’m assuming that neighbors, family and friends are swamping them with support.   I then follow up with a card, a meal or something helpful a month or more later when everyone has left and things have quieted down.

{ 48 comments }
{ 48 comments… add one }
  • A August 21, 2018, 6:15 am

    What bothered me most about this submission was the people not being supportive of the deceased husband and daughter. I read an article years ago that I’ve always tried to keep in mind. The idea it presented was to “grieve outwards, comfort inwards”. The article presented the idea as concentric circles with immediate family at the center, other family, friends, and then acquaintances on the outer most circle. Depending on where you fall on the circle, you seek to comfort those closer in relationship with the deceased and seek comfort from those in your own circle or further out. This has helped me over the years to be mindful of the grief of others and how my own actions may affect them.

  • JD August 21, 2018, 8:28 am

    I have attended visitations in which family members left quietly for a few moments alone, but there was always some other family (perhaps less closely related) to greet the visitors in their place. I never saw anything wrong with that, as having been in the position of the bereaved several times myself, I know that I can get a raging tension headache if I don’t get out of the “atmosphere” for a few minutes at a visitation.
    In our area, visitation is heavily attended by friends and community, and lines can get long, depending on the person who has passed. But a funeral in our area is often attended by those who are simply paying their respects, but didn’t know the deceased’s family all that well (or at all), along with those who are close to the family. So to not know a number of the people who attended either is quite normal to me. My relative who died might have worked with the visitor, been in a small group with him or her or patronized his or her shop; there are many opportunities for a person whom I don’t know to know someone in my family fairly well. I find it heart-warming, myself, that such a person chose to attend.
    Anyone who approaches the bereaved looking for comfort for his or her own grief is out of line, period. Anyone who criticizes the intimate family for being overcome with grief and taking a time out is pretty cold-hearted, in my opinion.

  • Michelle August 21, 2018, 8:32 am

    What kind of people get upset that the daughter/husband of the deceased needed a break after a visitation line that went on for hours?

    I think what Admin shared about how she shows support is very smart. As she states, there is usually many people to offer sympathy and support immediately following a loss. After the funeral service much of that support will fade quickly, as people resume their normal schedules, but often those closest to the deceased are still mourning. A meal or card a month or so later is probably very much appreciated.

  • Heather August 21, 2018, 9:05 am

    I was always raised to think that the visitation was for guests and the funeral was for family – meaning that the purpose of the visitation was to provide an opportunity for people to say goodbye. As such, you might get many people at a visitation that don’t know the immediate family well or haven’t seen them in a long time. It is also an opportunity for colleagues and other people outside the immediate circle to show support.
    Certainly, it is up to the guests at either event to show support and have a little respect.
    In terms of not having a visitation because the family members find it stressful… that is entirely up to them. But I don’t think they should expect a visitation to be something other than what it is meant to be (IMO).
    When my mother passed away (20 years ago now), my father was devastated. It fell to me and my brother to make the arrangements. I distinctly remember telling the funeral parlour that we would need a lot of space; that the people would spill out of the room. And that’s what happened. My mother was a very popular and well-loved woman who died before her time. Throngs showed up. We put an uncle in charge of taking care of my dad, making sure he was supported and as OK as possible. My uncle kept him regaled with stories. I don’t remember anything bad or too overwhelming.
    What also makes a difference… perhaps… is that I come from an Irish/Scottish family. To me, funerals are parties. I remember my first time going to a “sombre” visitation and funeral and being shocked at how 100% serious it was.
    When my father passed away 3 years ago, we had a very understated funeral (just immediate family) and a backyard party at the house. My dad was a homebody who didn’t like to leave the house but was happy to have people in the house. To me, this was the perfect way to say good bye. Everyone came to him, as it were.

    • Elizabeth August 21, 2018, 6:08 pm

      My husband and I both grew up with the same tradition, Heather. We are both from Roman Catholic families (mine is mostly of Irish and German descent, and my husband’s family is of Italian descent). We were raised (and still follow) that the wake/visitation at the funeral home is for EVERYONE – family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc, and this tends to be more informal. That being said, people attending the wakes would still be mindful of the immediate family members and close partners/friends of the deceased, and would understand if they needed “quiet” time or even to leave. (Another interesting fact: most Catholic wakes include a viewing of the body, with a “prayer kneeler”/prie-dieu in front, so that you can kneel and pray for a few minutes.)

      At the WAKE, it is expected to pay your condolences to the immediate family members/partners/friends, for approx. 60 seconds or so (and NOT make rude remarks as mentioned in the OP’s story), kneel and pray, leave your sympathy card, possibly chat with other visitors, and then leave. Again, the assumption is that the (Catholic) funeral MASS would be for individuals close to the person who has passed.

      • at work August 22, 2018, 5:53 am

        You will have to help me here, but doesn’t a wake also include a little worship service? The Roman Catholic wakes I’ve been to have had a time where everyone sits in chairs and someone leads a short service involving prayers and maybe using their rosaries? If I recall correctly, we were in the same room as the casket. Is what I have described optional for a wake? I always thought the little religious service time was the actual wake.

        • Annie C. August 22, 2018, 3:04 pm

          I’m Catholic. The priest may come in and lead in short prayers during one of the wake sessions. Usually, it’s for a few minutes. At all the wakes I’ve been to, we’ve had two blocks of services (usually 2-4 and then 7-9), and the priest led the prayers during the evening only.

        • LizaJane August 22, 2018, 8:56 pm

          It’s common here for the visitation to be from, say 2:00-8:00 with the rosary prayed at 8:00. Anyone who wants to be there for prayers will schedule their visit accordingly. Others will leave before it begins.

          • at work August 23, 2018, 5:55 am

            That is exactly what happened. Most people left, but a few stayed with the family for the prayer time at the end. Things are clearer now, thanks

  • Heather August 21, 2018, 9:10 am

    What I’m trying to say is, everyone should do what is right for them.

  • Melissa August 21, 2018, 9:13 am

    I can’t, even for a second, find fault with primary mourners (Aunt and Aunt’s Father in this case) who need some time and space away, even from well meaning and well behaved visitors. My understanding is going to increase exponentially if the visitors are making things worse! Seriously, I know it’s hard to find the words sometimes, but all you really need to say is that you’re sorry, that you’re there for them, etc, I know that we all have a hard time communicating our feelings at times, but I cannot understand how someone can be so clueless as to ask things like “was she in a lot of pain” or “how did she die”.

    OP I think your Aunt and her Father were perfectly okay to skip out and find a quiet place. I also think that it’s very nice to attend a visitation and/or funeral (I know there are regional/cultural differences in regards to which of those 2 things should be attended by mourners) to support and offer condolences etc to the grieving family – but the key words there are “support” and “offer condolences”; not to ask any questions, not to be comforted by the primary mourners, not to have a reunion with old friends (although many funerals turn out to be such, I think it depends on the primary mourners to set the tone). If your motivations are selfish, please skip the visitation and services!

  • Celestia August 21, 2018, 9:51 am

    I think the only rudeness is from the people who spoke to the immediate family while they couldn’t keep themselves together. (Being unable to stop crying and such is not rude, but should be kept private when possible, if it came on suddenly they should have excused themselves and left to calm down.)

    I’ve never actually been to a funeral or visitation, but it seems like going to visit the visitation isn’t rude…funerals are for the living, they say, and I don’t think that’s limited to people the family knows.

    The family having to take a break is not rude in the slightest. People getting fussy about that need to remember how it feels to be in mourning.

    • TracyX August 21, 2018, 10:42 am

      Pretty sure the people asking the grieving family what she died from and if she suffered were incredibly rude.

      Personally, I don’t know how anyone is strong enough after losing a loved one to hold a visitation and not just be a mess of sobbing.

      • Celestia August 21, 2018, 1:20 pm

        Totally true, I missed that part when I was going through my response.

  • Purple Penguin August 21, 2018, 10:05 am

    “Their leaving upset a lot of people though, who obviously had come to support them and offer their condolences.” What? People were put out because the grieving husband and daughter didn’t put their own needs aside in order to ….what, exactly? Provide comfort? Gratefully receive their wisdom regarding death? Answer nosy questions? Handle quibbles over parking? (Oh, I wish I was kidding about that one.)

    Too many people treat the grieving immediate family the same as the host/hostess of a wedding or other social event. My husband and I have seen so much inappropriate behavior at this sort of thing that we’ve decided against having a visitation as well. We’re both the “last of our lines” and at our ages, that’s not going to change, and neither one of us wants the other one to be put through that at such an awful time.

    • MzLiz August 21, 2018, 3:26 pm

      Your insightful comment about some people treating grieving family members the same as hosts of another (happier) social event stuck a cord with me & it’s a great point. And, in my anecdotal experience, it’s older folks that act this way. Is it possible that as people age, funerals are more & more frequent while the regularity of other events becomes less so that, eventually, funerals/visitations lose their ‘sadness’ factor & they begin to see them more as a social gathering where you eat, drink, catch up & gossip while the family caters to you like you’re Lord & Lady Muck? Cos I just don’t understand why anyone would go to a funeral & be upset that the family members weren’t putting them first. That’s an extremely self-absorbed attitude.

  • Bea August 21, 2018, 10:27 am

    Putting pressure on a grieving widower and daughter is vile to me. These two should be the ones who everyone falls over to comfort and your own grief can be comforted by your immediate family or close friends! So I’m disgusted by the two being spoken poorly about.

    I’ve never known about visitations because we’re not a religious family. Funerals or memorial services are held for anyone who wishes to pay respect. People show up and the attendance is all that matters, you don’t need to speak to the immediate family unless you know them and are offering your direct condolences. I know my mom has a ton of friends I don’t know and I respect that they appreciate her too. But when the time comes, I can see myself freaking out on strangers to me asking about her in terms of “how” or suffering…that’s so rude and cruel even.

  • Harry's Mom August 21, 2018, 10:31 am

    How did all of these people hear about the visitation? Was this held in a church and posted in the bulletin, or published in a newspaper with time and date? Yes, it’s very weird that so many unknown people would show up, and be rude enough to make inquiries about the circumstances. Both of my parents memorials were well attended, and I pretty much knew everyone there, so I guess I was rather fortunate.

    • ladyv21454 August 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

      I hate to say this, but there are actually people in this world that enjoy going to visitations for people that they don’t know. They scan the obituaries, find ones that sound interesting, and then just show up at the visitation – and sometimes, at the funeral. In this day and age, when families are more scattered and people travel in several different social circles, it would be easy for the actual mourners to just assume that the “stranger” is someone who knew the deceased from a group they (the mourners) weren’t familiar with.

  • dippy August 21, 2018, 10:45 am

    The purpose of the visitation or wake is for people to pay their respects to the dead person and convey their condolences to the family.

    It’s also a time for people to share stories of the deceased and socialize. I’ve been to tons of them and sometimes the family is receiving visitors and sometimes they’re not. Most recently when my FIL passed away, we’d take turns receiving people at the front near the casket. Other times, we’d be downstairs in the lounge area, eating, playing with the kids, etc, or up in the room mingling with the people that graciously took the time to come and pay their respects.

  • lkb August 21, 2018, 10:49 am

    In my neck of the woods (SE Michigan, US), people go to the visitation and/or funeral as they can/as they feel appropriate, depending on how well they knew the person or their family as well as work schedules and other circumstances. If there is a visitation, in my experience, there usually are break periods so the family can get something to eat and recharge the batteries before the next phase.
    The items mentioned in the post aren’t rude in my book: Grieving people handle their sorrow in different ways, sometimes the tears just come unexpectedly. Sometimes in their grief, people ask awkward questions thoughtlessly. It’s best if everyone just cuts everyone else some slack.
    As to the unknown visitors: again, not rude. It may have been long-lost relatives, school friends, neighbors, former coworkers, someone who had a nodding acquaintance with “that nice lady at the store” or even someone who heard about the circumstances of the person’s passing and wanted to show their support (I’m thinking of someone like a police officer, or a murder victim, or a child). Perhaps the deceased was an inspiration to them in some way the immediate family didn’t know about. Etc. They have a right to express their grief or pay their tribute to someone they admired too.
    To me, funeral behavior is rude only if it intentionally hurts someone else. It’s a difficult time for everyone. Give everyone a little leeway at such times.

  • Lyn Clements August 21, 2018, 11:14 am

    I agree with the admin. Go if you feel it is appropriate, let things calm down, and reach out in a few weeks when everyone else has gone back to their lives. However, asking “how did she die” and “was she in much pain” are both WILDLY inappropriate questions at any time. Keep your nose in your own business, and be a support to the family quietly. Of course the family has to take breaks when they need to. My cousin died a couple of years ago suddenly at 51 (she was struck by a car while jogging) and the line at her visitation was a couple of hours long. She did have a lot of friends through her activities, but I KNOW her mother and dad were exhausted by the time that was over! And since her passing was on the news and in the newspaper, I wondered then how many people in that looong line were actually acquainted with her, and how many were just nosy.

  • robin August 21, 2018, 11:28 am

    This is why I like our Jewish custom of having the visitation after the funeral; when you sit shiva for seven days, you’re not overwhelmed by visitors. but the comments this poor family had to deal with were just way out of line.

  • Catherine St. Clair August 21, 2018, 1:07 pm

    People need to think what they are going to say before they to into an emotionally-charged situation. This is not the time to cozy up to a grieving relative and inquire, “So, how did he kill himself? Was there a lot of mess?” or, “Gee, I hope she didn’t die like my aunt-fully awake and screaming.” I was twenty-two when my mother died; and I was upset during the visitation. A complete stranger wandered up to me and asked, “Were you related?” “No, madam, I was just passing by this funeral home and thought I’d drop in and cry for awhile.” Restrict yourself to, “I am so sorry” or “He/She was a wonderful person.”

    • MzLiz August 21, 2018, 3:04 pm

      Catherine, I wish the philosophy of your first line would be taught at school because too many people require this lesson. I’m really sorry that woman said such a dumb thing to you while you were mourning your mom. That person & those who got upset at the Aunt/Father need to re-adjust the compassion setting on their dial.

      It scares me how many people make the loss of someone’s close family member all about them, don’t pay attention to their words and/or have strangely high expectations of funerals-as-a-social-gathering. The amount of nosy, rude comments said to me at my Dad’s funeral was pretty shocking – and it was all people who were mature enough to know better. I think my age at the time made them feel like it was OK to be careless. Some older folks feel they can say any mad thought that breezes into their brains when speaking to a younger person & the younger person should always accept it. Like, those people who had the nerve to be upset probably saw themselves as ‘I’m Your Mother’s Friend’ & thought they should be treated with extra care & attention rather than seeing Aunt/Father as ‘You’re My Friend’s Daughter/Husband’ who could need some empathy & understanding. Pretzel logic.

      • Catherine St. Clair August 21, 2018, 7:01 pm

        Thank you. It was a long time ago and I have been to many funerals since, but the fact that people say and do things that are so thoughtless never cease to amaze me. The woman did not know my mother at all. It turned out that her husband worked with my father, but she had never met any of us. To cap it off, my maternal grandmother was entertaining people with her imitation of mother (her only daughter) asking for ice when she was no longer able to speak. It was on that note that I left the visitation with my cousin. I was about to smack someone in a very unchristian and unladylike manner.

  • Annie August 21, 2018, 1:11 pm

    I would never think someone crying at a wake is rude. You can’t control it; sometimes it comes suddenly, especially when the body is right in front of you.

    My family is enormous; my mother is 1 of 13. I am one of 5 children. When my grandmother died years ago, no one knew absolutely **everyone** coming through the door of the wake – or even the majority of the people. I wouldn’t expect that my uncles and aunts would know my mother’s co-workers, friends, and vice versa. A simple, “I’m Jane Smith, co-worker of *Deceased’s 3rd daughter*. I am so sorry for your loss” is sufficient to people that you don’t know who are in the receiving line. They should not be asking question after question about the circumstances surrounding the death. THAT is rude.

  • MPW1971 August 21, 2018, 1:42 pm

    I am surprised about people making such a public display of their own grief that they needed comforting by the family – that’s usually reserved for overly dramatic members of the family, but then again, some ethnic groups have a more public display of grief expected.
    That said, it’s rude to think that you would know everyone at the funeral of a relative. They had their own life – their own friends and acquaintances and one should be flattered and comforted that their relative was so loved and appreciated that people came to the funeral. I can’t get this out of my head – a well-attended funeral is an honor. Was the family upset because these were strangers, or something weird – like too many people coming to the lunch after the funeral? It’s bizarre.

    • LizaJane August 21, 2018, 3:46 pm

      I thought the same thing. Who would be offended by too many people taking time to extend their sympathy?

      The rude remarks are inexcusable.

    • MzLiz August 21, 2018, 5:24 pm

      Nobody was upset at the big turn-out. The family became upset because a bunch of people kept peppering them with questions & asking for medical details regarding the deceased (If I have no clue who you are & my parent didn’t know you well enough to tell you they were having health issues, I ain’t gonna get into those specifics with ya, esp. right there). They also seemed to want the focus to be on THEIR grief, rather than the Daughter’s/Husband’s, which is not how it’s supposed to work. Having seen what her relations went through, the OP wanted to ask is if it’s better to skip the visitation & only attend the funeral if you weren’t very close to the deceased. Admin’s advice was pretty spot on.

      A crowd of respectful people who are there for the right reasons is a beautiful thing but a funeral/visitation is not a Looky-Loo Convention or an audience-participation play & some people would be wise to remember that.

      • LizaJane August 22, 2018, 8:51 pm

        “What was most upsetting to them was that they hadn’t known most of the people they were shaking hands with…” is a direct quote from the OP.

        So yes, the husband and daughter were upset by who/how many showed up.

        Assuming most/many of them were “looky-loos” is rather unkind to the deceased. We don’t know how many people she kept in contact with and it seems her daughter and husband didn’t either. Or maybe some were old friends who had fond memories of her.

        It’s not uncommon for a less social spouse to be unaware of how many people their other half is friendly with since by their own nature, they had no interest in getting to know all those people.

        • Devin August 24, 2018, 10:43 am

          I lost all of my grandparents between the ages of 7 and 22, so I got to be familiar with being part of the visitation receiving line quite young. There were always many people me and my parents didn’t know, but the common and polite thing was for the person outside of immediate family to introduce themselves then provide a brief condolence. People who show up in support of the family are aware that not everyone in the family knows who they are. “I’m your brothers coworker, very sorry for your loss.” “I attended knitting circle with your grandmother, we’re going to miss her very much.” Even people who weren’t close, but wished to pay respects gave some sort of introduction. “We went to high school together and graduated in 1938, I’m always sadden to hear another classmate has passed.” No one came up and asked how they died or any other unkind question. Usually it was how is their spouse holding up or does the family need anything, and then they moved along. No introduction and hurtful probing questions is rude towards the family.

          • LizaJane August 24, 2018, 11:29 am

            I think everyone’s in agreement that the rude, probing questions are wrong.
            What I can’t understand is why people think it’s automatically rude to go to a visitation unless you’re very close to the immediate survivors. Who gets to decide how close you need to be?

        • MzLiz August 30, 2018, 3:15 am

          LizaJane – You forgot ‘….and these people-strangers were making them upset with constantly asking “what did she die from?” and “was she in much pain?” or crying uncontrollably so that my aunt and her dad had to comfort THEM’ – the rest of the direct quote from the OP, that you neglected to include.

          So no. The husband/daughter were NOT upset by who/how many showed up. They were upset at their self-absorbed behaviour. Quite rightly too.

          Go to the visitation, shake hands, offer support. That’s wonderful & no-one is saying otherwise. But don’t ask the bereaved a billion nosy questions; that’s Rule #1. If you don’t want to be assumed as a Looky-Loo, then don’t act like one. It’s really very simple.

  • rindlrad August 21, 2018, 5:53 pm

    There are a couple of things going on here.

    1 – It’s thoughtless of people to make a family’s loss all about them – but, as we know from reading on this site – some people just can’t seem to help themselves. As for the intrusive questions such as “What did she die from?” I think a pause and then “Thank you so much for coming.” while shifting my attention to the next person in line would be a polite, but quelling, way to handle it.

    2 – I personally don’t believe it’s wrong for family members to take a break from a highly charged, emotional environment, such as a funeral visitation, to pull themselves together or sit down for a few minutes rest. This is especially true if the visitation lasts several hours. When my grandparents passed (they went together in a car accident), everybody in three counties came to pay their respects. They had lived all their lives in the same town. Grandpa was a businessman with many contacts. They were both active in the local church. They had raised three children who had graduated from the local High School. Deep roots. Many people wanted to say goodbye. The visitation lasted five hours. My Mother and her two brothers took it in turns to represent the family at the caskets and thank the visitors. The other two took a break to sit down or mingled with those in line as they felt able. As far as I’m aware, nobody felt slighted.

    3 – I think Admin’s thoughts are lovely; however, I will say that I personally found comfort in seeing how many people were touched by my Grandparents’ lives. I think whatever you do, if you approach it from a place of how you can be of the most comfort to those in mourning, you can’t go too far wrong.

  • Anon August 21, 2018, 7:31 pm

    I think if the family knows that their deceased loved one will draw many mourners, they could consider an alternative to a traditional funeral home visitation. I’ve been to two funerals (perhaps more properly called memorials?) of women who both worked for many years in higher education, and thus knew a TON of people – coworkers, current and former students, etc. In both cases the family held a service in a church with the caskets present (but not open). There was certainly some religious dimension to the service, but the bulk of the time was taken up by eulogies delivered by close family and friends. These were people predetermined and invited, not just anyone could get up. The service concluded with light refreshments in the church hall. The burial was for close family only. Something like this accommodated the hundreds of mourners who came to pay their respects and didn’t require an hours- or days-long open house at a funeral home and didn’t require the family to create any kind of receiving line. I’m sure they greeted people during the refreshments, but I did not stay for that part. They were really lovely occasions.

  • staceyizme August 21, 2018, 10:02 pm

    Sometimes those in our fam I lyrics have professional, volunteer or hobby connectionso that can expand the pool of mourners. It could even be as simple as a sorority from bygone years or a ladies group (such as a Red Hat chapter or BSF group). In any case, désignées usually handle the process of accepting condolences for precisely the reasons mentioned. When family, clergy ir friends cannot step in, the funreal home has staff and volunteers to assist (if they are reputable). I have honestly never heard of leaving the close family to greet others unsupported. As you say yourself, it’s too much to bear. Allowing thme to retire at will is the norm in my area. I regret that your family suffered needlessly due to the poor manners of others exacerbated by lack of practical consideration for their needs.

    • staceyizme August 21, 2018, 10:03 pm

      “family”, sorry. Autocorrect is running riot tonight.

  • Waltzing Matilda August 21, 2018, 11:05 pm

    As a non American, I find the whole concept of pre-funeral visitations a bit bizarre. I’ve never heard of them in Australia, though perhaps some Islander or other communities might hold them. The idea of receiving people for hours on end in a formal /semi-formal ‘ceremony ‘ at a time when you are most fragile sounds like torture.

    I have, unfortunately, attended quite a lot of funerals and they all seem to follow the same pattern, which we stuck to when my darling father died 2 years ago. There may (depending on religion/ personal feelings) be a family ‘viewing’ or final goodbye at the funeral home on the day before or the morning of the funeral, strictly close or immediate family and only by invitation, followed by the funeral itself and then a wake. Generally if you go to the funeral, you go to the wake afterwards, as it’s considered impolite not to.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people that not all family members know to turn up to the funeral. At Dad’s funeral, several of my work colleagues and ladies from my book club turned up to honour him and support me, which was lovely, even though my mother and sister hadn’t met them. I know that there are professional mourners who go along to funerals as a way if passing the time, but they should never interact with the family.

  • SadieMae August 21, 2018, 11:44 pm

    I’ve always felt the funeral was for close family and friends, and that the visitation was for more extended family and friends. Interesting to hear some people see it the other way around!

    For me, what’s important is the deceased person’s loved ones. What will be most helpful/comforting to them? Whether you go to the visitation or the funeral or both, if you keep your condolences simple and brief (and not nosy!), your presence is more likely to comfort than to cause pain. As long as you remember to make it about them and not about you (and we all need reminders of that sometimes!), you won’t go wrong.

  • AJ August 22, 2018, 1:00 am

    Sounds like the visitation was crashed by “funeral trolls” who never knew the deceased but like to be in on the “action” so to speak. Sadly there are horrible, horrible people in the world.

  • TLG August 22, 2018, 1:22 am

    A few years back, I attended the memorial of the husband of a childhood friend who had died suddenly in a car accident. He was very well-liked and the accident had made the news…the hall was overflowing with friends, co-workers, family, there were at least 200 people there. After the ceremony, the receiving line was set up outside where those who wanted to could pay the widow their respects. There were two close friends flanking the widow and it was pretty clear that they were there to protect her. They looked very ‘no-nonsense’ and were really effective at politely but firmly ushering anyone away who was overdoing it. I thought it was an excellent way to keep the widow from being overwhelmed, by heading off inappropriate questions and keeping things moving.

  • AS August 22, 2018, 2:37 am

    Oh, how much I can relate to your aunt and her father! When my mother died, there were way too
    many people who asked me details about what happened- which I didn’t know much about, because I couldn’t make it home before she died, and I’m not going to press my dad to tell me in details when he was hurting badly! (Of course, I got admonished by the “better than thou” crowd about not “being there for my mom!!! I couldn’t go because I live on the other side of the globe, and she died within 2 days! And we decided that my dad, who’s retired will come and spend some time with us instead of me going, so that he can spend more time, and it’ll be a change of scene for him).
    There were also these people, many of who didn’t even know my mother, who’d burst out and expect me to console them! And I’m not talking about the ones who’d give me a hug, and say kind words, but have tears in their eyes; nor one of my aunts, who would cry when I talked to them, because at least we share a mutual loss, and can console each other (my way of grief management was to talk about the her, and my aunts had a lot of amusing stories to say). The people I’m talking about just cry, as if their mother passed away- and they never even knew my mother, and I literally had to console them! And then they claim that “we are so sensitive”. Well, you can be sensitive, but if you care about anyone but yourself, you’ll keep your emotions in check, and not expect a grieving relative to console you!

    At least, luckily, my dad didn’t have many such people around him. And he stayed away during the visitation, and one of his close cousins, and his wife stayed with him.

    I’m sorry your aunt and her father had to go through jerks who came for “visitation”. Who are these boots? The cynical me is wondering if the many unknown people came for some hot gossip. Visitations are held so that people can visit the family the deceased left behind, and share nice things, to reduce the grief the family feels.

  • ALM August 22, 2018, 3:06 pm

    “While they agreed that there would be some people their mother/wife had known that they didn’t, they agreed there wouldn’t have been many since they all go the same church, and same civic activities (they all lived together, and only my aunt drove them places). ”

    This statement seems to summarize the root of the problem here. The deceased seems to have had a HUGE social network whereas the grieving close family seem to be abnormally socially isolated. Yes, the mourners should not have been asking the family why the person died, but in most cases that information is usually made known when word is spread about the death and the subsequent funeral arrangements. People shouldn’t be asking, because usually by a funeral they already KNOW. Did the family keep it a big secret?

    This seems to me to be a huge personality mismatch as opposed to an etiquette problem. The family seemed ill-prepared for any number of mourners and would have been better served by private arrangements if they didn’t want to deal with it all, while the friend circle should have probably had a memorial at a different time that the family may have chosen to attend or ignore.

  • Hannah August 23, 2018, 5:03 pm

    I have attended visitations for two reasons:
    1. Someone has died that was close to someone I love. I go to support the person that I love.
    2. Someone I love has died, and I can’t attend the funeral. I go to grieve and say goodbye.

    While I know its ultimately up to the immediate family to make the decision of a visitation, I would be hurt if I was barred from a visitation given the second reason. That being said, if a family member needs to excuse them self for personal reasons, I see no issue. Also, I wonder if in this scenario, it was less of a problem that a lot of people were there, and more of a problem that those people were being clueless and rude in their sentiments. My mother taught me to never ask how someone died if the information was not given voluntarily. In general, questions about the deceased are better left unasked.

  • BagLady August 23, 2018, 10:18 pm

    I was raised Catholic, but I was well into my 40s before I attended a Catholic wake/visitation/calling hours where there was a receiving line.
    When my grandfather passed in 1974, and my father in 1980, the tradition was to have two days of calling hours — two hours in the afternoon and two in the evening each day — followed by the funeral Mass the morning after the second day. Visitors could trickle in at any point during those four two-hour blocks and immediately go see the person(s) they had come to support. The widow(er) and children were not subject to an endless line of the deceased’s former co-workers, nephews’ football coaches and other people they didn’t know. Of course, if nephew wanted to introduce his coach to Aunt Widow, or Coach wanted to introduce himself, that was an option, but it was less stressful than the Endless Line of Strangers.
    Those two days of visitation had their drawbacks for the family, but it was easier to receive visitors in small doses.
    In recent years, the trend, at least in my area of the Northeastern U.S., has been to compress the calling hours into one afternoon and/or evening. Additionally, there may be one or more prayer services scheduled during those hours. With two Catholics whose funerals I attended, there was a service in lieu of Mass — it had most of the ritual of a Catholic Mass without the Consecration and Communion. At another, every single organization that the deceased (brother of a close friend) belonged to had its own prayer service, one after the other. So that doesn’t leave a lot of time for visitors to pay their respects to the family. Hence, receiving line.
    Enough history lesson (you kids get offa my lawn!). Funeral Receiving Line Etiquette 101:
    When greeting a family member who doesn’t know you, state your name and connection, and give a brief condolence: “Hi, I’m Baglady, I worked with (deceased)/I’m (deceased sister’s) friend/I was (deceased daughter’s) biology teacher. So sorry for your loss.”
    In my own experience as a mourner, it is gratifying to see a large crowd of people come out to pay their respects, no matter how six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon they are — co-workers? child’s teachers? lodge brothers? bridge club pals? Bring it on! We are thrilled to see how many lives our loved one touched. But please spare me the questions about how my loved one died or whether s/he suffered.
    There is a wonderful invention that allows well-wishers to share their thoughts about the deceased without overwhelming family members at the visitation/funeral. It’s called a condolence note. When I was younger (Kids! Lawn!) people only sent sympathy cards or condolence letters if they couldn’t physically attend the wake or funeral. Bringing a card to the funeral home was unheard of.
    OK, so today it’s a thing. Whether one brings the card to the funeral or sends a card or note later, this is the way to share those memories. “I’ll always remember Martha’s wonderful sense of humor/how she helped me through (difficult time)/the stories she told about X.”

  • GSD Mom August 24, 2018, 4:09 pm

    Let’s talk about the changing of the Will. [This is just a side comment because I’m not going to weigh in on the people part.] The Will is generally read after the funeral. If he wants his wishes known and, most importantly, followed, the funeral arrangements must be in the Living Will.

    A very common misconception is that if I put all my funeral desires in my Will that it will be followed, that’s not the case at all. For example: Your relative may want to be cremated and ashes spread on Mt. Vesuvius. They die and are buried in a solid gold coffin in the local cemetery. Then you read the Will where it outlines his cremation wishes. What do you do?

    Another note, the average cost of a funeral is $10,000. Prepaying for funerals is common and most of the time your desires will be written in the prepayment documents.

    The vast majority of you don’t have a will. Most because they don’t think they have anything of value. Everyone needs a Power of Attorney document in case of incapacitation, a Living Will and a Will.

    • EchoGirl September 1, 2018, 11:22 pm

      I have to second this, ESPECIALLY the power of attorney. Sadly, there are people out there who prey on the elderly and vulnerable. I used to work in a legal clinic for seniors, and one heartbreaking case we handled involved an elderly gentleman with early-stage dementia whose neighbor scammed him into signing over power of attorney and subsequently used that power to steal the poor gentleman’s Social Security checks. And that’s a sensational case, but it’s not the only case we handled where the non-existence of a power of attorney created or intensified a problem. The best way to make sure you’re taken care of is to set up advance directives while you’re still of fully sound mind.

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