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Having a visitation or viewing prior to the funeral ceremony can be of great value to a bereaved family. In this video, Dr. Wolfelt shows the history of visitations and why they are an essential element of the healing process.

A visitation is like a reception. It is less formal than a funeral ceremony and generally takes place a few days prior. It is a time to receive the love, comfort, and support of friends and family. A good time of visitation can help you in several ways:

Activate Your Support Network

The visitation plays a vital role in establishing a support network for those who are grieving. It also provides an opportunity for friends to gather together to pay their respects. In addition, the visitation serves the important purpose of communicating the family’s desire for fellowship. During such a difficult time, even the most caring of friends may not know how to respond. They want to help, but might find it difficult to know how to respond if no public ceremony or gathering is held. As a result, friends may decide to keep their distance out of respect for the family’s privacy. The visitation offers an opportunity for the bereaved to receive support during a painful time of transition. By having a visitation, the family sends a message to their network of friends, letting them know that expressions of love and sympathy are appreciated.

Acknowledge the Reality of the Death

Visitations provide an opportunity for the bereaved to come to terms with the loss. When grief is fresh, the first instinct of the bereaved is usually to gather with loved ones to tell the story and try to make sense of the loss. The visitation brings friends and family together to “tell the story” as a shared experience. Going over the last moments of life, the last time you talked with your loved one and the last words spoken, helps those who grieve to process the reality of the loss. Sometimes, the family is able to spend time with the body at a visitation, whether in the visitation room or in a more private viewing area. Being able to view the body can help those who were closest to the person who died come to terms with the reality of the death.

Share Memories

During visitations, stories are told, memories are shared, and the family is given a fresh look at how their loved one’s life had a positive influence on the world. You may choose to share photos, a memorial tribute video, or personal items that demonstrate your loved one’s life and values. For example, if your loved one was a quilter, an artist, or a collector, this is the perfect opportunity to showcase his or her life’s work. If your loved one enjoyed sports, golf, fishing, motorcycles, horseback riding, or any number of hobbies, you could display fishing gear, golf clubs, saddle and tack…even a motorcycle. Sometimes your friends and family will be able to share stories you’ve never heard before.

Holding a visitation before the funeral service allows your family to see the deeply personal impact that your loved one had on the lives of others. The visitation offers an opportunity to express sympathy, share memories, and support the bereaved. As one of the first steps in the grieving process, a good time of visiting with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones can set the tone for a special time of remembrance and healing throughout the funeral experience.

If the Funeral is Over and You Didn’t Have a Visitation…

It’s not too late to benefit from gathering together with friends and family. Many families gather on the anniversary of the loss or during the holidays and share memories, photos, and mementos. Maybe there was no time to create a memorial tribute video right after the loss, but one can be prepared for an anniversary gathering. It’s never too late to go backward and “tell the story” of your loved one’s life all over again.

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at

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