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Understanding the Tradition of the Viewing

Category: 

Bereavement Relief

Posted On: Jun 16, 2017

Understanding the Tradition of the Viewing

Not every family chooses to have a viewing, which is also known as a wake or a visitation in different areas, but many do. It isn't always possible to take part in this tradition, either. “Viewing” is perhaps the aptest term because the event involves viewing the deceased in her or his casket. Typically, for a viewing to take place, the family has opted for an open casket funeral. However, wakes occur for closed-casket services, as well. Because it isn't done everywhere, not everyone is familiar with it. Here are a few key points to understand about the viewing, which is a tradition designed to help the grieving family, friends, and loved ones attending the services.

When It Takes Place

It's essential to realize that decedent is fully prepared before the viewing takes place. Preparations can differ among religious practices and personal preferences but, in most cases, that means that the departed has been embalmed, dressed, and made up as requested. The viewing traditionally takes place a day or two before the funeral itself.

It's Not a Ritual

Where the funeral and graveside services often involve clergy, the wake itself is not religious in nature, although that also depends on the lifestyles of individual decedents and their grieving families. A minister, priest, or counselor may be present, but to offer comfort rather than a sermon or eulogy. For the most part, the viewing is social. It's not a party, but it gives the close family members of the departed the opportunity to greet their dead loved one's friends and to spend time with distant relatives who travel for the services.

You Should View the Departed

That's one of the only hard and fast rules of the viewing: attendees are expected to view the body or stop by the casket, where it's appropriate to spend a few moments in silent meditation or prayer as you say goodbye for the final time. Understandably, some people do not want to view the body of someone they love in a casket. As well, young children may not be prepared for an up-close look. That's all right. Pay your respects to the family—that's the most important thing. At some viewings, the families prefer to set up photographic displays or tables filled with memorabilia from the decedent's life. It's acceptable to spend time viewing those items, too.

Sign the Guestbook

It seems odd, even to the loved ones of the person who died, sometimes, that there are guestbooks at viewings. Isn't it a bit strange to sign a book stating that you were there to witness the dearly departed in her or his coffin? It does matter, however. Odd as it may seem your signature can comfort the bereaved family—knowing the people who cared enough to go through this part of the deceased's journey offers comfort. As well, the guestbook makes it easier for the family to send thank-you cards after the event.

What's your opinion of this tradition? Have you ever attended or planned a viewing?