What's The Difference Between a Visitation and a Funeral?

If you’re wondering what the difference between a funeral visitation and a traditional funeral is, we’ve put together the key aspects of both to help you pay your respects.

Have you ever been unsure about the difference between a funeral and a visitation?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually serve distinct purposes in the grieving process.

Understanding the key differences between a funeral service and a funeral visitation can help you navigate this time and choose the most meaningful way to pay your respects. And remember, this is your loved one and you can always choose to say goodbye in whichever way is right for you. Meadow can help you plan the perfect send-off for you and your family. 

In this article, we'll explain the unique characteristics of each event, from the setting and activities to the overall tone and participation so you feel prepared and supported as you offer your condolences.

What is a visitation?

In the difficult days following a loss, a visitation offers a comforting space for loved ones to gather and remember. It usually takes place in the family home, a funeral home, or a religious site.

Unlike a funeral service, which is a more structured event, a visitation allows for a more personal expression of sympathy and shared memories.

Think of it as a time for quiet reflection and warm connection. Family members will be present to receive condolences and hear the stories and well wishes of those who knew the deceased.

Many find it helpful to visit with others who are grieving, and a visitation provides that opportunity for connection and support. For some, there may also be a chance to view the deceased one last time.

Most importantly, a visitation is a time for healing. It's a chance to begin the journey of grief surrounded by loved ones and a caring community.

What is a funeral?

A funeral service is a structured ceremony to honor the memory of a loved one, pay final respects, and lay them to rest either through a cremation or a burial. Funerals are often held in the days following a visitation, but can also be postponed to a time that is more convenient to ensure key family members and friends can be there.

A traditional funeral setting is usually structured with scriptural readings, poems, or eulogies. The ceremony allows for a meaningful reflection on the life lived. It can be a space for personal stories, expressions of love, and perhaps even shared laughter as the unique personality of the deceased is remembered.

Funerals offer a sense of closure and a public acknowledgment of loss. They can also serve as a source of strength and comfort for those who are grieving.

By gathering together and sharing memories, you begin the process of healing and ensure that the life of your loved one is not forgotten.

Key differences: Visitation vs. funeral

While both visitations and funerals offer opportunities to honor the person who has passed away, they serve distinct purposes.

Visitations provide a casual and flexible space for personal connections. Here, guests can come and go at their own pace, sharing stories and offering condolences directly to the family in a more intimate setting. 

Traditional funerals, on the other hand, are formal ceremonies with a structured program of readings, eulogies, and potentially religious elements. They focus on publicly remembering the life of the deceased and offer a sense of closure through a shared experience. They can be followed by a casual reception allowing for guests to exchange stories and mingle.

Here are some of the differences you can expect:

The setting

The activities

The tone



Frequently asked questions

Is a visitation the same as a viewing?

Yes, in most cases, a visitation and a viewing are essentially the same thing. Both terms refer to the portion of the funeral service where the body of the deceased is present for guests to pay their respects.

Some funeral homes may use the term "visitation" for the entire gathering, while others may use "viewing" specifically to refer to the time spent with the deceased.

Is it okay to go to a visitation and not the funeral?

Absolutely. Visitations are designed to be flexible and allow people to come and go as they are able.

If you are unable to attend the funeral service due to scheduling conflicts or personal reasons, attending the visitation is a perfectly appropriate way to offer your condolences to the family.

What am I supposed to do at a visitation?

There is no strict protocol for a visitation. It's a chance to share your condolences with the family in a more personal way. Here's a general guideline:

What do I wear to a funeral visitation?

There is no formal dress code for visitations. Opt for conservative attire that reflects your respect for the family and the occasion. Neutral colors like black, gray, or navy are always appropriate choices.

Next steps

While traditional funerals might be limited in their scope for personalization, you can always organize a more meaningful memorial service for your loved one.

You do have options to choose an uplifting way to honor the memory and legacy of a life well-lived. If you’re still planning out your memorial event in the Los Angeles area, consider using Meadow.

We offer more compassionate and versatile ways to celebrate a life with customized memorial planning services.

Our team of caring memorial planners will partner with you during this tender time to create an occasion as remarkable as the life it honors.

With our licensed team, you can expect:

Explore our personalized memorial services.