Why We Attend — The Value of a Visitation


In the past few months, I’ve been hearing friends telling me that a former classmate had passed away unexpectedly, and how disappointed they were that a visitation had not been scheduled. In fact, the question of whether or not to hold a service was, for a while, That seemed entirely unfamiliar to me as it is such an expected part of funeral services that we deal with daily in our work lives.

Growing up, we’d always expect that the visitation time generally took place the afternoon or evening before the day of the funeral because so often people could only attend one or the other. Having two separate events provides two choices for couples whose job obligations require there be only one event they can attend separately rather than one day where time is fixed rather than fluid.

I believe that sometimes people think they are saving money by not having a visitation but of all the expenses that are most vital, setting up of a visitation is the second most important after deciding whether you prefer burial or cremation. We as caring people need to express our feelings when there is a loss. Whether we lose someone from our family or our daily work life, or a neighbor, people matter to us every day, and their absences are both significant and substantive.

We need to be able to come together as a group to acknowledge our loss and tell some good memories about our friend or colleague to be heard by many present. These stories are important because they add to, if not share, brand new sides of the personalities of people that are often unknown outside the place where you encounter them. Dave the neighbor may be a very different personality than Dave the coworker, to the delight of everyone who likes to learn something new.

What do you say or what do you hope to hear at a visitation? To be sure, for as many wonderful things that are said out loud one-to-one, it’s the notes and kind reassurances of having your loved one be remembered by others in their lifetimes that are the “forever” kind of memories.

And yet, the presence of a supportive group of people, of any size, around those who have lost a loved one means so much to the family that has sustained a loss. Time sort of becomes suspended as you see people who come in through our doors to greet you that bring good memories flooding back to mind. It could be a neighbor from the block on the very first home you bought 35 years ago who takes the time to come and see you, whose mere presence is comforting because they remember with respect that person you loved so dearly.

By far, it is “simply” your presence that is the best gift of all when you lose a family member or friend. For years after a funeral service, as a basis of time, you will remember who it was who drove three hours without stopping to be there at the service for your mutual loved one. It used to be a matter of regular discussion, how far someone came for the visitation and funeral. As a young person, I was not sure why the hours spent in travel “to” a funeral meant as much as it did, but today it makes sense. The fact that a person will take their time, the most precious commodity that we all have, to be there in person, means the world to us, especially as we need to have people around us who knew and cared about our loved ones. Fortunately, we do have the added opportunity to livestream funeral services, especially of benefit to the senior members of families who are not able to negotiate out-of-town travel due to long distances. At least on livestream, they help us share our burden of loss. Hearing, “I’m so sorry,” “We are all going to miss him or her,” and “We love you” means the world.

That is some of what is from the perspective of the grieving family member. For those of us who are grieving the loss as well, though perhaps not as intensely, the fact remains that we have a need in ourselves to share our grief also…and the visitation is a perfect opportunity to share hugs, words, and most of all time, even if it seems fleeting or brief. The funeral service is often held the next day following a visitation, so holding two separate events (even if they are on the same day) provides double the opportunity to participate in attending, particularly when every family has so many places to be at any given time during the week, the better the chance to be able to attend.

Time heals grief, there is no question. Time spent with others who loved those we love is truly time spent in celebration of a lifetime of friendship and caring. Only with the passage of time do the holes in our hearts begin to heal up as we gather together and acknowledge our loss. I’ll have more to say on this subject as time goes on, but this is on my mind for right now. The next time you have to make a choice about attending a visitation, perhaps keep in mind the words of one former student, “Never miss something that only happens once.” It will make a difference that you are there for those you care about.

Cody D. Jones ‘02

Owner & Community Member

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