When a death occurs, people gather to mourn the loss, pay last respects, offer condolences, and support and comfort the family.
Traditionally, wakes were held at the homes of surviving family members or some other close relative following the death of a loved one, during which time the family would keep watch over the corpse and pray for his or her soul until departure for the burial. Throughout the wake, relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers and others who knew the deceased would visit the household to pay their respects and to offer comfort and support to the immediate family and to each other. Visitors would often volunteer to “sit up” with the deceased during the wee hours of the night so that family members could get some sleep.
In modern days, when care of the dead is largely relegated to undertakers, morticians and funeral directors, the practice has changed to a shorter period of visitation. Frequently held immediately before the funeral service and/or interment, a visitation allows family members, friends, and loved ones to gather, usually in the presence of the deceased, to pay their respects, mourn together, and support the immediate family and each other. The visitation is generally conducted at a funeral home, chapel, or church or other place of worship, but may also be at the cemetery, at home, or at another location selected by the next-of-kin. A visitation may also be called a viewing when the deceased’s body is present in open casket.
In the Jewish tradition, shiva is the week-long period of mourning following a loved one’s burial. During this time, family members traditionally gather in one home to receive visitors, who come to show support to the family. The word “shiva” means seven, signifying the seven day mourning period in which mourners are supposed to sit low to the ground, although in modern times different families make different choices about where, when, and how long they want to sit shiva. Shiva is usually held in the home of the deceased, but may be observed in the home of an immediate family member, and these days it is becoming more common for a shiva to take place in multiple locations simultaneously. Traditionally shiva lasts for seven days but some families choose to observe fewer days, and some shiva houses are open for shiva calls all day, while others are only open for a few hours in the morning and/or evening.