What Are ‘Calling Hours’ for a Funeral or Memorial?


Funerals and memorials both have different aspects and events that weave together as a means of adequately remembering a deceased person. All of these events are meant to honor the deceased person, above all, as well as bring peace and healing to the deceased person’s friends, family, and loved ones.

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Are you curious about some different terms you’ve heard regarding funerals or memorials? What about calling hours? How are they different from the actual service itself? We’ll discuss what you need to know about calling hours below, including who should be invited and what to wear. 

What Happens During ‘Calling Hours?’

Put simply, calling hours are used as a period of time for loved ones of the deceased person to gather. Calling hours will likely feel more intimate than other aspects of the service as they may require a separate invite. It’s acceptable, even typical, to invite a more select group to calling hours than other aspects of the service. 

So, why exclude people? Calling hours aren’t meant to exclude people for malintent. Rather, calling hours may provide a greater level of depth to the mourning and healing that may need to occur. It provides an opportunity for the closest loved ones to share in one another’s company more freely. On the other hand, it may provide an opportunity for specific family members or friends who don’t see each other often to reconnect over life and death.

After all, everyone mourns differently. Calling hours may provide the only opportunity for truly open laughter, crying, yelling, despair — whatever needs to occur for the loved ones of the deceased person to begin to accept what has happened.

But why hold an event separate from the funeral? Doesn’t that complicate matters? Well, as rich and full and multifaceted as the deceased person’s life was, why should the circumstances of their death be any less meaningful? It will often take more events — beyond just calling hours and a service — to fully capture what it feels like to have a loved one leave the earth. This is a key reason why people celebrate death anniversaries, for example. 

Furthermore, it’s often hard to confine all of the kind words, prayers, songs, and more into one funeral service. Whether you’re a planner or a guest, it’s important to provide ample opportunity for everyone to share what they need to in honor of the deceased person, which is why multiple events may simply be necessary.

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

Is there a difference between calling hours, wake, funeral, or visitation?

The phrase “calling hours” is simply another way to characterize the act of gathering for someone’s death. With the act of gathering, of course, the overall goal is still to pay respects to the deceased person and their family. 

All of these events provide an opportunity for those invited to share important or meaningful words about the deceased, such as funeral poems. Calling hours, wakes, and visitations can also be a great time to share in funeral songs as a group. Though the content of each of these events may be very similar, however, there are some subtle differences between calling hours, wakes, funerals, and visitations. 

Formal vs. informal

Above all, calling hours, wakes, and visitations will all be less formal than the actual funeral service itself. This doesn’t mean totally chill, laid-back, and informal.

However, depending on who the deceased person was and their personality and style, it very well could be in this day and age. Making these requests known is made easy with digital funeral planning tools, like Cake.

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

Timing of calling hours

Calling hours, wakes, and visitations are also different than funerals in another key way: they often happen before the formal funeral service. Calling hours provide time before the more “final” event for guests to visit with and mourn the deceased person. As we’ll discuss in the next section as well, guests who are invited to calling hours will likely be subject to a more intimate setting. 

Is the body present during calling hours?

Furthermore, calling hours, wakes, and visitations also differ from funerals in that there may or may not be a body present. Viewings, in particular, are named such to ensure that guests will get to view their loved one a final time as they appeared while alive. 

Calling hours, wakes, visitations, and funerals may not have a body present, an open casket, or even a casket at all. Instead, these events may have a large photograph or some other visual of the deceased person as a substitute. 

For calling hours, wakes, and visitations that do have a body present, more often than not, it will be an open casket. Open casket events have a long tradition, as it’s a way of seeing your loved one one last time and making the goodbye more authentic and meaningful. What’s changed over time, however, is that the body is typically kept exclusively at a funeral home — not at a family home. 

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

Who Usually Attends Calling Hours at a Funeral?

Like wakes or visitations, calling hours may have a slightly different guest list than the funeral or memorial service itself. In fact, calling hours may include a more selective group as a way of ensuring quality time with the deceased person for these individuals before the cremation or burial. 

So, that being said, if you’re planning a funeral for someone else, help assure them that it’s OK to include different groups in different aspects of the overall service. It’s OK to be more selective — anything to ensure the greater comfort of the mourning family as well as the deceased person. After all, if anyone is worth inviting to any aspect of the ceremonies, they will be respectful of whatever decisions you make.

On the other hand, if you’re invited to calling hours, you shouldn’t take this honor lightly. It’s likely that the family of the deceased person considers you an important person in their life (and death). Thus, they want to give you every opportunity to say your goodbyes, hellos, well-wishes, and so on, so you can continue to heal.

What Do People Usually Wear to Calling Hours?

Based on what you’ve learned about calling hours so far, you’re not wrong to think they’re a bit less formal than funerals. After all, they’re not limited to taking place in a funeral home, though this backdrop is likely. You may be interested in these unique funeral reception ideas for refreshments, decorations, and venues. 

When planning your attire for calling hours, you should use similar discretion as you would for any other parts of the service. Though it has become more acceptable in recent years to wear brighter or more casual clothing to funeral events, you can never go wrong with black or a more subdued look. Here are some more details about what to wear to a funeral.

Of course, it’s possible the organizers may make a special request regarding what you wear. For more clues about what’s expected, you should also consider not only the season, but the time of day and the venue as well. Is it in your loved one’s home? Is it in a laid-back location? Is it in an upscale or a sacred one? If you’re still unsure, go for something muted to play it safe and to show respect.

Calling Loved Ones Together 

Calling hours are as simple as that — a means of calling loved ones together to provide an additional opportunity to begin or continue healing. Treat calling hours like a unique opportunity to gather and create new memories in honor of your loved one. Though they may be sad or somber, there is also the opportunity for beautiful memories to be made, too. 

Like all aspects of funeral services, there is something very powerful about any group gathering in love for another. No matter how formal or informal, planned or impromptu any of these events are, you should recognize their importance — either as a planner or a guest. For more end-of-life and funeral planning tips, check out the rest of Cake.

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