A "viewing" means to have an open casket.
A "visitation" is when the body is laid out in the casket (which may be open or closed) before the service so that mourners may come to "visit."
A visitation offers a chance for people to "pay their final respects" to the deceased. Just as important, the visitation can be a time for mourners to meet and console each other in a more informal setting than at the funeral.
You can schedule a visitation for as little as a few minutes on the day of the service, or for the afternoon or evening prior to the funeral.
The visitation can be restricted to just close friends and family, or be open to the public. You can even have a combination of private and public times.
Is there a special ceremony?
As part of the visitation, you can arrange a formal ceremony, an informal ceremony, or none at all. The formal ceremony might be a brief service or prayers for the dead led by a mourner or member of the clergy.
For those who are comfortable with it, an informal storytelling session can be a wonderful way to remember the person.
The stories don't all have to be solemn, nor do they all have to show the person as a saint. We often love people as much for their flaws as for their strengths.
Remember, too, that laughter is as much a sign of strong emotion as tears or anger.
And if the person had a good sense of humour, there are bound to be some funny stories.
This sharing can be a rich and powerful experience.