What is a chapel of rest?

This guide describes what to expect at a chapel of rest and what to do when you visit one. It explains that there are no set rules, but it’s important to be respectful.

Chapels of rest are places for visiting the body of someone who’s died before the public funeral. You’ll find them in funeral homes and crematoriums.

​​What happens at a chapel of rest?

A chapel of rest is for the time between the death and the funeral

A chapel of rest is a room where people can visit the body of the person they love after the body has been washed and dressed by a funeral director but before the funeral.

If you've chosen to have a funeral, your funeral director will help transport the person who's died to the funeral home. They will arrange a car to collect the person who’s died from the hospital or their home. 

They will then prepare the body for viewing at the chapel of rest and the funeral. This might involve embalming. Funeral staff will move the body of the person who's died to the chapel of rest once it’s ready for you to see. This is where it will stay safely and privately until the day of the funeral.

If you are a close family member of the person who’s died, the funeral director will help you arrange your visit. They will make sure the room is ready, and usually book a certain amount of time where you and/or other family members can be alone.

Arrange a direct cremation from £895

A direct cremation allows you to respectfully cremate someone’s body without having to organise a funeral. You can then decide how to scatter or store their ashes at a later date if you need more time to decide how you want to remember this person. 

What is embalming?

Embalming is where a funeral director or technician uses chemicals to preserve a body. Embalming stops a person’s natural tissues from breaking down. It’s purpose is to keep people looking as close to how they looked in life as possible. 

This guide will give you a full description of embalming. We've included trigger warnings for the parts that go into detail, but you might prefer to skip it if you think it might be upsetting. 

A chapel of rest is often just a single room 

It’s a small but important part of a funeral building where people can visit and say goodbye to the body of someone who’s died. Chapels of rest are private, quiet spaces, often with thick curtains over the windows and doors. 

Usually, the chapel of rest is just for close family members, and the coffin or casket will be open. This means you’ll be able to see the person who’s died

The funeral is generally where friends, acquaintances, and more distant family members will say goodbye. 

Chapels are not usually religious

Chapels were originally small places of Christian worship in schools, hospitals, or big houses. A lot of chapels will have crosses on the roof.

However, modern funeral homes and crematoriums do not have a set religion. You do not have to be a Christian to visit a chapel of rest. All religions are welcome.

What do people do at chapels of rest?

There are no set rules about visiting a chapel of rest

You might not visit at all. It's common for families to say goodbye to loved ones in the hospital. When doctors are able to warn you a person might be near the end of their life, you may have said goodbye at their hospital bed. In this case, you might not feel the need to see them again.

Some people choose to die at home. If this is the case, you might have had the chance to say your goodbyes there.

Some of us do not get a chance to do this. If a person has died suddenly, visiting a chapel of rest is a way to see them privately for the last time.

Most people visit a chapel of rest just once

Talk to your funeral director about when you can visit, and how long for. Usually, they'll give you as much time as you need. Some funeral homes allow you to visit multiple times. This will depend on how busy they are.

It is not usually possible to visit the chapel of rest on the day of the funeral. This is because the funeral home staff will spend the whole day preparing for the funeral.

Dress code and speaking at chapels of rest

If you’ve chosen to visit a chapel of rest, you can wear whatever you like. You do not need to wear black or formal clothes.

You do not need to worry about keeping quiet, you can talk as much or little as you like. This is a chance for you to speak to the person who’s died. The only thing to keep in mind is being respectful of others who might be there. It’s also good to be quiet and respectful of anyone else you see on the funeral home grounds.

Taking photos in a chapel of rest

While there are no rules that say you can not take photos in a chapel of rest, it’s important that you have permission from the person arranging the funeral or the person who’s died next of kin.

Taking photographs might be your way of remembering and saying goodbye to the person who’s died. However, you will also need to carefully consider what you will do with the photos. It’s important to be respectful so that you do not offend or upset people.

What to expect on the day

There can be a lot of uncertainty surrounding funerals and cremations. Learning about them beforehand can help us to be better prepared on the day. 

Things to consider when visiting a chapel of rest

It's common to feel hesitant about visiting a chapel of rest 

Some people find it comforting to see a friend or family member who’s died one last time. It can be a chance for them to say goodbye in private before the funeral, where they might not get a chance.

Some people prefer to remember the person as they were. They might rather think of what the person looked like when they were alive.

Ultimately, it’s important to do what feels right for you. There is no reason to feel guilty if you do not visit. You might choose to say goodbye in your own way, or not at all.

Will the person look very different to when they were alive?

It's hard to say what an embalmed person will look like. They might look very different to how they looked when they were alive. Or they might just look like they’re sleeping. 

If you’re unsure about whether to visit, your funeral director can usually advise you. They can tell you if, for example, the person has injuries that might be upsetting to see. Just remember - they will not usually know what the person looked like in life. They may not be aware of the differences you might notice. 

Does the chapel of rest smell?

Some people notice unusual smells in funeral homes. They are very clean and hygienic places, but they use certain chemicals like embalming fluids that you might be able to smell in a chapel of rest.

Arranging funerals and cremations

If you’re arranging a funeral service for someone who’s died, we can help. Find our guide on arranging a funeral. If you’re ready to start arranging a cremation, we can give you an estimated cost.

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