How Different are Wakes, Viewings and Funerals?

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

If you’ve recently lost someone, chances are that you’re looking for ways to honor them and their life. A funeral can be a great way to do that, but it’s not the only option. Wakes and viewings are also important parts of the grieving process. It’s often hard to know which one (or both) is right for your loved one and their family – so we’re here to help!

What's the difference between a wake, a viewing and a funeral?

Firstly, a wake is a gathering of family and friends to remember the deceased. The body is present, but people will typically not focus on it. Instead, they’ll reminisce about the life of the person who has passed away.

Secondly, a viewing is similar to a funeral in that there will be prayers and readings. However, there’s more focus on remembering the deceased, and less so on religious elements like getting into heaven.

Finally, a funeral is almost entirely about honoring the dead person’s life rather than trying to understand why they had to die early in life. This is also where the religious elements are particularly present.

What is a wake?

A wake is a ritual that takes place after the death of a loved one. It’s similar to a funeral in that it’s meant to honor and pay respects to the deceased person, but it differs greatly in many ways.

First of all, wakes typically take place at the home of the deceased person instead of at an expensive funeral home or cemetery. This means that wakes usually take place within 24 hours after someone dies. Note also that the time varies depending on location. Typically people will stay overnight at this home as well — sleeping on couches and sofas or sharing their rooms with other family members — so they can be close by during this time.

Wakes usually involve an open casket for viewing purposes. However, it’s common for people to not actually view their loved ones. After all, this could be too traumatic for some people to handle emotionally.

What is a viewing?

A viewing is a way to pay your last respects to the deceased person. It can happen either before or after the funeral. Note that you can plan one either the funeral home or at home.

What is a funeral?

Funerals are a way to honor the person who has died. They can be more formal than wakes or viewings, as they allow for more time for reflection and prayer. Funerals are usually held in a church, funeral home or other venue. There may also be religious ceremonies such as eulogies and music during the service.

Wakes vs. viewings vs. funerals

In short, keep in mind that:

  • A wake is an informal gathering of family and friends. It usually consists of eating, storytelling and reminiscing. The focus is remembering the loved one who has passed away.

  • A viewing is a formal viewing of a deceased person’s body in preparation for their funeral service.

  • The funeral is a ceremony that typically includes religious or spiritual readings, music and prayer. This usually happens right after the death of someone close to you in order to say goodbye.

A wake is typically more informal than a viewing or funeral

Wakes are often held in the home of the deceased. It is a way for family and friends to gather together and offer support before burial arrangements can be made. Sometimes, people will bring food, but it is not required.

Viewings typically take place in funeral homes. Sometimes, they’re a good match for people who don’t wish or are unable to attend an entire memorial service. A wake tends to be more personal than a viewing because it takes place near where people live and work. However, this does not mean that wakes aren’t formal events too. Sometimes they involve flowers, or even live music!

Finally, keep in mind that there are many different types of funerals available to choose from today (more than ever before). Therefore, there’s no need to feel pressured into doing anything that doesn’t feel right in this momentous time in your life. This is especially true if you’re planning a loved one’s funeral.

How different are all of these from a visitation?

A visitation is a chance to pay your respects to the deceased. It is not a wake, it is not a viewing, and it’s definitely not a funeral. Visitors may be invited to participate in the service by bringing flowers or photos. Or maybe they might simply sit with other friends and family members who are there for support. The main difference between viewing and visitation is that there’s usually no body at a visitation. It can also take place before or after the funeral.

Memorialize, respect, remember

You can do any combination or none of the above. It’s up to you how you want to be remembered by others. The most important thing is to do what is right for you and your loved ones.

  • Memorializing is an important part of the grieving process. It helps you honor your loved one, as well as cope with their loss.

  • It can also be a way to help the family and friends of the deceased grieve.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to memorialize your loved one. It all depends on what their wishes were and what kind of person they were. If you’re not sure which option is best for them, consider talking with other family members or friends about what they would have wanted. I hope these tips helped clarify things for you!

The best way to have control over your own funeral is sharing your wishes. This way your loved ones won’t have to navigate all these different options. Myend’s funeral planner offers you great assistance and support in your end-of-life journey. And the best thing? You can try it out for free today!


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Myend is not a law firm, it does not engage in the practice of law, and it does not render any official legal advice. Therefore, you are hereby advised to seek your own legal counsel regarding any legal issues. Myend’s articles are meant to be taken as suggestions and therefore Myend carries no responsibility for the user’s actions.