What is the Difference Between a Wake vs. Funeral vs. Viewing?

This guide will explain the differences between a wake, funeral, and viewing.

What is the Difference Between a Wake vs Funeral vs Viewing

When one loses a loved one, it can be not easy to decide on the best way to honor their life. Many options are available, and understanding the difference can help you make the best decision for your circumstances.

What is a Wake?

A wake is a memorial service where the family and friends of the deceased gather to pay tribute to and remember a person who has died. It is usually held several days before the funeral service, although in some cultures, it may occur after the burial.

What is a Wake

The wake is traditionally a Catholic custom and a religious service, but in modern wakes, people of other faiths have also adopted it. The wake allows mourners to speak and share their memories of the deceased and offer support to one another as they mourn. Some of these events have seen mourners stay awake to be with the bereaved friends and family of the deceased.

In many traditions, the deceased’s body is present at the wake, although this is not always the case. Wakes can be somber affairs, but they can also be celebratory, with music and food. A wake provides an essential forum for grief and remembrance, whether solemn or joyful.

These memorial services can be held in the deceased’s home, funeral home, or public space. The location will often depend on the size of the gathering and the resources available.

What is a Funeral?

A funeral service is a formal ceremony commemorating a deceased person’s life. The funeral service may be held at a church, family home, or other location and is usually attended by family and friends. During the funeral, any family member often gives eulogies to remember the deceased, and prayers may be said. An actual burial or cremation typically follows a funeral.

what is a funeral

Funerals allow loved ones to share their final respects, grieve, and celebrate the deceased’s life. They also allow family and friends to support one another during this loss.

In some places, a funeral is also known as celebrations of life. This term describes a funeral service that is less traditional and more personal. A celebration of life may be held at various locations, including outdoor venues and private homes. The focus is on celebrating the deceased person’s life rather than mourning the death.

The funeral director usually works with the bereaved to plan the memorial service. You can also hire a celebrant to help you create a personal and meaningful ceremony.

What is a Viewing?

A viewing is a final opportunity for close friends to say goodbye to a deceased loved one. It is typically held in a funeral home or church, and the deceased’s body is usually present, although this is not always the case.

What is a Viewing

Viewing memorial services can be open or closed; in an open viewing, the casket is typically left open so guests can see the deceased, whereas in a closed viewing, the casket is closed and guests generally only view the outside. Viewings usually occur before the funeral service, although they can sometimes be held afterward. In addition to providing closure for grieving relatives, viewings also give guests a chance to express condolences to the deceased’s family.

Now that you know what each type of service entails, let’s look at the differences between them:

The Difference Between a Wake vs. Funeral vs. Viewing

Wake Vs. Viewing: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between a wake and viewing is religion. A wake is a Catholic tradition, while people of any faith can do viewing. A funeral wake is typically led by clergy or a priest, whereas a viewing will not. Another difference is that viewing is an informal event, while a funeral wake might be either an informal or formal event.

Why have viewings and wakes?

Most bereaved families choose to have these ceremonies because they allow everyone to participate in a religious and cultural tradition. It also allows those who might not be able to be at the funeral an opportunity to say goodbye and offer condolences.

These events also allow mourners to adapt to their new reality and begin the long process of grief and mourning.

While both a wake and viewing are solemn, it’s not unusual for people to share stories and memories about the deceased during a wake or viewing. This can provide much-needed levity and help everyone remember the good times.

Wakes vs. Funeral: What’s the Difference?

The key difference between a funeral and a wake is that a wake is typically held before the funeral, while a funeral is the main event. A wake is usually more relaxed, with food and drink often served. Funerals are more of a formal service, and guests typically do not eat or drink during the service.

Funerals usually end with burial or cremation, while a wake does not. A funeral wake often follows a wake, but this is not always the case.

Why Have these events?

During funeral ceremonies, the family of the deceased and other people share memories, offer words of comfort, and grieve together. It is an important ritual that helps people accept death and begin healing.

A wake is often seen as a way to honor the deceased and give loved ones one last chance to say goodbye. It can also be a time for mourners and friends to support one another as they grieve.

While this informal event is important, it’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to mourn a death. Some people find comfort in religious ceremonies, while others solace in more informal gatherings.

Should I Attend the Wake and the Funeral?

If you are close to the family, you are generally expected to go to both the wake and the funeral. Attending the funeral is usually more vital if you can only participate in one.

If you are not close to the family or if the passing is not recent, it is acceptable only to go to the funeral.

These events are all important parts of the grieving process. While they may seem similar, there are important differences between them. It’s important to choose the right event for you and your family so you can begin the healing process.

Although people attend these events, the following are some reasons one may choose not to attend:

  • It is of someone you didn’t know well.
  • You live far away and can’t make the trip.
  • You’re not ready to face the grieving family.
  • There are travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic.
  • You’re not feeling well.

You can still show your support if you can’t attend by sending a sympathy card or flowers. You can also donate to a charity in the deceased’s name.

Which option is right for you?

Which option is right for you

The following tips will help one identify the type of memorial service to hold for their loved one:

Determine the number of people

When planning a memorial service, the first thing you should do is determine how many people will attend.

This will help you decide whether to have a wake, funeral, or viewing. A funeral is probably the best option if you’re expecting many people.

If you’re expecting a smaller number of guests, a wake or viewing might be more appropriate.

Consider the location

Another factor to consider is the location of the service. If you’re planning a local event, a wake or funeral might be more convenient for guests.

A viewing might be more practical if you’re planning a destination event. This is because people can travel to the viewing without having to stay for the funeral. Some people would not like to visit a religious building like a church or synagogue.

Think about timing

Timing is also an important factor to consider. If you want a service soon after passing, a wake or funeral might be the best option.

A viewing might be more appropriate if you’re planning a memorial service week or even months after passing. This gives people time to travel and make arrangements.

The social status of the deceased

Another thing to consider is the social status of the deceased person. If the person was well-known or had a high social status, a viewing or a wake and a funeral might be appropriate.

A funeral might be the best option if the person was a child or had a low social status.


All the events related to demise have a cost. The budget is another deciding factor in which event to have.

Wakes are usually less expensive than other events, but the cost of a funeral will depend on many factors, such as the type of service, the location, and whether you choose to have a wake beforehand.

The service you choose should be based on your personal preferences and the circumstances of the death. There is no right or wrong choice, so choose the option that feels right.

When it comes to mourning, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The most important thing is to do what feels right for you and your family.