When a loved one passes away, you may want to attend one or more formal gatherings. These gatherings allow you and other members of the family to pay last respects before saying your final farewell. Funerals are sometimes filled with traditions, and some customs call for multiple events. Most people might think of the funeral as the final service, but some families host what’s called a “wake” or a “viewing” after the funeral service. It is expected that close family members and friends attend at least one or all of these events, but you must understand the differences between these services before deciding to attend them. In this guide, we determine the difference between a funeral and a wake, so you can know what to expect and how to behave. Keep reading to learn more.

What is a Funeral?

A funeral service is a formal event in which loved ones and close friends of the deceased may say goodbye to the person who has passed away. The funeral usually takes place within a few days or a couple weeks after the death. Funeral services have become customary, in part, because of the human captivation with death and veneration.

Funeral services may involve a burial of the deceased’s body or the scattering of the deceased’s cremated remains. Some people refer to these ceremonies as memorial services or life celebrations. With time, attitudes toward death are growing increasingly optimistic. Most people would rather focus on the quality of a well-lived life rather than the sadness of an expected or untimely death. Funerals service to help us come to terms with the death of a loved one by way of formality. These services often take place at home, a place of worship, a funeral home, or a cemetery.

What is a Wake?

A wake is, first and foremost, a Catholic tradition that derives from the Celtic traditions of Ireland. According to folklore and Catholic custom, close friends and family members of the deceased would stay awake through the night to provide protection against evil spirits. Once buried, the deceased was safe. Thus, wake services are traditionally held before the funeral. A family might consider a wake because it does away with the rigid formality one often finds with funeral customs. Wakes can take place in homes, funeral homes, or even places of worship. A wake typically takes place a day or a couple days before the funeral. Wakes differ slightly from visitations or viewings, but they all essentially give families the opportunity to mourn and grieve together without disruption or the formal burdens of funerals.

Guide to Attendance

When you decide to attend a wake or a funeral service, you should always double check when the event is scheduled to begin. You should never show up late, but you should also avoid showing up too early. As a general rule of thumb, dress conservatively and don’t call attention to yourself by wearing bright colors or inappropriate clothing. Offer your sympathies to the family of the deceased immediately upon your arrival. If appropriate, you might also decide to send flowers for the funeral or to the family’s home. Some families request charitable donations in lieu of flowers.

We hope that this guide gives you a better understanding of the difference between a funeral and a wake.