What’s the Difference Between a Wake, Viewing, and Funeral?

When a friend, colleague, or family member passes away, it is only natural that you would want to express your condolences and pay your respects. There are different kinds of formal gatherings or ceremonies that are held to honor the deceased. Besides a funeral service, some families choose to hold a wake or viewing as well.

To pay tribute to the deceased, you may feel that you should attend at least one of these services, but not sure which of them you should necessarily attend. You may also be wondering what you should expect at each of these kinds of ceremonies, and what they each entail.

We will break down the differences between a wake, viewing and a funeral to help you prepare for each of these ceremonies, offer insight into the role each plays in honoring the deceased, as well as help you decide which of them you should attend.


What is a wake?

The concept of a wake derives from a traditional Catholic ceremony founded upon Celtic customs. It was believed that loved ones of the deceased should stay awake with the deceased throughout the night to help guard him or her from evil spirits. Once the decedent was safely buried, it was deemed that then they were protected. 

In a Catholic wake, a priest may say prayers or recite scriptures to honor the deceased. A wake today is considered an informal gathering, less formal than that of a funeral, in which loved ones and mourners come together to pay tribute to a decedent, usually a day or more before the funeral. 

Who Usually Attends a Wake?

People who want to show support for those who are grieving. The wake is open to a potentially larger audience of guests, who may or may not be related to the deceased.

What can I expect?

The modern wake often takes place in a funeral home, but can also be held at the decedent’s home. Today, there is less of a focus on the prayer vigil as part of the wakepasy. In modern times, wakes offer an opportunity for the community to provide love and support to the grieving family when a loved one passes away.. In some traditions, the body is present, but not always.


What is a viewing? 

A viewing is an informal ceremony in which the body of the deceased, or an urn with their remains, is  displayed to allow loved ones to say their goodbyes. Viewings are usually held before the funeral and at some services, the funeral begins immediately once viewing hours come to a close.

Who usually attends a viewing?

A viewing is for those who want to show support for the family and say a personal goodbye to the deceased. Typically, those who were closer to the deceased, either through more immediate familial relations or close friends and loved ones will attend the viewing.

What can I expect?

Viewings may be held at a funeral home or the deceased’s home. A mortician will prepare the body for viewing. There may be photos on display featuring the deceased at different happy times throughout his or her life. The body is on display, usually for a few hours, during which mourners and supporters can come and go as they wish. Some people will stay with the deceased for a longer period of time to say their goodbyes, while others may choose to simply pay their respects and go.


What is a funeral?

A funeral is a formal ceremony for the deceased, in which loved ones and guests have the opportunity to honor the decedent and say their final goodbyes. It can be religious or secular, and generally, the body is buried as part of the funeral service.

Who usually attends a funeral?

Those who are grieving the loss of the decedent attend the funeral. Typically, those who were closer to the deceased, either through more immediate familial relations or close friends and loved ones will attend the funeral service.

What can I expect?

A funeral is a formal ceremony. Funerals often take place at a funeral home but can be in a religious institution or at home. There may be religious rituals from the deceased’s faith tradition to help people find a deeper meaning in the cycle of life and death. Often people will tell stories and share memories of the deceased to celebrate their life. 

Supporting the Grieving

The presence of loving colleagues, friends, and relatives can be an incredible comfort for those who are grieving the loss of  a loved one. Whichever service you choose to attend, whether you decide to go to the viewing and wake or only to the funeral, you are paying your respects and showing your love and compassion for the bereaved family. Knowing that they are supported and that their loved one was valued, and his or her memory will not be forgotten can be a vital part of helping the grieving family eventually find peace and closure.

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