Wake vs. Viewing vs. Funeral: What’s the Difference?

The Terror Management Theory (TMT) suggests that people afraid of death typically seek out and cherish things that give them a feeling of immortality.

Living on in others' memories would be enough, even though we all know it's just a temporary comfort about being forgotten. This may explain why we have embedded funerals, viewings, and wakes into our society.

What Is a Funeral?

A funeral service is a formal ceremony in which loved ones and friends say their last goodbyes to someone who has died. Unlike a viewing or wake, this usually includes a burial.

People usually wear black or gloomy colors to show they are grieving; however, this might vary depending on the deceased's family's cultural and religious norms.

A eulogy or prayers may be recited at a funeral, and friends and relatives of the dead may share their memories of the person.

As geographical diversity leads to significant cultural variance in New Orleans, a "jazz funeral" involves a musical procession across the city.

Why Have a Funeral?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a well-known educator, grief counselor, and speaker, has studied the purpose of funerals. He discovered that holding a funeral allows the family to acknowledge their loss.

When we genuinely feel yet consciously repress our emotions, the sensations fester and become unpleasant. This ceremony is intended to be a secure space to express our feelings.

Taking action on our thoughts and emotions encourages the healing process, whether it means crying or sitting quietly with the deceased's friend.

Plus, people who take on the critical funeral preparations for a loved one end up recollecting and rediscovering their life's most significant values. This helps them improve their connections with others and have a more authentic life.

When and Where Do Funerals Take Place?

A funeral might be held in a church, family home, or funeral home. It typically takes place a day or two to a week following the death. Family choices will determine the timing, such as how long it takes to gather distant relatives.

Many funeral services are held in the late morning or around noon, usually during the week. This permits relatives or friends traveling a great distance to come on time, and it works well with the funeral reception plans.

Suppose you want to organize the funeral for a weekend. In that case, you should be aware that most cemeteries, funeral directors, and crematoria will charge you an additional fee.

Saturdays are often the busiest days for funeral directors; many families request Saturday availability so that relatives and friends wouldn't have to miss work for the funeral.

On second thought, Sunday is the least busy day, as our society considers it the day for relaxation. A few cemeteries even charge to open and close graves on Sundays. Also, you should confirm the officiant's availability to speak during the ceremony to avoid any inconvenience.

You don't have to accept the funeral director's first date and time, so choose what's best for the rest of the family's schedule.

What Is a Viewing?

A viewing is an informal gathering of the deceased's loved ones to pay their respects after a series of memorial images or cremation.

They're modest affairs held before funerals and might last less than a day or longer. Viewings occur after a mortician has prepared the dead. If the deceased was cremated, an urn might be present instead.

Viewing attire is often dressy, which can vary per family. Viewings may be held at the deceased's home or funeral home. Unlike a funeral, you're not expected to remain for the whole viewing, which might take days.

Note: The situation may vary if the dead were involved in an accident that affects their appearance. In that case, funeral homes often strive to restore their appearance before the viewing. Still, specific injuries are impossible to fix, so skipping the viewing might be preferred.

Even California Funeral Directors Association's head Bob Achermann shared that it's common to charge for viewing to guarantee that the corpse is presentable outside the planned arrangement.

Why Have a Viewing?

Psychiatrist J William Worden proposed that witnessing a deceased loved one may help the bereaved accept death as part of their healing process. Some individuals choose to lay their loved ones out at home before cremation or burial.

When you arrange for viewing for your loved ones, you will be able to say goodbye to them before they pass. You may stand, sit, or kneel before your loved one and say anything you want during their viewing.

Just telling them that you love them can be helpful in your healing, but also telling them something else might allow you to wrap your head around losing them.

When visiting a deceased person's coffin, guests should respectfully bow or, if religious, give a few silent words of prayer. Unless the family has requested otherwise, it's customary to spend roughly 15 minutes during a viewing.

When and Where Do Viewings Take Place?

Viewings occur the day after or before the funeral. Mourners will likely be able to see the deceased's memorial or corpse to pay their respects. Many departed friends believe that attending a viewing the night before a funeral is an ideal time to offer support to the bereaved family.

The pandemic pushed funeral services to develop practical alternatives like virtual viewings. This allows friends and family to grieve and celebrate a loved one's life without risking exposure to COVID-19.

While not quite the same as being there in person, you may still participate in this important occasion while ensuring your own and others' safety.

Even when attendance isn't limited, it's not always feasible for everyone to attend. So virtual viewings allow anybody to mourn and express condolences.

Regardless of global conditions, most seniors find travel challenging; add a pandemic and the complexity skyrockets. Virtual viewing funeral services allow visitors to attend the ceremonies without traveling and risking exposure to the virus.

What Is a Wake?

The wake is a Catholic practice inspired by Irish Celtic customs. Traditions required close friends and relatives to remain up all night with the dead to protect them from evil spirits. Only until they're buried can they be considered safe.

It may be held before or at the funeral. Like a funeral, people dress formally for a wake. A wake involves a religious or non-religious ceremony and an open coffin viewing. If not buried, the urn holding the ashes may be displayed.

Most private wakes don't show the deceased's corpse in the US. This is because moving a corpse involves a lot of paperwork. It's also attributed to the current apprehension of death. In place of a corpse, portraits of the departed are often shown in this setting.

Before the ashes are spread or transported home, you may say your last goodbyes during the wake. Family members can choose to stand beside the casket or urn. You may also give condolences without seeing the corpse, so long as you keep it brief to avoid creating a queue.

Why Have a Wake?

Many individuals are unaware that they're suppressing their emotions as they go about their everyday lives. A wake compels you to reflect on the deceased's life, allowing your feelings to emerge and healing to begin.

A wake's ability to provide communal support shouldn't be overlooked. People sometimes feel lonely in their mourning, which makes things more difficult. Attending a service shows you aren't alone in your grief and that others share your pain.

These programs also enable others to aid you if you need them. All of this helps you feel part of a community and reminds you that others are there to help you gain closure.

When and Where Do Wakes Take Place?

It might take many days to get a death certificate and prepare the corpse for an open casket wake. You may usually arrange it around two or three days following the death.

Wakes may be conducted in funeral homes or at the residence of the deceased's relatives. Wakes held in a house are more casual and pleasant because the setting lends itself to informality.

People nowadays, however, don't keep the deceased's corpse in their homes. Instead, they may show a picture of the dead as a symbolic gesture.

Main Differences Between Wakes, Viewing, and Funerals

Whether it's a funeral or a wake, the two aim to honor the deceased and allow the living to grieve and remember their loved one. While the two rituals have a similar vibe, the latter is a more casual time for visiting and remembering the deceased.

On the flip side, a funeral is usually formal and religious in character, including a burial.

Many families decide to have both wakes and funerals to honor their dead. The wake is often held the night before the funeral. Those attending the wake may sit with the body and reflect on the person's life.

In some instances, the corpse is absent, and family and friends just console one another. While each family's religious and cultural views vary, sharing anecdotes about the departed while having a small meal is typical. 

Moreover, whether secular or religious, a funeral has greater structure. The ceremony is usually conducted by a clergyman or other prominent community figure who invites loved ones to talk about why they loved the deceased.

Depending on the arrangements, several essential religious ceremonies may be performed. After the funeral, the corpse is burned or buried at the cemetery.

Funeral customs vary significantly across religions and even areas of the nation. For example, in New Orleans, a "jazz funeral" involves a musical procession across the city. Attendees of differing ceremonies can do their research ahead of time to know what to expect.

On the other hand, the viewing is conducted in a less-structured setting in which people grieve and express condolences to the bereaved family in a way that doesn't intrude too much on their privacy.

Given that it's a casual event, a limited number of visitors, generally those close to the bereaved, are invited to offer their respects. This ceremony is usually arranged a day before the burial and lasts a couple of hours.

Behavior at a Wake Versus a Funeral

Funerals are emotional occasions, and not knowing what to do may add to the agony. Being aware of funeral etiquette can help you feel more at ease during the event and relieve tension for the deceased's family members.

Funeral Etiquette

Wakes at funeral homes are often followed promptly by the funeral itself. If you're attending both rituals, it is advisable to study how to offer brief but sincere condolences to the family.

Private home wakes are more laid-back. You may tell family members about the deceased's community service or tell jokes about them. You don't have to plan a stand-up comedy act, but a little fun is acceptable at this point.

Also, bringing a practical gift to a wake is a kind gesture. The deceased's relatives may receive mourners a few days before the funeral. So giving the family a few tasty presents like baked pastries or sandwiches that they can share with others will be warmly welcomed.

At the end of the day, death is one of the things that binds us together despite our differences. However, it also shows that through grief, we can still love one another beyond this life.