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

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After the loss of someone close to you, it's natural to want to pay your last respects at a formal gathering. Of course there's normally a funeral service to attend, but there's often another ceremony held, known as a 'wake' or a 'viewing.'

After experiencing the loss of a close friend, family member, or colleague, almost everyone will consider attending at least one of the memorial services. But which one is right for you - the funeral, the viewing, or the wake? How do you know what to expect and how to act? What's the distinction between the different ceremonies? Read on to answer these questions and more.

What is a Funeral?

A funeral service is a formal event which is held to honor someone who has passed away. On this occasion family and friends come together to pay their respects to the deceased before their body is buried or cremated. This is typically in contrast to a wake or viewing which take place prior to the funeral.

When mourning the loss of a loved one, a funeral service, or as it's sometimes known, a memorial service or a celebration of life, is a wonderful way to acknowledge, celebrate and honour the life of that person. It can bring a greatly needed sense of peace and comfort to the grieving and bring people together to share in the heartbreaking sadness of loss and well as the tremendous joy that person brought.

When it comes to losing a loved one, knowing how to create a service to celebrate their life can be a difficult decision to make. With so many different ways to do it, you may find yourself struggling to decide which one would be the best way to honour both the individual and their family.

If you're trying to decide between a traditional funeral and a memorial service, you might want to consider your options. Or, you may want to think about pre-arranging your own service so that you can be sure it reflects your life and so that it won't be too difficult for your family and friends.

Why Have a Funeral?

When someone passes away, it can be an incredibly trying experience. Funerals are a meaningful way to honor the life of a loved one that has passed while allowing us to take the time to truly grieve the loss. It is also a beautiful opportunity to pay tribute to their life, as we all shared fond memories with them.

People often find solace in discussing their joyful experiences with those they've lost and in doing so, can help each other comprehend the profundity of life and death. Through these moments, friends and family are providing comfort to one another in an arduous and sometimes emotionally perplexing time.

A funeral is usually a very effective experience for a family in terms of handling grief. Seeing how highly their loved one was regarded by many others can be a source of encouragement and help them accept the situation.

When and Where Do Funerals Take Place?

A funeral may be held in the family home, a funeral home, or even a place of worship, such as a church. Usually, the funeral itself will take place anywhere from a day or two to a week or more following a death. The timing will be heavily influenced by the family's requirements, including how long it will take to gather relatives who live far away.

What is a Viewing?

Unlike a funeral, attending a viewing is seen as a more informal and unstructured way of paying one's respects as friends and family come together to remember either the deceased, who will have been prepared by a mortician, or to a cremation urn or memorial photos.

Why Have a Viewing?

Organizing a viewing for a loved one who has passed away is a way to come together in honour of the deceased and for grievers to come together, support each other, and to say goodbye. This is often seen as an important way to show respect to their family.

The viewing has been known by many names over the years. If you grew up a certain time, you would probably know it as "calling hours". Some might even refer to it as a visitation.

When and Where Do Viewings Take Place?

The viewing of the body or a memorial to the deceased is an important part of the grieving process, and can take place at either the funeral home or the family home. They typically occur prior to the funeral service, either the day before or on the same day, to give mourners one last chance to pay their respects.

Guests can stay for however long they feel necessary, some for hours while others drop by for just a few moments. Many people that know the deceased view the viewing the evening before the funeral as the best time to be present and offer their condolences, thus paying their respects to the family, and then departing after.

What is a Wake at a Funeral?

Historically, a Catholic wake is a solemn ritual that has its roots in the Celtic traditions of Ireland. The ancient custom dictates that for the deceased's own protection, family and friends must remain alert and awake through the night. With the burial, all will be well.

The Catholic tradition of holding a wake for a deceased loved one typically includes a short ceremony presided over by a priest. Most often during this ceremony, the priest will recite either prayers in the form of the rosary, or some scriptures, and this stricter form of the wake is known as the “rosary wake.”

Why Have a Wake?

A wake can be considered a type of ceremony that allows those who are grieving to pay their respects, as well as share their sorrow in a more relaxed and informal setting.

When and Where Do Wakes Take Place?

Wakes used to be held almost exclusively in the home but are now more commonly held in funeral homes. However, there are still those who prefer to have a wake in the social hall of a place of worship.

A wake is frequently held a day or several days before the funeral. Modernly, the wake can also be held on the same day as the funeral.

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

Wake vs. Viewing: What's the Difference?

A gathering before the funeral, otherwise known as a wake, is a time for mourners to come together and pay tribute to the dearly departed by sharing stories and comforting one another. It is similar to the viewing, but there is an additional religious aspect associated with a wake, such as a rosary service, that can be included at the request of the family.

Wake/Viewing vs. Funeral - Who Leads?

During a funeral service, a solemn and dignified atmosphere is created by an officiant who is familiar with the traditions and protocols of the occasion. Religious funerals are led by respected religious leaders, usually from the house of worship, such as a priest, rabbi, or minister. These officiants provide a spiritual and meaningful experience to the memorial service, to honour the life of the deceased.

Every funeral has certain rituals and traditions that must be observed, in accordance with the religion, culture, or region it is being held in, similar to a wake where a rosary is recited.

Wake/Viewing vs. Funeral - Formal or Informal?

A wake or viewing gives those in attendance a more informal atmosphere, allowing them to share words of comfort and their own unique expressions of sympathy with one another.

Wake vs. Viewing - Focus on the Significance, Not the Terminology

It is significant to keep in mind that the relatives of the deceased will be profoundly grateful for you showing up at the wake or viewing. Your objective is to provide them comfort in their time of sorrow, to pay homage for the deceased and to join in mourning with those who were familiar with your comrade.

The difference between a wake and a viewing isn't so important; what matters most is that you are given the opportunity to say goodbye to your loved one in a way that feels true to your own needs and wishes, something that isn't always available in a more traditional funeral setting.

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