If you’ve ever questioned whether or not you should attend a funeral or wake—you’re not alone. In fact, if you type that exact question into Google, 1,900,000 results will appear. But, before you can answer whether your attendance is necessary, it’s important to clarify the difference between the two.
What is a Wake?
A wake, also known as a visitation, typically occurs before the funeral takes place. The body is present at this time for people to pay their respects and offer condolences to loved ones of the deceased. Generally speaking, the public is invited to attend the wake, even if there’s no personal relationship with the family. In this scenario, it’s polite to introduce yourself and mention your relationship to the loved ones.
What is a Funeral?
A funeral is a formal ceremony honoring the deceased with a burial or cremation to follow. The container of the body is present during this time, but it’s up to the family whether to keep the casket open or closed. Funerals tend to be more intimate, with friends and family in attendance. A clergyman or celebrant directs the funeral, which may include prayers and/or readings to come after.
Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between the two, continue reading for five suggestions to help you decide whether or not you should attend a funeral or wake.
1. What is your relationship with the deceased?
The first step in deciding whether or not you should attend a funeral or wake is to consider your relationship with the deceased. How well did you know the individual? When was the last time you spoke? If you haven’t seen or spoken to the deceased in years, this would need to be considered. More so, if your relationship ended on bad terms, whether romantically, professionally or financially—it would be better to not cause any unnecessary stress on the grieving family and friends.
Regardless of the situation, show compassion for the deceased’s family. If you feel your presence could be a distraction to those grieving, it may be smart to stay home.
2. How do others relate to the deceased?
If you’re unsure whether or not to attend a funeral or wake, you should talk with a friend or family member of the deceased for advice. Ask others for guidance, especially if they understand your situation and can help guide you to the most appropriate decision.
Even if you may not have known the deceased personally, this doesn’t mean you can’t show up to support others. As a sign of respect for friends and family of the deceased, ask them if your attendance can help them through the grieving process.
3. Where’s the funeral or wake located?
If you’re already on the fence about whether or not to attend a funeral or wake, distance is something to consider. Is it local, or does it involve significant travel? Typically, if the funeral or wake is close, your attendance is appreciated. The family will recognize your presence as a sign of support.
On the other hand, if the funeral takes a significant amount of travel time, you may want to consider other options. For example, flowers are a visual expression of sympathy. Similarly, a card is a great way to express your condolences.
4. How’s your personal health?
If you’re unable to attend the wake or funeral because of health-related reasons, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t be able to attend. Being that this is justifiable, it’s still a good idea to share your condolences in other ways. For example, a phone call is a great way to check in on the family. Other options include flowers or handwritten cards.
5. Can I properly adhere to the deceased’s religious beliefs?
Funeral and wake customs differ by religion, ethnicity and culture. Because of this, it’s important for attendees to avoid upsetting or offending anyone. If for whatever reason you’re unable to honor the deceased’s religious and/or cultural beliefs, it may be best to sit this one out. Instead, offer your condolences with a card, meal or donation in memory of the departed.
Whatever process you use to decide when choosing to attend a funeral or wake, make sure you honor the deceased’s memory and show compassion and care toward their loved ones.
Unsure how your loved one would want to be remembered? Preplanning your or a loved one's final arrangements helps ensure final wishes are honored. For helpful tips to preplanning final arrangements, download the Seniors' Guide to Funeral Arrangements.