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

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When a loved one passes, there’s an overwhelming number of decisions that need to be made, especially if the departed didn’t document their final wishes.

Of these decisions, it’s important to consider your loved one’s end-of-life celebration and the best way to honor their life.

You’ll first need to understand your options, which can include a wake, funeral or memorial service. Below, we outline each of these options, as well as how to select the right celebration of life for your loved one.

What is a Wake?

A wake, also known as a viewing, visitation or gathering, typically occurs before the funeral takes place. An urn or a casket is typically present, and the casket may be opened or closed. At this time, people pay their respects and offer condolences to loved ones of the departed. The public can typically find the time, date and location details of the wake in an obituary, either in the newspaper or online. In the absence of an obituary, guests can contact the family for more information.

A wake takes place at either a funeral home or church, and normally lasts a few hours. You’ll likely see personalization items like photos or video slideshows, as well as flowers and other appropriate gifts.

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 for attendees to introduce themselves and share their relationship to the loved one with the family. If there is high attendance, guests typically form a line as they wait to speak with the family. Guests can use this time to exchange stories about the departed with one another. If you would like your loved one to be honored in the presence of a caring community, a wake may be right for you.

What is a Funeral?

A funeral is a ceremony honoring a lost loved one, with a burial or cremation to follow. The ceremony typically takes place within a week of the loss occurring. The casket is placed at the front of the church, funeral home or other gathering place for attendees to view. Although the body is present during this time, it’s up to the family whether to keep the casket open or closed.

Funerals typically allow for various speakers to eulogize their memories of their loved one. In addition, most funerals offer options for personalization during a service, such as a memorial pamphlet or tribute video.

Funerals tend to be more intimate, with close friends and family in attendance. It’s a time for loved ones of the departed to gather together to celebrate the life lived and acknowledge the loss as real. This helps survivors who may be experiencing similar grief offer support to one another. It’s important to note that no two funerals are the same, but each is designed to honor the life lived and provide closure for survivors.

What is a memorial service?

Similar to a funeral, a memorial service is a ceremony that honors the departed. The only difference being you’ll likely see an urn or photograph of the individual rather than a casket.

Memorial services can take place several weeks or even months after an individual has passed. Depending on the family’s preference, they can take place at a funeral home, place of worship or other place of significance. Many funeral and crematory services offer personalization options, as well, so you’ll likely see candles, photographs and other unique touches at a memorial service.

Making Your Decision

Below are some questions to consider when choosing a service.

  • Do you want an opportunity for the public to express condolences?
  • Is it important to have your loved one’s body present?
  • How do you want your loved one to be remembered?
  • What’s your budget for end-of-the life celebrations?
  • Have you considered any personalization options?

Let Us Help You Plan Every Step of an End-of-Life Celebration

As your family prepares for a funeral, memorial service or wake, download our Funeral Planning Checklist, a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for preparing final arrangements.

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Jim Busch
Jim Busch
Owner and president of our firm. Fourth generation funeral director and certified crematory operator, Jim is guided by his principles in faith, family and friends. He loves to hear feedback from our families. Proudly serving Busch families since 1986.

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