The Differences Between a Wake, Viewing, Memorial, & Funeral

Funeral Service

Many decisions will need to be made when a loved one passes away, including which type of service will best meet the needs of family and friends. There are typically four services: wakes, viewings, memorials, and funerals.

Each end-of-life celebration will involve different amounts of time, energy, and costs. Often, those who plan the final services will consider that individual’s personality and what they would have wanted. For example, a person making arrangements for someone with many friends and extended family may opt for all four services, allowing two or three days for everyone to attend the service(s) of their choice.

Before making any important decisions, you need to understand the differences between a wake, viewing, memorial, and funeral. Knowing the function of each end-of-life celebration will help you better decide how to plan services for your loved late one.

What Is a Wake?

A wake (sometimes referred to as calling hours) is a formal event that typically occurs right before the funeral. It is a special time set aside for people to gather, talk quietly with each other about memories of the one who has passed, and pay their respects to the deceased’s family.

At a wake, the casket may be open or closed, and if the deceased requested a cremation, their urn is typically present, along with pictures and a detailed program of the funeral to follow.

Depending on the number of guests expected, the facility’s size, and the funeral home’s schedule, a wake can last anywhere from two to six hours.

What Is a Viewing?

People often think that a wake is the same as a viewing, but a viewing is a much less formal event. A viewing, or visitation, usually takes place in a funeral home without speakers, formalities, or expectations. 

During the viewing, the deceased’s family is permitted to pay condolences for a set amount of hours. The visitation is usually reserved for family members closest to the deceased, including their spouse, siblings, or parents. The purpose of a viewing is to help loved ones of the deceased more easily express their sorrow and to say farewell to the deceased on a more personal level.

What Is a Memorial?

A memorial service is a more modern concept, a time to gather for remembrance and in honor of the deceased. The body of the loved one is never present at a memorial, but a photo of the deceased may be present. The memorial service can happen in the same timeframe as the formal funeral or weeks later and may be held every year or another timeframe like the 10-year death anniversary.

A memorial service can be solemn, which is typical for memorials for those who lost their lives in a tragic and/or unexpected manner. But generally, a memorial service will include sharing memories, singing, prayer, and/or a musical performance.

A religious structure is optional for this type of commemorative service. It is the memorial service that is typically held in a public space or at a private residence. The affair is relaxed and friendly and can last from a few hours to an entire day.

What Is a Funeral?

A funeral is a formal affair held soon after a person’s death for the benefit of family and friends. The occasion is often led by a religious speaker or a family representative, and it provides opportunities for individuals who want to pay tribute to the deceased. A funeral is also distinct in that it is often followed by a graveside ceremony at the place of burial.

A casket or urn holding the deceased’s remains is present during a funeral, and family members will choose between an open casket or a closed casket with large photos of the deceased. A funeral also requires much more planning, as it involves selecting the casket, clothing, flowers, program itinerary, and funeral location.

Primary Differences

The primary differences between these four ceremonies come down to four aspects: function, formality, religion, and time.

The function of each type of service is different. While wakes and viewings serve a similar function, viewings are typically reserved for those closest to the deceased, while wakes can be extended to close friends and extended family members. A memorial is a celebration of the deceased’s life. A complete funeral service may include a viewing or visitation, but the primary purpose is to bury the deceased individual. 

Wakes and funerals are formal events, while memorials and viewings are informal. 

Religion may also impact what types of ceremonies are chosen or the order in which they are held. For example, in Catholicism, a wake is usually the first part of a funeral service, followed by mass and burial. Or, in Judaism, after the deceased has been buried, family members are required to “sit shiva,” which is generally a week-long visitation where close friends come to pay their respects to the deceased. 

Lastly, the duration of each celebration is different. Wakes typically occur before the burial and can last more than one day. Although viewings generally happen before the funeral and burial, they usually only last for a few hours. Memorial services may occur before a viewing or wake, or after the funeral, and typically lasts for a few hours. Funeral services are more structured and can last between 15 minutes and two hours.

Learn More From Wujek-Calcaterra & Sons

Wujek-Calcaterra & Sons is a family-owned and -operated funeral home providing funeral planning and pre-planning services to families across Michigan. We know how challenging it can be to lose a loved one and are here to give you the support you need.

If you need help planning a funeral, please fill out our online form today to schedule a free consultation—we’re here for you 24/7.

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