In this article, we’re going to answer the question, “Should I attend both the wake and the funeral?” In doing so, we’ll tell you what these two memorial events are and talk about the difference between a wake and a funeral.
Let’s say that someone you know has just passed away. You are planning on going to the funeral, and perhaps attending the viewing the night before. Then you receive a call or email from the family of the deceased. They provide you additional details for the wake.
So now you’re wondering… What exactly is a wake, and should you attend both the wake and the funeral? What is the proper etiquette in this situation?
Should I attend both the wake and the funeral?
The short answer is, yes. It’s usually just fine to attend both the wake and the funeral. Especially if the person who dies was someone you knew very well.
In fact, most people would consider it the respectable thing to do. However, to know for sure whether or not you should attend both services (such as in the case that the deceased was an acquaintance) you first need to know the difference between a wake and funeral.
Let’s define wakes and funerals, and also factor in the culture and background of the decedent’s family.
What is the difference between a wake and a funeral?
A wake is usually held the night before a funeral service. It is a solemn but relatively casual event. The casket or urn is present. Family and friends are given the opportunity to view the remains and visit with one another in an unstructured manner.
In North America, the wake is generally used interchangeably with the terms viewing or visitation.
(The wake gets its name from the olden days. Family or friends of the deceased would stay awake to watch over the body (keeping guard or holding a vigil) until it was ready to be buried.)
Learn more about wakes and appropriate etiquette here.
A funeral is the formal, organized service honoring the deceased and the life that they lived. Families usually hold the funeral the day after the wake or viewing.
During the funeral songs are sung or listened to, a sermon may be given, and family and friends may have the opportunity to say a few parting words. The casket may be opened or closed. There may or may not be a final pass-by before the body is taken away for final disposition.
You now know the main differences between the two terms. All you have left to do is take into account the culture and religious traditions of the family and friends of the person whose wake and/or funeral service you will be attending. This will give you a good idea whether you should attend both the wake and the funeral.
How do different cultures practice the wake?
Different cultures, and even different faith practices within the same religion, may utilize the wake in varying ways.
For example, within Christianity,
- Those of the Catholic faith will often say the Rosary at some point during the wake, and may also hold a Vigil at either the funeral home or at the family’s home. Within the Eastern Orthodox faith, the priest will begin the wake with a special prayer, called a Panikhida, and read selections from the Book of Psalms.
- Protestants usually hold a wake or viewing the night before (or a couple of days before) the service, at either the funeral home or the church. Protestants treat the wake as a social, albeit somber, event. Depending on the preferences of the family, pastors or officiants may say prayers or give a short sermon. Quakers are the exception; they do not hold wakes, nor do they have the deceased present at the funeral service. Other Protestant traditions may vary, while for others the choice to have a wake or viewing is up to the family.
Within other world religions:
- In Judaism, the faithful do not usually hold a wake but rather a shemira. During a shemira, the shomer remains with the body at all times, watching over it until it is buried.
- In Islam, there is no wake, as the deceased must be buried at the earliest possible time.
- In Hinduism, there is often a short wake at which the family may say mantras over the deceased before cremation takes place.
- At a Buddhist wake, an altar honoring the deceased may be present near the casket, and chanting may be led by monks.
Having the knowledge above may help to ease your mind about knowing what to expect should you attend any of these services.
So, should I go to both the funeral and the wake?
On one hand, it’s important to consider your own comfort level when deciding whether you will attend the wake and the funeral (or one instead of the other). As mentioned above, it’s also important to consider how well you knew the person who has passed.
But if you are still concerned as to whether or not you should attend both, it may help to remember that it’s not about you.
It’s all about the person you have lost, as well as their family. Whether you choose to attend just one service or both, it’s likely the family will be very grateful for your presence and support as they face this difficult time.
Keeping this in mind will help you come to the right decision about whether to attend the funeral, the wake, or both.
Did you find the above information helpful? We hope so!
Let us know your thoughts in a comment below! Experiences of other practices and traditions than what we have described above will be particularly appreciated.
We don’t presume to cover all possibilities and preferences. So please comment to let other readers know if your experience of attending funerals and/or wakes is different!
More helpful resources:
- Funeral Etiquette: A Brief Guide for What to Say & Do
- Should I Bring a Gift to the Funeral? Memorial Gift Etiquette Explained
- 5 Steps to Make Sure Your Funeral Plans Are Followed
- 29 Sympathy Gifts for Someone Who Is Grieving