The Difference between a Viewing (or Wake) and a Traditional Funeral Service

Posted on August 20, 2019 by Bevis Funeral Home under Funeral Etiquette, Funeral Services, Making Arrangements
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People attending viewing

If you’re responsible for arranging a memorial or funeral service, you will likely be asked if you also plan to hold a viewing or wake. Though these are two common terms in the funeral industry, many people are unsure of what takes place during the services and how they differ from traditional funerals or memorial services.

Whether you’re being asked to plan or attend a viewing or wake, these answers to frequently asked questions will help you understand what each service entails.

What is the Difference Between a Viewing and a Wake?

A wake is very similar to a viewing in that it provides mourners with an opportunity to offer their condolences and share their grief in a less-structured environment. However, there is one key difference – religion. A viewing, also referred to as a visitation, is a relatively unstructured and informal gathering that allows friends and family members an intimate and private environment to pay their final respects.

In comparison, a wake is a traditional Catholic ceremony with Celtic Irish roots. While a wake is also designed to provide mourners with an opportunity to offer condolences to the family of the deceased, it is more structured in comparison to a viewing, and sometimes includes a short ceremony involving a priest who recites the rosary or scriptures.

Why Do People Have Viewings and Wakes?

Viewings and wakes are designed to allow friends and family members of the deceased to gather and mourn the loss of their loved one. This also provides additional time with the body prior to the funeral service, which can be comforting to the people who were closest to the deceased.

Viewing the deceased is a part of many cultural and ethnic traditions, and many grief specialists believe that viewing aids the grief process by helping the bereaved recognize the reality of death. Viewing is even encouraged for children, as long as it is their desire to do so and the process is explained well.

When and Where Do Viewings and Wakes Take Place?

Viewings are often scheduled a few days prior to the funeral service, and they are typically held at the funeral home. However, some families choose to hold the viewing on the day of the funeral service at the same location. Wakes are also traditionally held at funeral homes and take place from one day to several days before the funeral. However, modern wakes can also be held on the same day of the funeral, similar to viewings.

What is the Etiquette for Attending a Wake or Visitation?

If you’ve never attended a viewing or wake, you may be unsure of the details. While each service is unique, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Remember that some viewings and wakes are invitation-only or reserved solely for family and close friends. If it’s unclear if you are permitted to attend, you should double-check with the deceased’s family or consider calling the funeral home to verify.
  2. Because viewings and wakes are generally informal in comparison to funerals and memorial services, guests are free to come and go as they see fit. Close friends and relatives of the deceased may stay for hours while colleagues and other associates may just drop by for a few moments to pay their respects.
  3. The standard attire for viewings and wakes is also less formal than a traditional funeral service. Though guests should avoid wearing clothes that are too casual such as shorts and tank tops, they are not expected to wear formal, all-black attire. Appropriate attire for women includes business casual dresses, skirts, slacks and blouses. Men should also stick to slacks and sports coats. While jeans are acceptable in certain cases, be sure to pair them with a dress shirt or blouse and a jacket for a more polished look.

If you’d like to speak to an experienced funeral director about planning a viewing, wake or funeral service for a loved one who has passed away, or to begin the pre-planning process, call Bevis Funeral Home today at 850-385-2193.

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