Funeral Vs. Wake – Which Is Right For You?

When planning a memorial service for a loved one, it can be hard to decide how to honor the person's memory while meeting the needs of those who attend. Many families and friends today are opting for a less traditional service in the form of a wake.

The wake itself varies wildly depending on the people and culture involved, but it usually includes gathering shortly after the death and spending time with other mourners while keeping vigil over the deceased's body. Is a wake right for your circumstances? Here are 3 questions to ask when deciding.

How Much Structure Do You Want?

A funeral – like many traditional ceremonies in any culture – is generally a very structured event. Depending on the beliefs of the deceased and those planning it, a funeral can be either religious or secular. It is usually led by an officiant and follows a prescribed path that most people will have come to associate with a memorial. Many people find that being led through the memorializing process is comforting, as is knowing what will happen and how it will be handled.

However, if you prefer a more casual memorial, a wake may provide more opportunity for spontaneity and personalization, while also meeting the individual needs of mourners. 

Is Tradition Important?

Like structure, many people are soothed by traditions when grieving. Those traditions may be religious, such as the singing of familiar hymns or reading of well-known passages, or they may be secular (like a viewing). But not everyone finds comfort in tradition, and if you or your loved one did not share traditional beliefs, a standard funeral may seem hollow and impersonal.

A wake may have some traditions depending on the community, but it rarely follows many rules. Rather than well-worn eulogies or prayers, you are more likely to hear personal stories, share in an activity the deceased loved or simply be allowed to spend time together.

Do You Want More Interactivity?

Because of these cited aspects, funerals tend to be one-sided – the officiant leads the funeral and does most of the talking. Modern funerals do allow some time for personal readings or speeches, but a wake encourages much more of it. Because it's simply time set aside to grieve together, sharing during a wake can take many forms depending on who wants to participate and how they wish to do so. It may be as simple as recalling personal anecdotes or as wild as playing the deceased's favorite sport or – in such areas as New Orleans – playing music and dancing through the streets.

The answers to these questions can help you determine if holding a wake is the right thing to do. Some families find that both a wake and a funeral are appropriate, and they choose to do both (a wake is generally held the evening before a funeral). Whichever memorial you choose, it can be something that honors both your deceased loved one and those who were left behind. Contact a local funeral home, like Foran Funeral Home, for more help.