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The Differences Between a Funeral and a Wake

Wakes and funerals are both types of ceremonies that are used to honor the dead and allow survivors to mourn and remember their loved one. While the two ceremonies are similar in feel, there are some major differences between the two. For example, a wake is a more informal time for visitation and remembrance of the dead, whereas a funeral typically contains structured rituals and is often religious in nature. It’s common for a family to have both a wake and a funeral in order to commemorate the death of a loved one. In many instances, the wake is held the night before the funeral. Those in attendance at the wake are able to sit with the body, as they spend some quiet time reflecting on that person’s life. In some instances, though, the body is not present, and family members and friends simply spend time comforting one another. Though wakes vary depending on cultural differences and beliefs that the family has, it is common to exchange stories about the deceased person while eating a light meal. A wake is an important means of support for the family of the person who has passed, and is an effective way for them to grieve together. At a funeral, whether it is religious or secular, there is more structure. The service is typically led by a member of the clergy or other important community figure, who may then ask loved ones to come speak about why they loved the person who has passed. Depending on the type of funeral that takes place, a series of important religious rituals may follow. Once the funeral is complete, the body is either buried or cremated, and there may be a ceremony at the person’s grave. Funeral traditions vary widely from religion to religion, and even in different regions of the country. For example, there is a tradition in New Orleans known as the “jazz funeral,” which features a musical march through the city. A person who will be attending a wake or a funeral may want to do some research so they have an idea about what to expect upon arriving. Behavior at a wake versus at a funeral  At a wake, behavior can be more casual, as people flow in and out of the space to pay their respects to the deceased. While both a funeral and a wake require somber clothing and a fairly reserved attitude, wakes are typically the place to share light-hearted stories about memories you had with the deceased. At a funeral, there is no room for casual chatter about the person who has passed, and one person is in charge of leading the mourners through a series of prayers, hymns, or other rituals.

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