Whether It Is More Important to Go To a Wake or Funeral

The following factors should be considered:

  • Attend the wake if you know the family and friends but not the deceased
  • Go to the funeral if you knew the decedent, but no one connected with them
  • Etiquette says the wake and funeral should both be attended
  • Always respect the family’s wishes

There is much to think about when someone dies. Emotions are running high too, which makes clear thinking impossible at times. If you are involved in funeral planning, you’ll know more about the event and be ready to attend the wake and the funeral itself.

However, if you aren’t involved in that process, you might be wondering if you should attend the wake, the funeral, or both. What is the correct etiquette?

At a difficult and emotional time, you want to make sure you are doing the right thing. It is difficult enough to go through the experience anyway.

If you are faced with this prospect at present, don’t worry. I have researched everything I could find on the topic. When you reach the end of this article, you’ll feel much better and clearer about what is expected of you. I’ve included the best advice and recommendations to follow.


Etiquette Says Attending the Wake and Funeral is Best

In the extensive research I did on the topic, etiquette usually deemed both events were suitable to attend. In doing so, you are showing respect and consideration to the family of the decedent, as well as the individual who has passed. It is a good idea to take this as the bottom line if you are unsure.

However, there are scenarios where it may feel strange to attend either the wake or the funeral, depending on the circumstances. We’ll look at those here too, so you can find it easier to decide what to do in your situation.


Both Should Be Attended When the Death Involves a Close Family Member

If you were exceptionally close to the decedent, it would be quite usual to attend both events. This does not necessarily mean only family either. If you knew a friend for many years who then died, it would be appropriate to attend the wake and the funeral.

Remember that wakes quite often include an open casket, so be prepared for this. There is no need to view the body if you don’t wish to – this is a personal choice and something you should not do if you don’t feel comfortable with it.

Other situations are murkier though, so let’s start to explore those possibilities now. This section of the article should guide you through the topic to give you more confidence in making the right decision.


Attend the Funeral Out of Respect for the Decedent

The funeral is the event to attend if you knew the person who has died. There won’t be much interaction between mourners, and the focus is more on the person everyone is saying goodbye to.

Therefore, you would have that chance to say your own goodbyes to the decedent.

It is also better to forego the wake if you knew the decedent, but you didn’t know the family that well (if at all). Attending a wake full of strangers would leave you feeling rather removed from everything.

There could be anything from a handful of people attending to many hundreds, depending on how many people the deceased person knew.


Attend the Wake to Support Those Left Behind

This would be the best choice if you didn’t know the person who has died, and therefore would have no reason to go to the funeral.

You may wonder why you  are thinking about attending in this scenario. However, there are several situations where this can occur. For example:

  • A friend’s parent has died – you know and love your friend and wish to support them, even though you didn’t know their parent well
  • A work colleague has lost their significant other – you never met the person who died, but you want to show your co-worker that you care

In a scenario like this, where you don’t know the decedent, the wake would be the right place to provide support and condolences for the individual you do know, who is coping with their loss.

The wake is also a better option if the funeral service is going to be conducted according to religious beliefs that clash with your own.

You can still pay your respects but feel more settled with the situation. Alternatively, this could be something you can respect and follow for the duration of the service.


It is Important to Respect the Wishes of the Family

In some cases, the funeral or wake could be small, personal, and private. The decedent may have left strict instructions for this to be so. The wishes of the person who has died should always be paramount.

I know someone whose funeral was attended by three others. Even this was going against the deceased’s wishes to have no one there. Conversely, another family funeral was so popular (odd word to use, but it’s the most appropriate here) the church was packed, and people were standing at the back and outside too.

The wishes of the family members organizing the wake and funeral should also be respected. If the occasion – whether it means the wake, the funeral, or both – is to be reserved for close family and friends only, and you do not fall into either bracket, you must respect that.

In this case, sending flowers, a card, or donating in memory of the decedent would be a suitable token of remembrance and support.


Attending the Wake and the Funeral Shows Your Support

Many people choose to attend both events. The wake is an opportunity to speak to the relatives and friends of the person who has died. It is also likely to include a viewing of the decedent. Indeed, a wake is commonly referred to as a viewing in some instances.

This provides you with a chance to say goodbye to the person who has passed. You can also provide support for those left behind.

Meanwhile, the funeral is a more formal occasion, perhaps held according to the religion of the decedent if one was followed. There are non-denominational services too, though. This is a formal farewell to the lost loved one. A funeral can still have an open casket, but it is more common during a wake.


Practical Considerations Might Also Influence Your Choice

Some funerals may be far from where you live, requiring a long journey to get there and back. You may be able to attend the wake or funeral in a day but wouldn’t be able to get away from work or family commitments to attend both if they were on consecutive days, for example.

Similarly, if you have a young baby or young children to think about, you may not be able to find a babysitter, stay away from home with them overnight, or attend at all.

In this example, it’s always best to go to the wake, funeral, or both, depending on what you decide, alone. Often, it is a case of working out a solution that will suit everyone. If time constraints mean you can only attend the wake or the funeral and not both, think about which one would make more sense.

Using the recommendations listed above, this should be easier to manage. Sometimes, it is simply not possible to attend both. However, it would be polite to explain this to the family if it is expected that you are going to be present at both.


Be Aware that Different States Might Also Have Different Preferences

In some States usually the wake is the bigger of the two events that most people attended.  Whereas for example, it’s often the opposite in the Midwestern USA.

Times change too, so it is always wise to consider the current recommendations and traditions in the area where the events will be held before deciding what to do.

Traditionally, where I come from, the funeral is always followed by the wake. However, I know that many places do things the other way around. I tend to think the wake is a chance to wind down a little after the emotions of the funeral.

However, traditions and the usual ways of doing things on these occasions can even be down to individual families and their preferences.


Invitations Are Sometimes Extended to Mourners Too

Not all families send out invitations for funerals and wakes, but in some cases, this might happen.

If you receive an invite, consider whether are any reasons why you could or should not attend. If not, then you know the best course of action would be to provide your support in person on the day according to the details on the invitation. This may be given casually or formally.


Bottom Line? Ask the Family for Advice if You Are Unsure

In some situations, it can be almost impossible to know whether attending the wake, the funeral, or both would be most appropriate. You may know that it would be proper to attend one, but you feel uncertain about the other.

If you are ever in doubt, speak to someone in the family. If you do so with respect, graciously accepting their preference on the matter, you’ll have your answer.

The only caveat I would add to that is to consider whether there are any personal reasons why attendance at one or other of the occasions would be inappropriate or unsuitable.


Writer: Allison Whitehead

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