Wake or funeral?
February 13, 2012 5:51 PM   Subscribe

Do you go to the wake or the funeral?

Where I come from (Northeast/Mid-Atlantic US), family and close friends go to the funeral but the wake is the wider venue where acquaintances and co-workers of the family attend to offer their respects. My spouse comes from a community in the Midwest and she says that there, the opposite holds true. What do you think is appropriate when information about both are given in the "arrangements?" One, the other, or some specific alternative like the funeral but not the interment? Perhaps it depends on whether one shares the religious affiliation of the decedent's family? I am not a believer but prefer to err on the side of respect/etiquette.
posted by Sissinghurst to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
New York here. Wake and funeral, but not internment.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:53 PM on February 13, 2012

It definitely varies among different religious traditions as well as by locality. If you tell us what religious tradition the deceased in question was affiliated with, and in what region the obsequies will be taking place, people can probably give you a specific answer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:54 PM on February 13, 2012

Texas here. Wake is more important, unless you know the deceased well. The bereaved will greet you (and thus benefit from your presence in a small way at least), and friends of the family will have the opportunity to tell you stories about the deceased (if desired). The funeral is religious, and I think more personal: there are no stories or laughs, only personal reflection / prayer, depending on your beliefs.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 5:58 PM on February 13, 2012

Irish-Catholic from New England:
just funeral = didn't know them well.
wake + funeral = we were close.
wake + funeral + internment = family.
posted by yerfatma at 5:58 PM on February 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm from the Midwest (rural Missouri) and I didn't know wakes were a thing people still did until I was in college. My communities always had what was called a visitation at the funeral home the evening before, and close family and friends tended to drop by during that period (usually a couple of hours) to speak with the family. The funerals are for the wider audience.
posted by something something at 6:00 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ms. Vegetable typing, from virginia.

There is no wake, there's family visitation, where you all hang out at a family member's house for several days and people drop in and you all tell stories. It's kind of like a very drawn out wake. Lots of food. Mostly close friends and neighbors come by.
Funeral is very big and well attended and lots of the community comes. This is the big piece.
Internment is very very small, family only.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:01 PM on February 13, 2012

People often got to wakes or "viewings" because they tend to be in the evening the night before the funeral and are easier to manage than a funeral, which are often during work hours. Wakes/viewings are, frankly, less of a time commitment. And some people are just more comfortable with one over the other.
posted by jgirl at 6:02 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think there is probably no right answer here. My dad comes from a huge Irish Catholic family (ahhhh...the rhythm method), and any funeral/wake I have attended has been a combination of a huge funeral mass, followed by a huge drinking wake. My mother is from a Southern Baptist family, where the church funeral is quite large but the wake is small and family oriented (with secret drinking in the basement).
posted by AlliKat75 at 6:03 PM on February 13, 2012

I go to wakes if someone I care about cared about the deceased. Funerals if I cared about the deceased. Internment only if the deceased is family or someone related to a very good friend.

Other people think the funeral is the place to show up. My stepfather was a little bit famous. It was jarring to see a bunch of folks we didn't know come to the later events.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:04 PM on February 13, 2012

Otherwise I agree with yerfatma, although interments often include more than family and intimate friends. That, too, relates to what people feel they can handle, both in time and emotionally.
posted by jgirl at 6:05 PM on February 13, 2012

So New England Episcopalian with lots of Catholic relatives, married to someone from Cleveland who was raised Reform Jewish.

New England Episcopalian and other mainline Protestants: Calling hours for acquaintances, friends, and family; funeral for friends and family; interment for family and close friends only.

New England Roman Catholic: Wake for acquaintances, friends, and family; funeral for friends and family; interment for family and friends, generally a slightly broader net than the Protestants.

New England Reform Jewish: Funeral for friends and family, friends and acquaintances from the temple, and long-time acquaintances (like co-workers of many years' standing); shiva for close friends and family; interment for family and super-close friends who are like family; unveiling for family and super-close friends who are like family.

New York area Conservadox Jewish: As above, though a broader range of people from the shul, not just close friends, seems to come to shiva.

Cleveland Reform Jewish: Funeral for friends, family, acquaintances, and anyone from the temple who wants to show their support even if the acquaintance is very slight; shiva for close friends and family; interment I can't comment on because my mother-in-law didn't choose to be interred; unveiling ditto.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:08 PM on February 13, 2012

In my experience - Northeast/Midwest - WASPy/vaguely Catholic:

The "funeral" is held at a funeral parlor and is open to the public/published in the paper.
It generally includes a body or casket on display.

There is then a procession to the interment (where the body/ashes are actually placed in the appropriate resting area) at a graveyard/memorial garden, which is attended by closer members of the public and family, but loses some of the peripheral people.

After the interment, a wake* (basically, a subdued party) is held at someone's house, which is attended only by close friends of the deceased or close friends of the survivors. There is no procession from the interment to the wake.

*Weirdly, wikipedia tells me that wake is synonymous with a viewing in the U.S., which has not been my experience at all. So perhaps some clarification in terms is also required in your discussion.
posted by madajb at 6:11 PM on February 13, 2012

I should note that anyone is welcome at any of the stages, so etiquette would not be violated if you showed up at any or all of the stages.
posted by madajb at 6:13 PM on February 13, 2012

Southeastern NC, Protestant mostly: equal option for visitation and/or funeral. Graveside only if you're close family or if the services are only held graveside and there is no visitation.
posted by mightshould at 6:15 PM on February 13, 2012

Response by poster: I tend to define "wake" as the viewing at the funeral home. "Going back to the house" is held at a family home and is held after a viewing or funeral.
posted by Sissinghurst at 6:19 PM on February 13, 2012

See, this goes to show how widely people's experiences can differ. madajb and I are in the same localities and the same religious traditions, and yet I have never been to a Catholic or mainline Protestant funeral that wasn't held in a church.

In my experience, the only funerals I've ever attended that were held at funeral homes were for people who were not affiliated with any religious tradition.

Also never heard the term "wake" used in the US for a post-funeral reception, but always for the pre-funeral viewing or calling hours.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:20 PM on February 13, 2012

Post-funeral receptions, in my experience, are generally open to everyone who has been at the funeral.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:21 PM on February 13, 2012

I never thought about it much, but it seems like there's little consensus even among same geographic locations and backgrounds.

I come from a large Catholic family and all the wakes I've gone to have taken place before the funeral at a funeral parlor (usually open casket). I go to wakes only for friendly acquaintances, funeral only for family or close friends. Although I don't think going to the funeral for a less than close friend would be inappropriate or anything. I wouldn't overthink it, just do what feels right.
posted by WhitenoisE at 6:22 PM on February 13, 2012

^oh, I'm from New England btw.
posted by WhitenoisE at 6:23 PM on February 13, 2012

In the Catholic tradition, interments are generally for adults only. I've only been to a couple of Catholic funerals in the Chicago area, but the family definitely went to the interment for those.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:32 PM on February 13, 2012

Midwest, raised Catholic. Viewings are open to everyone, as are funerals. I've noticed that my mom and stepdad go to a *lot* of viewings lately, but not always the funerals; it seems that if there's a past or semi-distant connection (grew up together, good friends with a relative, etc.), people choose to go to the viewing and not the funeral. People from out of town, on the other hand, generally prioritize the funeral over the viewing, as do co-workers and friends of the immediate family. The interment is open to anyone, but usually it's only family and close friends that go; those people then go to the church hall afterward for food.

My husband was raised Catholic in Pittsburgh. In his family, they have two days of viewings, and two viewings each day (afternoon and evening), followed by the funeral on the third day. At the interment, everyone walks past the coffin and lays a flower on it. They then go to a local restaurant to eat. We are mutually bewildered by each other's customs.
posted by epj at 6:33 PM on February 13, 2012

Pretty much the same for me as esmeralda_jenkins -- Chicago area, Irish Catholic and Lutheran German family. Everybody and their sister goes to the wake, close friends and family (and local busybodies/widows who attend every funeral) go to the funeral, only family at the internment. People who were at the internment go to the "funeral dinner" as we call it, after the funeral. Either in the church hall or at a restaurant.
posted by jabes at 6:33 PM on February 13, 2012

In the maritimes, you would at least go to the visitation. This is held, usually, in the evening. The funeral is generally open and it would not be inappropriate to attend, but funerals are often held during working hours and whether you take time off depends on how close you were to the deceased or their family. A reception after a funeral is open to all who attended the funeral.

I think the internment is generally a family, or might as well be family, only affair.

Just my experiences.
posted by sarae at 6:36 PM on February 13, 2012

I really think this varies so much from religion to religion (or substitute "tradition" if no religion is involved) and family to family that it's difficult to put a pin in it.

I was born near Chicago (where all of my dad's family was born and raised), raised mostly in central Indiana, spent a lot of time in Mississippi (where my mother and her family were born and raised) and have lived in Southern Ohio for 16 years. I was raised Lutheran, my mother was Southern Baptist, and my father was raised Methodist.

In the funerals I've been to in the North (Lutheran and Methodist; I've been to one Catholic funeral and it was pretty much the same, plus communion), the visitation (never called a "wake") was/is typically held the night before and the morning of the funeral, either at a funeral parlor or at the church. Anyone who knew the deceased or members of the deceased's family comes to the visitation to express condolences. The funeral is attended by family members, close friends of the deceased, and close friends of the family members, at the funeral home or at the church. The internment is attended by family and very close friends of the deceased/family. If the deceased is to be cremated, the luncheon is held immediately after the funeral. The luncheon can be at the family home, the funeral home (there's generally a hall set aside for this), the church, or a local restaurant. If the deceased is to be interred, the luncheon is held after that.

For the Southern funerals, the wake is held for two days prior to the funeral, in the morning and the evening, at the funeral parlor or the church. Everyone comes to that. The funeral is held at the church and pretty much everyone comes to that, too. The internment is at the cemetery and is for family only, all ages. The children are each given a flower to place on the casket. The luncheon is held after the internment at the church, AND pretty much everyone from the church and the community drops off food at the family's house for the days to come. I really love that part.
posted by cooker girl at 6:39 PM on February 13, 2012

Southern hemisphere chiming in here, FWIW (been to a lot of funerals, though). 'Visitations' or 'viewings' are pretty much never held here. Funerals are usually held either in a church or a chapel attached to a funeral home. Depending on the size they are likely to be, a wake is held at someone's home or a public venue. It's not usual (in my experience) for any but family and exceptionally close friends to attend any internment (but not unheard of, either). The wake commences after the internment (if there is one) when those attending have had time to gather themselves together and turn up. I've never heard of any restrictions or protocol around who can attend either the funeral or the wake - some people are uncomfortable with attending a funeral for various reasons, some are uncomfortable with what amounts to a semi-social affair that is a wake. People should attend whatever part of the process that they are comfortable with and that helps them deal with the situation the best. Information is usually sent out that gives a clue as to the wishes of the family - things like 'friends are invited to join the family at [venue] following the service'.

The way it seems to me is that the funerals are for mourning the passing of a person and wakes are for celebrating their life. in pretty much every funeral I've been to (most of which involve people who died young or young-ish), wakes go on for many hours (often into the early am), involve a lot of reminiscing, funny stories about or involving the deceased and enormous amounts of unhealthy food and alcohol.

Funerals and the events that surround them are for the benefit of the living. Unless the announcement provides specific details about who should attend what, you should attend whichever portion gives you comfort.
posted by dg at 7:27 PM on February 13, 2012

I'm from South Texas.

Usually, most people went to the wake, but it was usually a rosary instead. There might be some story-telling, but it was basically a complete Catholic rosary.

Very few people went to the funeral. Family only.
posted by SNWidget at 7:37 PM on February 13, 2012

Jewish, California. Funeral is open to all. There is no viewing, it is closed-casket entirely. Then there is the internment, which is just for close family. Then, you go back to the house, which is for family and friends.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:43 PM on February 13, 2012

This is interesting to me as a native Californian who has been living in New England for about eight years. I was raised in an environment where regardless of religious background, most of the funeral ceremonies were either in a church and fairly formal, or there was an informal "celebration of life" type event where family and friends gathered in a non-church location to share memories of the deceased. However, until moving east I had never attended a wake. This is definitely geographic/familial as I also didn't know any Catholic families.

Since living here, I have attended several wakes but only one wake plus funeral. My understanding as an outsider learning the ropes is that the wake allows the opportunity to express your condolences to the family and share feelings face-to-face whereas the funeral is definitely intended for those who knew the deceased or who have particularly strong religious beliefs.
posted by DuckGirl at 8:37 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also Jewish Californian:

My paternal grandparents' funerals/internments were held at Hillside Memorial Park, which has an on site synagogue. We went to my uncle's afterwards for refreshments.Their unveilings were a year later.

The Neptune Society handled the cremations of my maternal grandmother and her second husband. I was not present for these, nor for the one of my mother's father; I don't know if he had a religious ceremony.

The first housekeeper who worked for my family was from Texas; her funeral was held at the church where her husband was a pastor. I did not attend the internment.

The boy in my year at Bradford who killed himself was raised Catholic. His parents had a funeral and internment for him in Bradford, which all of his college friends attended. As far as I know they did not have a wake. They later moved him to a cemetery in southern CA.
posted by brujita at 9:02 PM on February 13, 2012

Jewish, Chicago suburbs. Jewish funerals here are pretty much as insectosaurus describes:

Funeral is open to all. There is no viewing, it is closed-casket entirely. Then there is the interment, which is just for close family. Then, you go back to the house, which is for family and friends.

There are a couple differences, though. Although the funeral is entirely closed-casket, the immediate family has the option to view the deceased before the funeral. (Usually this happens about an hour or so before the funeral is to begin). Family and close friends come to the interment - usually anyone who's come to the funeral from out of town will come to the interment as well. Generally, the funeral will take place at a funeral home or synagogue, then there will be a procession to the cemetery for the interment. Occasionally, the funeral will be a graveside service with the interment done immediately afterward - those are generally much smaller, close family only.
Also, there is a short service that takes place in the evening at the shiva house. Unveiling is done a year later - that's generally close family.

Non-Jewish funerals: Wake/viewing is held at a funeral home, typically the evening before the funeral. This is open to all. Sometimes there is a short service held during the wake, but not always. Funeral is held at the funeral home or at a church, usually during the day. I've never been to a non-Jewish funeral but I have been to several wakes.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:03 AM on February 14, 2012

Chicago Catholic here: echoing the others from the area. Visitation one day, funeral the next. We tend to call the visitation the "wake", but in the obituary it is always referred to as the visitation.

Everyone with any connection to the deceased or the bereaved goes to the wake/visitation to pay respects to the bereaved. It seems to me to be a formalized version of stopping by the house. (Since funeral homes are just large, rented living rooms.) It is usually something like 3-9pm at the funeral home, and the family usually stays the whole time to receive visitors. It follows no real structure, except that it begins and ends with a prayer for any family who are there. The rest of the time is just people streaming in to greet, commiserate, console and leave. There will be the flower arrangements and many times photo albums (or, like the last one I attended, multi-media kiosks of photos and videos). Following this is when any drunken revelry might occur at a local watering hole or family home.

(It occurs to me that my grandma died 30 years ago today. Man, was I one freaked out 6 year old when busloads of her students kept appearing at the wake, and old ladies kept pinching my cheeks.)

The next morning, close family and friends go to the funeral home for a final viewing and small prayer service. They then proceed to the church, where other friends, family and community members will be waiting, and the funeral is held. Then the close friends and family proceed to the cemetery where yet another prayer service is held. This is either graveside, or in a chapel if burial or cremation will happen later. These people are then invited to a luncheon. Usually at one of the local funeral-luncheon restaurants where mostaccioli, roast beef and fried chicken is served.

The less religious or less expensive version would omit the processions and just have a small prayer service at the funeral home the day after the visitation. The smallest affair is a one-day thing, where there is no visitation the day before, just an hour or so of "free time" prior to the funeral.

So, as far as I've ever known, the minimum is to appear at the wake. One would go only to the wake if, for example, you had never met the deceased and were passably close with one of the bereaved. Coworkers' parents, friend's extended family, etc. You are basically not mourning/bereaved in any way, and simply want to pay respects to someone else who is.

The next minimum would be wake and church. This would be for closer friends and extended family. You might also attend the church service if you couldn't make the wake. But maybe not, since there is no time for chatting and consolation.

The maximum is going to everything, and that is basically for family and friends-of-the-family friends.
posted by gjc at 6:11 AM on February 14, 2012

Catholic, midwest. Visitation at funeral home in the evenings for people who can't get off work to go to the funeral; funeral during the day; followed by a luncheon; sometimes followed by a "wake" also known as a party - usually at someone's home or bar.

You can go to any or all of them depending on your schedule, but it is generally considered that you don't go to the party unless you've been to at least one other thing, unless the family knows why that is happening. Also, the luncheon tends to be only for people who went to the funeral.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:34 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

From Michigan - a teacher from HS just passed and almost everyone that I know that knew him was going to the wake, but not the funeral. Close students went to the funeral, too.

Family - funeral and wake. Close friends, funeral and wake.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:55 AM on February 14, 2012

Wait, there seems to be some mixing of wakes and visitations/viewings.
I'm in mid Atlantic.
Around here
don't know well = viewings (usually 2 days/nights prior to funeral) The viewing is a chance to say last farewells/pay respects. The mood will vary with the family. But it can be a mix of dark and light. Around here, people are layed out in their coffin if it is an open coffin funeral. If it squicks you out, you don't have to go up front and see the coffin. Mainly talk to the family and sign the register. Lots of flowers and cards are delivered here as well as the funeral (if funeral is in a separate place) Some funerals take place in a building at the cemetary. Others take place in a church.

Know fairly well = viewing/funeral
Know very well (family and friends) = viewing/funeral/interment/wake, can do just one of viewing or interment.

I've never seen anyone show up for the party (wake) that didn't at least attend the funeral. With my large Irish/English family (w/in laws from large Italian/Greek families large Catholic contingent w/smattering of Mainline Protestant) it would be considered bad form to go to the wake w/o going to the funeral. This is also true of my smaller German mix Catholic/Lutheran family)
posted by Librarygeek at 9:07 AM on February 14, 2012

Southern Louisiana/East Texas Protestant who just went through this with my grandmother:

Everyone and their mama comes to the wake. It's almost a social event. You'll see people you've never met that you're related to, and people that the last time you saw them, you were young enough that you don't remember. It's usually the evening before.

The funeral itself is usually the same crowd plus the fringe acquaintances.

Internment is usually the family and close friends. There is often food for the internment crowd at the church afterwards.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 7:13 PM on February 14, 2012

Although I have had several deaths (mostly family) happen, I've been to two viewings/funerals.

Catholic, San Antonio, co-worker's mother: co-workers were invited to the viewing (open casket) which was also a rosary. It was held at the funeral parlor. I don't know who went to the funeral/internment or where they were held.

Anglican, Ontario Canada, father-in-law: he was cremated, two viewings (one the day before the funeral, one just before the funeral, no urn), funeral (urn at the front of the chapel). It was held at the funeral parlor. No internment of the urn (bro-in-law has them).
posted by deborah at 8:30 PM on February 19, 2012

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