When the time comes to plan a funeral for a loved one, the choices and decisions can feel overwhelming, especially as you’re already grieving a loss. By not understanding the differences between each kind of service or ceremony, you may feel rushed into a decision that doesn’t truly honour the deceased and their life.

This article explores the differences between funerals, memorials, wakes, and other ceremonies surrounding end of life, so you can make the best decision on how to say goodbye to your loved one. 

What is a funeral?

A funeral is a ceremony or service held shortly after a person's death, usually including the person's burial or cremation. These ceremonies can take place at a church, funeral home, or another significant location. A typical funeral ceremony will have the body present, and it is up to the family whether they decide to have an open or closed casket.

Often you will hear eulogies shared by close family and friends, telling stories of the deceased’s life. You may also hear prayers, quotes or poems that were important to the deceased.

What is a memorial?

A memorial service is similar to a funeral in many ways, however the key difference is that the body of the deceased is not present, as a memorial takes place after burial or cremation. In place of the body, you may see a portrait of the deceased or an urn with their ashes is the focal point. 

Memorials are considered a more affordable option than traditional funerals due to the lack of body present. For a funeral, depending on the funeral director or your personal preferences, you’ll need a hearse, driver and at least a couple of staff present on the day, which can add to the cost.

Memorials are also becoming more popular as they allow more time to plan a thoughtful goodbye, rather than rushing into an emotionally fueled decision where you can end up spending thousands more dollars than you’re comfortable with.

What is a wake?

A wake is a watch or vigil held beside the body of someone who has died, sometimes accompanied by ritual observances. Traditionally, wakes would take place within the deceased or family of the deceased’s home with the body present, however modern wakes are moving away from this practice and can be held in any location, often a function space.

Wakes are much more informal than a funeral, although can be combined with a more traditional service first, then heading over to the burial or heading straight to the wake. Wakes are often more of a celebration of life, where stories, images and videos can be shared and people can gather over food and drinks. With wakes being more commonly held away from the home and in function spaces, often the body is not present.

Other funeral options

These other options may occur within a funeral or held as a separate service. 

  • Burial - watching the casket get buried. People may want to say a few final words and throw flowers into the grave before burial. Sometimes the funeral ceremony can happen at the cemetery with the burial, or at a location prior to burial.
  • Viewing - you may choose to get the deceased embalmed so a viewing can be held. This is the last chance to see the deceased in person, which some people prefer as a way to say goodbye. A viewing can be held at the end of a funeral service.
  • Scattering ceremony - gathering at a place where the ashes will be scattered. Some locations could be somewhere near the ocean, at a cemetery, or in a location that had special significance to the deceased.

What’s the right choice for me?

Often with funerals, memorials and wakes, there is no set definition and each service may include parts of each other. The right choice is what would be the truest reflection of how the deceased lived their life - for example, you wouldn’t want to plan a religious funeral for an atheist.

If you decide to organise a prepaid funeral for yourself, you have the freedom to choose how you would like your funeral or memorial to happen. Making the choice is deeply personal. If you are a religious person, you may want a traditional funeral in a church or other place of worship. If you are more relaxed and want a celebration of your life, you may opt to organise an informal memorial and request everyone to wear bright colours rather than the traditional black. 

If you decide that cremation is right for you, Bare is here to help. Preplan your funeral with us and we’ll get everything sorted, with the option to include a celebrant to help organise a memorial. You can also write your funeral wishes with us so you can indicate exactly what you want to your loved ones, meaning they’re not stuck making any difficult decisions. 

To get a quote for a prepaid funeral plan, visit our prepaid page here or call our Prepaid Concierge team on 1800 202 901.