Do You Know the Difference Between a Funeral and a Viewing? Here are Some Important Distinctions

viewing or memorial service decisions

When someone passes away, there are many choices regarding the ceremonies that can be arranged in their honor.


What does a viewing entail? How does it differ from a funeral? Is a memorial service the same as a funeral? The options can seem overwhelming and confusing.


In this article, we’ll briefly explain each type of ceremony so you can decide what’s right for your family and your loved one.



A viewing also called a visitation or wake, is an unstructured gathering of friends and family where visitors pay their respects to departed and offer condolences to the family. This event takes place prior to the funeral, sometimes a day or two before, and sometimes on the same day.  It allows mourners the opportunity to share their grief, support one another, and say goodbye.

  • Viewings can last for just a few hours or they can be lengthy events that extend for several days, depending upon cultural and religious norms.
  • In the Hispanic culture, for instance, these social affairs often last for many hours. Traditional foods, such as pan dulce or pastelitos and coffee, are served. Prayers, candles, and flowers are important elements of the gathering.
  • If the departed is to be buried, the viewing occurs after they have been prepared by a mortician. If the departed was cremated, a cremation urn and/or photos may be present instead.
  • The dress for viewings is generally less formal than a funeral. For example, a collared shirt or sweater and slacks may be appropriate. However, this varies by family and culture, so if you are unsure about your attire it is best to ask a family member.
  • Viewings usually take place at the funeral home but they sometimes occur in the family’s home.
  • Unlike a funeral, guests are not expected to stay for the entire viewing. A viewing allows attendees to view the body of the departed and pay respects, remember their life, and express sympathies to the family.



The loss of a loved one is a very emotional time for most people. Funerals help the bereaved through their grief by acknowledging the passing in a formal ceremony. A funeral can also be used to celebrate the life of the person who passed on. For the family, the funeral ceremony is a key part of the grieving process. When they see how much their loved one meant to others, it is a great source of comfort and helps them find closure.

  • Funerals are formal gatherings in which people say goodbye to the departed. They are different from memorial services in that they also include a burial.
  • There are many different rituals, customs, aesthetic choices, and possibilities when it comes to funeral details. The rite of committal is particularly important in the Hispanic community.
  • Formal attire is generally preferred for most funerals, but they have become less reserved in recent years. It is better to be overdressed than underdressed at this very important ceremony, so ask a family member if you have questions about what to wear.


Memorial Services

Funerals and memorial services both enable survivors to honor and remember their loved one and begin adjusting to life after the loss. Families that select cremation, direct cremation, whole-body donation to a medical or research facility, or some other non-traditional form of disposition often choose to hold a memorial service instead of a funeral because the body is not present at this event. The memorial service can be held days, weeks, or even months after someone passes on. This flexibility is one of the many reasons why consumers are increasingly choosing cremation services for their departed loved ones, particularly when family members and friends live far away and need time to make travel arrangements.

  • Memorial services are intended to commemorate the life of the deceased but the body is not present as it is with funerals.
  • When cremation has been performed, a memorial service may include the dispersal of cremated remains in addition to a celebration of the life of the departed.
  • Most memorial services tend to be less formal than funerals but cultural norms vary widely. If you are unsure about the attire, ask a family member for guidance.


If you have questions about viewings, funerals, or memorial services, or if you wish to make arrangements for a loved one, our compassionate funeral directors are here to assist you. Please reach out to us anytime.


About Evan W. Smith Funeral Services: Since 2009, residents of Wilmington, Dover, and the surrounding Delaware community have relied on the caring staff at Evan W. Smith Funeral Services to help them through their darkest hours. Family-owned and operated, the company offers an array of elite funeral care services, including traditional funerals, cremations, memorials, pre-planning, and more. With decades of experience in caring for families from all cultural backgrounds and diverse walks of life, Evan W. Smith Funeral Services is committed to creating memorable, uplifting experiences that always exceed expectations. For more information, please visit

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