Funerals, Memorials and Wakes. What’s the difference?

Make sure you find the best way to say goodbye to a loved one with this guide to the key differences between end-of-life services and celebrations.
Funerals, Memorials and Wakes. What’s the difference?

When someone close to you passes away, arranging their farewell can be stressful and overwhelming, particularly when you are already grieving their loss. However, planning the service can be a helpful distraction, giving you a new focus even if it’s just for a short while. Understanding the different types of ceremonies available will empower you to make the best choices when it comes to remembering their life.

There are three main types of farewell services and whilst they are all related to end of life, they are all slightly different. They are:

  • funerals
  • memorials
  • wakes

To help you decide which option is right for you, we have outlined the key differences between each one and it might be the best way to say goodbye to your loved one.

Funeral services

In Australia, funeral services are the most common way to farewell a loved one. A funeral is typically held in the days following death. Oftentimes the service includes the person’s burial or the cremation, depending on what they or their family chooses.

Funerals tend to be held at a church, crematorium or at a funeral home. But they can also be held in any location that is significant to those involved in the planning, as long as funerals are allowed to be held there.

At most funerals the person's body is present, in either a closed casket or an open casket. Among other things, when deciding whether you’d like the casket to be open or closed, you may need to consider how long it has been since the person’s passing and whether you have the budget to prepare them for an open casket. Often preparing the deceased for an open casket can attract additional fees.

A core part of a funeral is the eulogies that close friends and family members will typically give about the deceased. Hearing about the life of the deceased, and listening to stories of memories shared with those left behind can be cathartic for everyone attending the service. 

It’s common for a funeral to also include religious prayers, poems or readings, quotes and songs. Really, anything that has meaning to those left behind or that is a reflection of the deceased’s life can be included in the ceremony.

Memorial services

Memorials are similar to funerals, however the deceased's body is not usually present. This is because memorial services typically occur after the burial or the cremation.  As such, they can take place in the weeks or even months after a person passes.

Without the presence of a body, it’s common for a large portrait to be displayed in order to give the memorial a focal point. If a person has been cremated, their ashes might also be displayed in a decorative urn.

In terms of cost, memorials are usually more affordable funerals. This is because you don’t need to worry about the added expenses associated with storing the deceased in a mortuary facility, arranging for them to be transported to and from the service or preparing them for an open casket. You might be surprised by how quickly these types of fees can add up. Also, you won’t be forced to make choices quickly and under pressure. You might choose to bank the savings or it might mean you can invite more people to the service.  

Planning a memorial service removes the sense of urgency and means you won’t feel pressured into spending thousands of dollars on elements you don’t really want or need. Instead, you will have time to do your research and to make informed decisions. It also allows you to adequately prepare things just the way you want them in order to celebrate the life of your loved one.


What a wake looks like can vary depending on where you live or the culture of the deceased and their family.

In times gone by a wake was held in the home of someone who had just passed away. Family and friends would watch over their body and recite prayers for them the night before their final disposition. A wake provided an opportunity to say their final farewells to the deceased.

These days, a wake is usually a far more relaxed affair with food and drink served to guests. Whilst it might be held in the home of the deceased, it’s just as likely to be held in a church hall or another type of event space, or outdoors if weather permits.

A wake usually takes place immediately after a funeral or memorial service and provides an opportunity for friends and family to gather, to grieve together and to share memories of the deceased. A wake often includes more of a celebration of the person's life. This may be presented in videos, photos to music or simply sharing stories of the loved one lost.

Wrap Up

There are no rules when it comes to arranging a final farewell. Taking the time to think about the type of service you’d like will allow you to share your thoughts with those around you, leaving them with less decisions to make when the time comes. In order to avoid any confusion, it's also a good idea to note your final wishes in your legal Will. If you are organising a service for someone in your life who has passed away, then be sure to consider your options as well as what they would have wanted for their service too.

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