What Is a Funeral?

A funeral service, sometimes called a memorial service or a celebration of life, is a beautiful way to acknowledge, celebrate and honour the life of a loved one who has passed away. A funeral can bring comfort and peace to those who mourn and bring people together to share in the sorrow of loss and the joy of having known someone.

There are many different ways to celebrate a life, and each can be tailored specifically to the individual being honoured, as well as their family. If a loved one has passed, you may have questions as to what kind of service to have. You may want to understand the difference between a traditional funeral and a memorial service. Or, you may want to pre-arrange your own service to ease the burden for your loved ones and to help make sure it reflects your unique life.

What are the types of funerals?

Maybe you aren’t sure what kind of funeral service you want to have, whether for you or a loved one. Services may include traditional funerals, wakes, visitations, memorial services and celebrations of life. Keep in mind that many people choose to include more than one of these events when remembering their loved one. It’s all about honouring the person through a unique service that fits their personality as well as what was important to them.

Floral arrangement in a vase on top of a table inside a funeral home.

Traditional funeral

A traditional funeral is often presided over by an officiant of a church or a director of a funeral chapel. Traditional funerals tend to be formal in mood and are traditional in their program. Typically they include hymns or traditional songs, eulogies and readings—from poems and verses to favourite quotes.

Funerals may be held at a funeral home or at a religious place, such as a church or temple. Often there is an open casket. However, funerals may be held with closed caskets or with an urn present, if cremation was chosen.

Memorial service

A funeral service without a casket or urn present is called a memorial service. It is similar to a traditional funeral, and honours the life of a loved one and can take place months or even a year after someone has passed away.


The atmosphere at a wake is typically less formal than at a traditional funeral. A wake may occur at a home or at a funeral chapel and can happen either in the days before or in place of a traditional funeral. Often, wakes are held in an “open house” format, allowing people to come and go within certain time frames, casually visiting, relaying memories and comforting one another. There may be food served and music played. The casket or urn may or may not be present.


A visitation (sometimes also called a viewing) is an opportunity for the family of a loved one to receive visitors and spend some time talking with and being comforted by friends. This is also a time to pay respects to a loved one and gives a sense of closure to both family and friends. Visitations often have an open casket. Many times, a visitation period occurs the day before a funeral and again immediately preceding a funeral service.

Celebration of life service

“Celebration of life” is a term used to describe a personalized funeral or memorial service, which is oftentimes more celebratory in nature than it is somber and formal. Celebration of life services include personal touches celebrating the unique aspects and personality of the individual being honoured. These services can be as traditional or non-traditional as a family desires, from a funeral service with special photos displayed to a beachside barbecue where friends and family gather in a place loved by the person being celebrated.

How do I plan a funeral?

Remember, you can combine different types of services. For example, families may choose a wake or visitation to receive friends and the community to offer condolences, then a more intimate gathering of close friends and family to celebrate their loved one's life in a more unique way—a celebration of life.

It’s about choosing a service, or combination of services, that fits your loved one’s wishes. Once you have settled on a style for the funeral you are planning, you may be wondering how to organize and execute the service.

Dignity Memorial® professionals are here to help. We start by compassionately asking about your loved one—their passions, interests and personality. Then, we offer a helping hand to plan the details. It’s a stressful and difficult time, and it is our promise to celebrate each life like no other. With a checklist to organize the details of the service along with other helpful resources, we can walk you through the process of planning a fitting tribute.

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Plan a beautiful, personal remembrance

Each life is like no other. Particular passions, milestone moments and legacies created weave together to tell a story that is completely unique. The Insider’s Guide to Funeral & Cremation Planning will walk you through inspirational ideas and the simple steps to planning an unforgettable memorial of a loved one’s life—or your own when you plan in advance. Get started today.

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