What is a Wake and Wake Etiquette for Guests?

When someone moves on from this ephemeral world, it’s common for families to host a wake. In general, a wake is referred to as a memorial event or social gathering which is held before a funeral with the body present. 

In the olden tradition, a wake is usually held at the deceased person’s home. The body receives preservation treatments while the funeral services team sets up the place for viewing. But in these modern times, more and more families choose to hold the wake at a funeral home or an alternative location like a church.

A wake is one of the ceremonies that a family holds after a loved one has passed away for closure. Note that some families who opt for cremation also hold a wake, so that family and friends can view the body and say their final farewells. A wake is a ceremony or ritual that many cultures around the world practice. Many hold a wake to bring together the people–family and friends to celebrate the life of the deceased person. If you’re attending a wake, there are important considerations to keep in mind. 


Pay Attention to the Dress Code

If the wake is held at a funeral home, it’s best to dress in clothes that you would wear to church or a business meeting. However, bear in mind that the preferred colors for a wake are dark and muted colors. Some cultures have preferences such as the Chinese wearing white mourning clothes or the Thai people associating purple with sorrow. 

And even if you’re attending a wake held at a private home, it would be respectful and appropriate to stick to neutral, muted colors and avoid clothing with flashy prints and patterns. Also be mindful of the cut of the clothing, by veering away from anything too tight or anything that exposes too much skin. After all, you want the eyes on the deceased and not on you. 


Be Mindful of What You Say

When you are given a chance to talk to the family of the deceased person, give sincere and brief condolences. You could say you are sorry for their loss and also talk about the good works that the deceased did to help the community and share humorous anecdotes about the person. 

Remember, short, heartfelt messages are preferred over random rambling. So it would be prudent to prepare something to say beforehand. And even if the topic of death makes you uncomfortable, it’s still important to address it in a forthright but tactful manner. Offer kind words of support that would pave the way for healing for those in mourning. 


Bring An Appropriate Gift

It is traditional to bring funeral flower arrangements if the wake is held at a private residence. If it is held at a funeral home, you may send wreaths or other graveside arrangements which are usually more elaborate.

Other than flowers, a practical gift includes gifts like food such as baked goods, casseroles, sandwiches, fruits, and many more that they can share with their guests. Just pay attention to potential food allergies and bring neutral food without peanuts. 

In some religions, it is also acceptable to bring mass cards for sympathy or other religious relics that align with their faith to offer comfort. If you’re close to the deceased and the family, you will know their religious inclinations. If you’re not sure, you can always confirm with the immediate family member. And since funerals are always expensive from costly burial plots to caskets, financial aid with a card is highly appreciated. 


Who Can Attend The Wake

Unless stated in the obituary or other notice, wakes usually follow similar rules when it comes to visitations. If you find out about a wake through an online announcement, it can be assumed that it is open for anyone who wants to visit and say their final farewells or offer support to the bereaved. Whether you are a coworker, a member of the community, or a casual acquaintance, you should be welcomed and allowed to stop in. 

However, wakes held at a private home are a different matter. Usually, details about these more private ceremonies are spread within the family or friend circle. If you see a Facebook post about a wake but does not mention the address, it is best to wait for a direct invitation. After all, you don’t want to infringe on the privacy of the family. 


How Long You Should Stay

How long you should stay at a wake will depend on your relationship with the family of the deceased person. When you want to go to a wake, you can come at any time during the hours listed. The closer you are to the family of the deceased person, the more comfortable you would be to stay longer. 

If you are not very close to the family, you can make a brief appearance for 15 to 30 minutes. The most important thing here is you stopped by to condole with the family and honor the deceased for the last time. The intention always matters above all else. 


Engaging with the Body of the Deceased

You can pay your respects to the deceased by saying a silent prayer. You can bid your goodbye as well directly in front of the casket or simply observe from a distance. The choice of whether to go near the body rests on your preferences. 


What You Should Not Do

When attending a wake, veer away from the following: 

  1. Do not put any burden on the family of the deceased. Be specific when offering help so they can give a concrete reply. 
  2. Do not post pictures or videos from the wake unless the family asks and encourages you to post.
  3. Do not be intimidated by religious traditions you are not familiar with. You’re not required to follow so just stay quiet and respectful while the traditions are being observed.