What Is a Funeral Wake? Important Information To Know

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For most of us, we’ll have to attend, a viewing, wake, or funeral at some point in our lives. It’s almost unavoidable. Although they can come more often than we’d like, they’re still infrequent enough, for most of us, that they can be a little confusing to know what's to be expected. 

Of course, as times are changing, customs shift, and each family is unique, we’re often left to wonder what attire we should wear, what to expect, and even what to bring. So, what is a funeral wake? Read on to find out everything you need to know what it comes to a funeral wake, do’s, don’ts’s, what to wear, what to expect, and what to bring.  

What Is A Funeral Wake?

The wake also referred to as the visitation by some, is typically scheduled for the day before the funeral service. Its ceremony is one for friends and family who would like to come, “pay their respects,” to the person who’s passed on. You’ll also find that during the ceremony, much of the immediate family may line up, giving visitors a chance to say their condolences as they view the deceased, show respect, and move on. 

In contrast, a funeral is often a ceremony, religious for many, that honors the life of those who’ve passed on. At a funeral, family, friends, and loved ones often gather to say their final goodbyes. For those involved in the church, the congregation may come together to provide community support and reflect on the life of the deceased while honoring those saddened by the loss. 

As you prepare to attend a wake or funeral, knowing what to expect can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that the day is sure to bring. Instead, focus on offering support to others and receiving the support you need. If you’re interested in finding ways to support those devastated by a loss, feel free to read this to find out how you can be of assistance to those in need. 

Etiquette Required For A Wake

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You may have thought about what proper etiquette would be when you received notice of an upcoming wake for which you were requested to attend. It's essential to think about precisely what is a funeral wake to help figure out what proper etiquette will be. 

Each visitation or wake you attend may vary slightly, depending on the funeral home, circumstances surrounding the death, and how the family wishes to proceed. Considering most wakes and visitations, here’s what you can expect, as a general rule of thumb. 

What To Expect At The Wake?

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The wake will more than likely take place at a funeral home and will be scheduled for the afternoon or evening before the funeral service. You may see the casket or urn placed for display in the room.

The casket may be open or closed, depending on the families’ wishes and customs, and may also have a kneeling bench place beside it. Typically, immediate family members such as the surviving spouse, children, and parents may line up at the casket or urn. 

For those who choose to, as they approach the casket or urn, they may take a knee at the provided bench in prayer, or just in thought to pay their respects and say final goodbyes. 

As you progress passed the urn or casket, you may express condolences to those in the receiving line, if you wish. As you make your way crossed the receiving line, you may move on and leave the wake, or mingle quietly with other friends and family until the conclusion of the wake. 

What’s Appropriate To Wear To A Wake?

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If you’ve ever attended a funeral or wake before, then you know the struggle of being unsure of the correct attire. After all, no one wants to show up and look out of place or inappropriately dressed. Of course, at these types of events, you should remember the etiquette we described above when we discussed what is a funeral wake versus a viewing, funeral, celebration of life, etc. This way, you remember your wardrobe is often seen as another way of paying your respects. 

While modern funerals, wakes, and celebrations of life may allow for more fashionable attire choices, you may choose to take the traditional route as well. Often, people wear more formal attire, choosing more subdued tones like black, navy, grey, and even neutral colors. You may think of the style as “business” attire. 

While women often wear dresses or a blouse with a skirt, it’s completely acceptable to wear slacks with a blouse as well. When attending a wake, you may resist wearing anything attention-grabbing, you’ll want to blend in more than stand out here, it’s respectful. 

As a man, most will opt for a suit and tie or a button-down, collared shirt with a tie for attending the wake. As well as women, men should choose subdued tones, and men should feel free to opt for dress pants and a button-down shirt, or even a sweater over a collared shirt. 

All should avoid bright colors, ostentatious looks, and anything too casual. Try to avoid wearing anything ill-fitting, denim, or t-shirts. Of course, there may come a time where you must attend a funeral or wake, and you’re just not able to make it in proper attire. 

Of course, if it comes down to improper clothing, you will not want to miss the occasion and last chance to show support, pay respects, and say goodbye. But, if it’s within reason, try to avoid a clothing mistake at a wake. 

What Should I Say To The Family?

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Knowing what to say to family members at a wake can be tough. You know your relationship with the person who’s passed best, as well your relationship with their family, so you should let those relationships guide what you might say. 

Feel free to share memories, offer condolences, and try to be supportive. Here are some things you should, and should not say. 

Things That Are Acceptable To Say

“Shirley Jones. I’m a long-time coworker of your daughter in law; I know that she is devastated by the loss of her husband. I am so very sorry.” 

Introducing yourself and introducing your connection is a wise way to go, it gives the person your speaking to information they need to receive you, and leaves nothing up for guesses. Offering a firm handshake or hug, as well as a sorrowful expression, is usually met with gratitude. 

“I’d love to share a memory with you if you have a moment…” 

Offering to share a memory with a loved one is an excellent choice because it allows the person to hear it if they want to, or to excuse themselves if needed before you begin. Offering a memory can be helpful to a surviving family member or friend as it helps share that person’s light and gives comfort. 

“Good Afternoon, my name is…. I volunteered with your daughter for many years. My deepest condolences.”

If many people are waiting to talk to the same person as you or you’re just not comfortable with much else, it’s perfectly acceptable to give a quick introduction of who you are, how you knew the person who’s passed, and offer a quick word of sympathy. 

Things That Are Not Acceptable To Say 

“Please call me if you need anything.” 

Everyone grieves differently, but most people are not going to reach out and call all or even any of the people who say, “Call me.” Instead, let this person know you’ll call them to check on them and see if they need anything. If you feel comfortable, let them know that you’ll understand if they aren’t up for taking your call, but that you’ll still check on them, just in case. 

“They’ve gone to a better place now.” or “They’re no longer in pain.” 

 Even though someone may have passed after a battle with an illness or injury, it’s never a good idea to say these things. No matter how real these things are, it’s painful to accept a passing; it’s better to offer simple words of sympathy like those mentioned above. 

“I know just how you feel.” 

Even though you may feel you’ve had an equally traumatic loss, it can sometimes be offensive to those grieving to hear this statement. However well-meaning, try keeping the focus on your sympathy instead of your understanding. 

Don’t forget; some people can’t come up with words during these times. It’s acceptable to give a firm handshake and nod, a hug and move on, as well as just a squeeze of the hand or shoulder to should your sympathy. 

How Long Should I Stay At The Wake?

How long those in attendance stay at a wake is usually a matter of personal choice. Some people may come for a quick goodbye, and some may remain for the entirety of the service. Any length of time in between so long as it’s well-meaning is acceptable. 

Who Should Attend The Wake?

Attending a wake will vary, considering your relationship to the family of the deceased as well as the ages of family members you bring with you. 

Generally speaking, if you had a close relationship with the deceased, it’s OK for you to attend. If you were directly invited, you’re welcome to participate in, but if you’re indirectly invited, it’s more than likely OK for you to pay your respects to the deceased as long as you have a reason to do so.  

Children may or may not be welcome, depending on their age and their relationship with the person who’s passed on, use your discretion here. But, do remember to prepare a child for what’s to be expected and have a plan for keeping your time short and respectful when bringing a child. 


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