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Planning a Wake

If you are thinking about planning a wake, here are some of the things you might wish to consider:

A wake is simply a gathering of people to mourn the passing of a loved one, either before or after the funeral.  It is generally assumed that the word ‘wake’ comes from the days when individuals held a vigil at the bedside of the departed, watching over the body around the clock until the time of burial, and therefore being ‘awake’ was a necessity. 

When is the right time to have a wake?

In the UK a wake is normally held after the funeral and can also be called a funeral reception.  However, cultural norms are going to dictate when a wake happens, and you can always break with those norms if a particular style of event appeals.  For example, in the USA and Canada it is more normal to have a viewing of the body at a wake and it therefore takes place before the funeral.  It is also becoming increasingly popular to host a Celebration of Life event up to a year after a person has died, providing close family with breathing space and time to prepare. 

Where are wakes held?

As long as you have permission from the owner and are prepared to pay and arrange all the details of the wake, you can have it where you like.  Popular venues tend to be church halls, sports clubs, pubs and hotels.  You can also choose to host a wake in your home which will obviously reduce the cost of the event and might feel more personal.

Who usually comes to a wake?

You can have a public or private wake, the choice is yours.  Sometimes people who were unable to attend the funeral itself, might be able to attend a wake so they offer a second opportunity for mourners to pay their respects.  They are also often seen as a chance for children to take part in funeral rites if they have not attended the funeral itself.  If private, you will need to send invitations or another form of communication with details of the wake.  If you’re happy to have a public wake where anyone who knew the departed and wishes to pay their respects can attend, then you can publish a public notice in a local paper.

What happens at a wake?

Wakes tend to be less sombre affairs than funerals, although the mood of a wake will follow cultural or religious norms.  Generally, the family of the deceased are available for attendees to meet on arrival and offer their condolences.  Music is often provided to create the right mood and it is becoming increasingly popular to supply some other form of entertainment such as a slide show of the person’s life, to help everyone celebrate it and feel part of the occasion.  Venues can also be decorated with flowers and photos of the deceased.  In some cultures, especially in the USA, it is common for an open coffin to be present at a wake, offering attendees the opportunity to see and say goodbye to their friend or loved one.  Read our blog on open caskets here if you are considering this.

What financial costs should I consider?

Food and drinks are usually provided at a wake so you will have to think about that cost as well as the hiring of a venue, if appropriate.  Many people hire caterers to do this, to avoid the extra burden of planning a wake at an already stressful time.  If held at home you can also keep costs to a minimum by asking friends and family to bring a plate of food.

Finally, remember you are under no obligation to organise a wake or reception if you do not wish to.  You might prefer to have a quiet family meal at a restaurant or organise another type of event, such as a tree planting, at a later date.