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February 14, 2018 Beyond The Dash

What is a Funeral Wake?

A gathering, a viewing, and time to reflect on life

What is a Funeral Wake?
Wakes are a time for an outpouring of grief by loved ones, usually held the night before a funeral ceremony. (Shutterstock)

Whether the death is sudden or expected, there’s no denying the unbearable sadness of a loved one’s passing. It's a tragedy for which no one can truly prepare.

A wake is one of the ways that mourners can start the grieving process. It takes place before the funeral and is a time for friends and family of the deceased to gather and pay their final respects. It is a pre-funeral reception hosted in honor of the deceased person.

The origin of wakes

Wakes originate from Catholic traditions where mourners would stay awake throughout the night gathered together until the deceased was buried, in order to protect them from evil spirits. In the past, wakes were held in the home one or more days before the funeral. However, nowadays wakes are typically held the same day of the funeral in either the funeral home, social hall or house of worship.

What to expect at a wake

If this is one of the first wakes you’ll be attending, you may be confused and anxious about what to expect. Many expectations for a wake are similar to those for a funeral. To be respectful, make sure that you arrive on time. Arriving late can be seen as rude and disrespectful. You can find out the exact time by consulting the funeral home, if that’s where it’s to be held, or the host if the wake will be held at a family member’s house. 

When it comes to attire, ensure that your outfit is subdued. As at the funeral, during wakes mourners should be in plain outfits, usually of dark colors, so as not to draw attention to themselves and away from the deceased.

At the wake itself, there’s no one thing that you should expect. Wakes vary depending on religious customs or the wishes of the loved one who has passed. 


If the family chooses to have an open casket wake, the body of the deceased is usually available for viewing in the corner of the room. Those who wish to show their last respects by viewing the body may do so—however, this is optional. If you are uncomfortable viewing the body, don’t feel obligated. Your presence and heartfelt condolences at the wake is an adequate expression of respect. 

If the deceased was cremated, the family will usually put the urn on display surrounded by photographs of their deceased loved one, as well as flowers. The wake may also be closed casket, which means you will be asked to pay your respects simply by your presence.


While it’s very appropriate to send flowers to the family of the deceased following the wake, it’s not recommended to bring the flowers, or any other gifts, into the wake itself. If you would like to send your condolences to the family in the form of flowers, you should send them to the family home after the wake. 

Respect is key

The wake is a time when grief is at an all-time high. Above all, maintain a respectful demeanor, and let your presence lift the grieving family, rather than adding extra stress. Your presence during this tough time will bring comfort to the family when they need it the most. 

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