What is a wake?

Have you ever wondered what a wake is? A wake is a ceremony held after someone has died. It is typically a time for friends and family to gather together to grieve and share memories.

Wakes can be sombre or joyful occasions, depending on the person who has passed away. Regardless of the tone, a wake is always a special time to remember and honour a loved one.

Planning a wake doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as inviting people to your home for tea or coffee and light refreshments. It could also be more elaborate, with entertainment to help pay tribute to your loved one’s life. If you’re planning a wake and want to understand the process in more detail, we’ve put together this simple guide to wakes.

What is a wake?

A wake is a time for family and friends to come together upon the passing of a loved one. It can be a sombre affair, but it is also an opportunity for people to share stories, reflect on memories, and celebrate the life that was lived.

Wakes are a time to remember the person in all their complexity, how they touched our lives, and the unique mark they left on this world. Those who attend a wake can console each other knowing that although there is sadness in letting go of someone we love dearly, it is also possible to find solace in one another’s love during times of grief.

Why do we host wakes?

Attending a funeral can be a difficult experience, but it can also provide comfort. It is a time for friends and family to come together and remember the life of someone special.

It allows us to reminisce about the happy memories we shared and to provide each other with love and support during difficult times. There is something special when we all come together, unified by grief yet our hearts are filled with joy at the thought of the one we've lost.

A wake can be less formal than a funeral and therefore make it easier for individuals to express their emotions. Sometimes, more people are invited to the wake than to the funeral. This is often the case if the funeral is limited to close family and friends.

Opening up the wake to more people will ensure everyone has a chance to say goodbye, even if they weren’t close enough to the deceased to attend the funeral.

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Where is a wake held?

The decision of where to hold a wake for a loved one may vary in accordance with personal preference or religious affiliation. Generally, wakes can be held at the person's home, at a funeral home, or in a church.

In a home, the atmosphere offers an intimate setting that ties into the person's own life experiences and allows friends and family more freedom to express their grief in a more personal way. There can also be more flexibility with the decor and entertainment.

A funeral home provides more of an environment centred around respect and somberness, which is often comforting when dealing with such heartbreaking loss.

Finally, having wakes in churches provide an added sense of honour and reverence due to the spiritual importance of the act. Ultimately it comes down to individual taste and what will bring the most solace to those who are grieving their loss.

What should a wake include?

All around the world, celebrations and festivities bring people together. They're a great way to take a break from the everyday hustle and bustle. What do these gatherings usually have in common?

They usually involve food and drink, and sometimes music or other forms of entertainment – it all depends on what type of celebration you’re having. Whether it's an intimate gathering with a few friends or a large family reunion, adding food and drink is an essential component that helps create an enjoyable environment.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to add a bit of entertainment too – from live music to board games to group activities – celebrating with entertainment on top can make for great memories that will last for years.

For a more sombre occasion, you might choose to have readings or speeches by those closest to the deceased. You might include a slideshow of photographs and an opportunity to sit quietly with thoughts and memories.

Are there any rules for a wake?

There aren’t really any rules you need to follow for a wake. While a funeral might have more defined parts and a set script to follow, a wake of more free-flowing and flexible. This should give you the freedom to say goodbye to your loved one in a way that is meaningful for you.

Wakes are an important part of the grieving process and can range from simple and intimate gatherings to larger, more elaborate affairs. The way a wake is held usually comes down to what the deceased and their family desire or deem appropriate for remembering their loved one.

For some families, this means just having a few close friends over for coffee, snacks, and gentle conversation, whiles others will want to throw a big send-off party with lots of music, good food, and liveliness.

It’s always best to plan something a little more elaborate so you can honour your loved one in the best way possible – even if it feels a bit overwhelming at first. In either case, wakes are meaningful opportunities to celebrate life rather than just mourn death.

While you might be trapped in a cycle of grief that will make it difficult to plan a joyous occasion, others might experience their grief in a different way. With this in mind, it’s worth getting input from those around you when planning a wake.

Closing thoughts

A wake is a ceremony that is typically held after someone has died. It is an opportunity for friends and family to gather together to remember the person who has died and to support one another. Wakes can be simple or elaborate, depending on the wishes of the deceased and their family.