Etiquette at a wake

Updated April 17, 2017

A wake or visitation is a ceremony that takes place once someone passes away. Wakes used to take place at home's where people could come and share their respects and view the body of the deceased. Modern-day wakes often take place at funeral homes prior to funeral services, where friends and loved ones can come pay their respects. There are some customary etiquette rules associated with wakes.

Sign a Registry Book

When attending a wake, it is customary to sign a registry book. This is common courtesy to the family of the deceased to enable them to see who attended the wake and funeral. When signing the registry book, write legibly and include your full name and address in case the family would like to send a note of thanks.

What to Say to the Family

The purpose of the wake is to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of the deceased with the family members and friends. While attending the wake, it is important to approach the family or close friends and share in their sympathy. What you say isn't as important as your presence, but it is nice to let them know you care by sharing some nice words or memories about the deceased. A simple "I am very sorry for your loss" is also appropriate.

Viewing the Body

In modern wakes, the body is usually being shown in an open casket. If you attend the wake, it is assumed that you will view the body. Approach the casket, then stand or kneel for a moment before moving on. You never want to take too much time in front of the body if there is a line behind you waiting to pay their respects. If you do not believe you can view the body, or if you do not think you can keep your emotions under control, it is OK to not view the body. Remember, you are there for the family, and you do not want to cause a scene or add to the stress of the moment.

Be Respectful

Every wake will be different, with some having religious services or some celebrating the life of the deceased. The most important thing to remember when attending a wake is to be respectful to the deceased and to the grieving family. It is important to show up nicely dressed and share your grief with others over the loss of your friend or family member.

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About the Author

Sara Higley began writing in 2008 for the Michigan newspaper "The Pioneer," where she covered local high school and collegiate sports. She has also conducted extensive research on adolescent health and fitness for Leisure Intelligence Group. Sara has a Bachelor of Arts in sports management and communication from the University of Michigan.