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Following the passing of a loved one, some families choose to plan a wake prior to the funeral service. Here’s what you need to know.

The wake is optional

The wake is considered optional in American culture, and for every family who decides to hold a wake, another family chooses to forego this tradition. The next of kin typically makes the final decision based on the wishes of the deceased and the needs of the friends and family members in mourning. 

Every funeral wake is unique

Families and attendees often wonder what happens at a wake, and the answer is that there are no two wakes the same. For some families, the wake is hosted in true Irish tradition: it’s a celebration of life accompanied by a feast of both food and alcoholic beverages. For others, the wake is a quiet religious ceremony, dedicated to spending time with the body and offering up prayer and thanksgiving.

You decide when and how long

One of the most common questions asked is, “How long is a wake?” The length of the wake depends on cultural customs and personal preferences. A quiet, religious affair may last a few hours while a celebration of life might last as long as three days. For families that aren’t aware of any deeply-rooted traditions, the wake is generally scheduled either immediately preceding or a few days before the funeral for just a few hours. 

The wake and the funeral are different

There is more than one difference between wake and funeral. The wake is typically reserved for intimate friends and family, while the funeral is open to all who knew and cared about the deceased. The casket is often open for the wake when possible, while it may be closed during the funeral service. The culture of the wake is different, too, as the focus is on celebration rather than mourning.

Wake etiquette is relatively easy

Wake etiquette is relatively straightforward: 

  • sign the guestbook and include your full mailing address for convenience
  • bring a card; gifts aren’t necessary
  • dress appropriately, avoiding clothes that are too flamboyant or revealing
  • leave when it feels appropriate; it’s acceptable to stay for as little as 15-20 minutes or for the entirety of the wake

For help with the planning process, contact the compassionate team at Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery in Mesa. We’re here when you need us.