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Planning a wake

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

A wake is a gathering of friends and family of the deceased, enabling them to come together to remember their loved one's life. Wakes are not so commonly held in religious buildings unless this was requested, or customary according to culture or religion.


Some people opt to hold a visitation instead, allowing people to say goodbye to the body of the deceased. This is still upheld by many within the Catholic tradition to view the body in the casket, either before the funeral or shortly after at the wake.


Some wakes might involve reading excerpts from religious texts, the sharing of poems, or speeches given by loved ones. The general atmosphere might be one of sorrow, or more so a celebration of life. It is a highly personalized ritual that is reflective of family customs, religious leanings, and the life and personality of the deceased.


How formal, or informal should a wake be?

As a general rule of thumb, the wake is more flexible and informal than a funeral. People can come and go as they please, unlike attending a funeral ceremony. However, it depends on the kind of person they were, whether they belonged to a religion that has a more rigid approach to wake rituals, or if their dying wish was for loved ones to have a big knees up in their honor. Keep in mind the wishes of the deceased as well as the people who will be attending if you’re the lead organiser.


Flowers and candles on a table with a funeral service taking place in the background

What’s your budget?

The average cost of a funeral in 2022 in the US is $7,848. After you’ve planned the funeral service, make sure you set enough money aside for the wake. If you choose to hold a wake at a friend’s or relative's house with a potluck approach to food and drink, then you might find yourself not having to pay a thing. Either way, be sure of the kind of wake you’re going to have so that you can budget accordingly.


1. Choose who to invite

The wake is likely to occur relatively soon after the person has passed away, such as the day of the funeral. You’ll need to make sure you choose who to invite thoughtfully and swiftly as well as consider all of the guests that your loved one would have wanted to be there — friends, family, partner/s, close colleagues, and anyone else within their circle they held dear. If some people were unable to attend the funeral, try and choose a date for the wake that they can make if the wake is being held on a separate day.


2. Book a venue / choose your location

Be sure to book the venue in advance and visit it prior to the wake if you are to have flowers arranged on the premises. Give yourself time to scope it out so it’s not too much of a rush. Whilst you can have the wake at the family home, or a close friend’s house, there is always the option of something more public such as the following:

  • A restaurant near the funeral (especially if the wake is on the same day as the funeral)

  • Community Centre

  • Church or relevant religious building

  • A sports club

  • A hotel lobby

  • Town hall


Old ornate building next to a lake and trees

3. Food and drink

There’s no obligation to have food and drink at a wake, but for the most part people will expect it, especially if the wake goes on for several hours. Some venues will offer food as part of a package deal so it might already be covered in your costs.


However, if you’re going with an external caterer make sure you know roughly how many people will be attending. You don’t want leftover food or an excessive amount that could go to waste. It can be fairly expensive to have a caterer prepare food and drink for a large group so shop around to make sure you stay in budget.

If people are bringing their own dish, be sure to bear in mind a budget for drinks, unless that is being seen to by your guests also.


4. Wake customs

Wake customs vary depending on things such as location and religion. For instance, Hindus have the wake before the funeral. Seeing as the funeral happens within 24 hours of death, the wake is organised very speedily. A garland of flowers is place around the person’s neck and holy basil is placed in the casket. Sandalwood is applied to the forehead of a man, whilst women have turmeric placed there instead.


Catholics also tend to have the wake before the funeral. According to Irish tradition, the day someone dies is their ‘third birthday’, birth being their first birthday, and baptism, the second. The third birthday therefore is a celebration of that person entering the kingdom of heaven. People gather in remembrance to pray, reflect, have food and drink, perhaps read poems or share anecdotes, or listen to music.


Some people prefer not to have live music at a wake, however you might want to hire musicians or have friends and family sing and perform, playing the deceased’s favourite songs, or music that belongs to some form of family tradition.

When organizing a wake it is important to reflect the beliefs of the deceased and have activities or run proceedings according to their wishes and traditions (if known).


A hand holding flower petals

5. Send out the invites

You might want to invite someone to the wake by speaking to them directly or through a card or letter. It depends on your situation and what works best. For those whose addresses you do not know or to get the message across as quickly as possible, sending a text or making a phone call is best. Either way, you want to make sure those that have been invited know all the important details.


red ribbon in a bow tie around a letter

It’s not easy to plan a wake whilst experiencing grief and the shock of losing a loved one. Reach out to others if you are struggling to see if they can lend a helping hand with the organizational duties.


Wake alternatives

The wake is just one way to pay respects to a loved one. You might consider doing something a little different. Perhaps they would rather have a ceremony surrounding an ash scattering service instead? At Aura Flights, we provide a unique space memorial perfect for explorers, those passionate about space, former aerospace industry workers, fans of sci-fi, and anyone that wants a special final journey through the skies to remember them by.


We offer an ash scattering in space service as well as the possibility of sending a ceremonial portion of ashes on a trip to space and back in your loved ones' honour. If this is something you are interested in for someone, or even yourself, get in touch today

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