Attending a Wake
Before the funeral
It's quite common for a wake (sometimes called a visitation) to be held during the two days prior to a funeral. The wake offers mourners a chance to say goodbye to their loved on, while gathering together for support. Sometimes the casket will be open and people can actually touch or speak directly to the body.
Most people appreciate the chance to attend a wake. It can provide a sense of closure or acceptance to those who have lost someone. A wake can be either public or private, so if you're organizing one you'll have to be clear about your expectations for family, friends and acquaintances.
Announcing the Wake
The details surrounding the visitation should be published in the obituary. You'll want to contact close family members personally to pass on the information regarding when and where the wake will be held.
If the wake is going to be a private affair for close family members only, then you should provide this information in the obituary as well. This will prevent people from contacting the funeral home to try and find out the details.
Attending the Wake
Like a funeral, a wake can be a traditional or unique affair. As personalized funerals and memorials become more popular, people are starting to use a wake as a time to celebrate the life of a loved one. Whether you're attending a wake steeped in custom or simply an unusual get-together, you're there to honor the deceased and offer support to the bereaved.
When attending a wake it's customary to sign a registry book. You should provide your full name and address so the family is able to contact you or send thanks if they wish.
If there's an open casket, most people will go to view the body. The immediate family of the deceased will usually be present at this moment, as they'll spend most of their time near the casket.
While it's not mandatory to view the body, it is often expected. A wake is a time to honor and recognize the deceased, and a final viewing of the body is seen as a sign of respect. However, if you feel that you won't be able to do this calmly, you should consider foregoing the custom - you don't want to cause undo stress for the bereaved.
Viewing the body is also an issue that should be approached with caution when children are present. Some will be frightened by the sight and won't be able to understand what's happening. On the other hand, others will feel comfortable with the process, so you shouldn't automatically assume that you'll need to keep kids away from the viewing.
Remember to treat the event with the same respect you would the funeral, and you'll find it easy to know what to do.