If you have never attended a wake before but will be doing so shortly, you may feel a bit nervous. It's important to remember that everyone always feels a bit uncomfortable at these events. You may not be sure what to say to the family of the deceased; nothing will bring back their loved one. However, it is helpful to know the basic etiquette involved with attending a wake so that you don't accidentally do anything to upset the family or call attention to yourself. Adhere to these dos and don'ts, and you'll make it through.
Do: Wear proper attire.
Up until the last decade, it was considered proper to always wear black to a wake or funeral. While black is still your safest choice, fashion etiquette is changing, and it is now considered appropriate to wear other dark neutrals. You still need to dress respectfully. If you don't want to wear black, opt for deep gray, navy, or brown -- not magenta or turquoise. Dark patterns are also appropriate. Steer clear of denim and anything with words on it.
If you wear jewelry to the wake, make sure it's understated and simple. Steer clear of big statement pieces and opt for simple stud earrings or a pearl necklace.
Don't: Bring out your cell phone.
Using your cell phone in public places has become more and more acceptable. But while it's now completely acceptable to pull out your phone in the grocery store or at a concert, it's still considered disrespectful to do so at the funeral home. Leave your phone in the car if you think you may be tempted to reach for it.
Do: Give your condolences to the family.
You don't have to linger and chat for hours if you don't want to. But what you do need to do at the wake is stand in line to give your condolences to the family of the deceased. It is considered rude to attend a wake and not participate in this formality. You don't have to say anything profound or unique. Simply give them a hug (or shake their hand if you're not that close), and say "I'm so sorry for your loss." They are probably feeling quite overwhelmed and tired, so they won't be judging anything you say too harshly. Leave it short and simple so they can move on to the next person in line.
Don't: Feel as though you have to go up to the body.
At an open-casket wake, it's traditional to stand near the body and say your goodbyes -- or perhaps even a prayer. However, if this makes you feel uncomfortable, there is no need for you to participate. You won't be the only one who doesn't participate in this practice, and nobody will be paying attention to who does and does not kneel beside the body.
Do: Sign the guest book.
Either when you first arrive or right before you leave, remember to stand in line and sign the guest book. This gives the family of the deceased something to look back on later -- a list of all of the people who thought of their loved one and paid their last respects. It also serves as a record for the funeral home, helping them to track attendance and plan future events accordingly.
Don't: Feel as though you have to donate.
Sometimes there may be a basket for donations next to the guest book. The donations may go towards helping the family defray the funeral costs, or if the costs are fully covered by insurance, the donations may go to a charity of the deceased's choice. If you feel obliged to donate, feel free to do so. However, you should understand that this is by no means required of you.
If you have further questions and concerns about attending the wake, reach out to the funeral home hosting the event. For instance, a funeral home like Hitzeman Funeral Home, Ltd might be hosting the wake. They can discretely tell you what is and is not acceptable.