In many cultures, a wake is a time set aside before the funeral service for friends and family to gather to offer condolences and support. Originally, the wake was held in the home of the immediate family of the deceased. Traditionally, during a wake or viewing, the body is on display, with an open casket unless the circumstances of the death would prohibit it. In the United States and Canada, the wake is synonymous with a viewing or visitation.

Technically, at a visitation, the body is not necessarily present. If the body is there, it would usually be with a closed casket. Visitations can take place at any time, before or after the funeral. Both wakes or visitations can be formal or informal events. Today the word “visitation” is often used as an umbrella term to include a wake, viewing or visitation.

Cultures and religions have strict traditions or laws concerning viewings, visitations and wakes. Some forbid the tradition, while others require it. If you are wanting the religious influence upon the time of remembrance and are unsure of the correct practice, consult a representative of the religion or denomination of your choice.

Here are some items that need to be considered when planning a wake. Some of the items may be included in the purchase price of services at a funeral home. This Essential for “Planning a Wake” corresponds with the checklist under the same title. The checklist should be kept close at hand during the days surrounding the funeral.

Inform friends and family of the passing of the loved one. This is a task that can be delegated to more distant family members or close friends. Often this task is too emotional for the immediate family.

Let the funeral home know when you wish to have the wake. Today visitations are typically the evening before and an hour before the funeral. Wakes used to be several days, lasting several hours each day. Today three or four hours the evening before is much more common.

Display a guest book for people to sign. Have someone prepared to be with the guest book and greet individuals as they arrive. Though most of the immediate family will greet most of the guests around the casket area, the hectic nature and stress of the event will keep them from remembering many details of the event. The guest book will be meaningful to the family for years to come.

Gather pictures of the deceased for display. Some pictures may be set in frames or in a collage.

Others may be prepared in a multi-media program. Many funeral homes will prepare a slide presentation of the pictures on a DVD that the family can keep after the funeral.

Bring mementos or other items of importance to the deceased and family. Sports enthusiasts often have memorabilia of important games or events. Political activists may have campaign material.

Plan on being present during the entire time of the wake to greet guests and support the immediate family. This can be one of the most meaningful gifts that you can give the family.

Provide beverages and light snacks for the family and close friends. If the wake is held away from the funeral home and in a less formal setting alcoholic beverages are often accepted. Religious venues and funeral homes typically do not support alcohol.