Death is a natural part of life- we are all going to experience it at some point. It’s not something that anyone looks forward to but it’s a reality that needs to be dealt with. The worst part is the unexpected, what you’re not prepared for. Sometimes death is predicted (old age or a disease) and other times it seems to come out of nowhere (such as a car accident). Whatever the situation is, we need to know how to handle ourselves. Death is already an uncomfortable and depressing subject to deal with and there is no reason to build up more anxiety because you don’t know what to say, how to act, or what to wear. There is nothing worse than not knowing how to act in a high stress situation, therefore this is something that needs to be talked about despite its depressing connotation.
This week I’m going to talk about wake etiquette (guess what’s coming next week). The wake is possibly the hardest part of the funeral process. My family chose to opt out of the dreaded process when my grandparents passed away. Wakes are uncomfortable and sometimes scary- especially the first time around. But we need to remember the purpose of a wake: to remember and honor the deceased. That’s not so scary, right? Here are a few general tips to help ease your nerves the next time you find yourself at a wake (which I hope is in the very far future):
*Dress appropriately. Wakes aren’t super formal but you still need to look presentable. Don’t wear anything that will call attention to you such as bright colors or anything flashy. Your clubbing attire or exercise clothes aren’t appropriate choices either. If you are comfortable wearing the outfit to work it’s most likely appropriate enough for a wake.
*Before you enter the room, sign the guestbook. It serves as a nice keepsake for the family afterwards and it helps them remember who came because they are very unlikely to remember less than half of the people they see that day.
*Try to keep your emotions in check. Of course, it’s totally appropriate to cry at wakes but try not to sob hysterically- it’s hard enough on family, friends, and guests already.
*While you are in line, talking to the family, or mingling with others afterwards- keep your voice down. Funeral parlors are a place for mourning and remembrance, not loud laughter or banter.
*If it’s open casket you should really try to view the body out of respect (and clearly the family wants you to). But if you absolutely can’t do it without losing your cool than it’s perfectly alright to skip over the viewing and go directly to the family.
*Once you get through the line and reach the deceased’s family, keep your conversation minimal. No matter how well you know the family, try to keep your conversation limited to your condolences and move on. Again, it is very unlikely for them to even remember what you said anyways.
*Mind the crowd. Don’t take too long going through the line and talking to the family. There are other people waiting behind you as well. Don’t draw out the process for the deceased’s family any longer than it has to be.
*If you know people at the wake, it’s appropriate to lightly mingle with them AFTER you paid your condolences. Your conversation should really stay limited to the deceased and their family because well, that’s why your there. If you feel the need to carry on an extended conversation with them go outside or tell them you will call them later.
*Remember that the wake isn’t about you (unless you are immediate family of the deceased). It’s not a social hour or reunion.
*Lastly, this may sound weird, but just be yourself. If you are close enough to the deceased to attend their wake then there is a pretty good chance that his/her family already knows your personality. Don’t over think anything too much, just the fact that you walked through that door to pay your respects is enough. And honestly, people aren’t watching your every move- they have more important things on their mind.
Again, I hope none of you ever have to put any of these guidelines into practice but the reality is that we probably all will. Despite your level of acceptance of reality, we all need to be prepared because unfortunately the hardest experiences in life require the most ‘lipstick confidence.’