I have attended my fair share of wakes recently and, quite frankly, I’m not very good at it. I speak to people for a living but for this type of somber gathering, the awkwardness never seems to leave. To be fair, I’m sure that most people don’t enjoy attending wakes. This would be especially true of the one person lying prone in front, wearing a suit, hands folded on top of each other, and not breathing.

Many have asked how long are you supposed to stay at these things?  That’s a tough one. Clearly, there are many variables at play here: How many people are in attendance? How well did you know the deceased and, of course,  are they serving cake? 

I was wondering if there was anything such as ‘wake protocol,’ so I looked it up. Much to my surprise, there is and there’s even a manual listing the do’s and don’ts where I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that I’ve been doing it all wrong.

It’s easy to forget that silence is golden. No one has ever blurted out the wrong thing by staying silent. There’s a kind of powerful strength in silence. By remaining silent coupled with just the right pouty facial expression, you’re stating very convincingly, I might add, that there simply are no words that could help to alleviate the grief and pain that the decedent’s family must be experiencing. Silence would most certainly prevent you from unleashing these gems that I’ve been guilty of saying to family members at various wakes.

  1. Thanks for coming.
  2. How’s everything going?
  3. Did you see that game last night?

Please don’t be like me. Sure, it would be easy for me to attribute all of these to my many years in radio and meeting people at bar remotes. Unfortunately, wakes are not radio appearances and you’ll rarely if ever see a ‘wheel of prizes’ there. “Hi everybody, we’ve still got that highly coveted car wash certificate on the board. C’mon, give  her a spin!” Truth be told, I once had a General Manager who suggested that the air staff look through the obits in the newspapers and attend as many wakes as possible. He said it was always good to get out and ‘press the flesh.’ Of course, I was mortified at the mere suggestion and jokingly asked if he wanted us to hand out bumper stickers while we were at it to which he said, “Very nice touch.” Along those same lines, sadly, I need to mention the Professional Wake Attendees (P.W.A.’s).  These are the ones who use wakes as social events and more often than not, have no connection to the decedent or the family whatsoever. (Gasp!) Actually, by asking the right questions, they’re usually pretty easy to pick out.

Grieving widow: So, how did you know Matt, anyway?

P.W.A.: Matt?

Psychiatrists will tell you that the majority of P.W.A’s have a long history of being mistreated and were often only invited to childhood birthday parties to be used as pinatas. Clearly, wakes and viewings are not to be treated as social events! If you want to socialize, find a picnic somewhere, drink some warm beer, and spent the afternoon swatting mosquitoes from your neck.

So go and do the right thing: have fun…pay your respects, wear something nice, and by “nice” I mean no team names or numbers on your shirt. Don’t stuff your pockets full of mints, and for the love of God, leave the prize wheel at home.


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