In some cultures and religions, it’s traditional to have a wake for a funeral. These are often quiet, somber events held before the funeral, where friends and loved ones can gather, chat, and spend time praying with the deceased.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Wake Ideas for Parents or Grandparents
- Wake Ideas for Siblings
- Wake Ideas for a Partner or Spouse
- Other Interesting Funeral Wake Ideas
As with everything, times are changing, and some people are looking for wake and funeral alternatives more reflective of the person who’s passed. For them, it’s essential to adjust those somber traditions fully in favor of something more personal.
Wake Ideas for Parents or Grandparents
Are you looking for some new ideas for the family patriarchs? Choose something that would have suited their personality, but be respectful of their role. If you prefer to have the wake away from the funeral home, you can do that, too.
1. A wake away from the funeral home
Gathering at the heritage family property, home, or barn for a wake is most suitable for the matriarch or patriarch of the family. These places act as the heart or center of the family, so it's a fitting place to hold a non-traditional wake.
Suppose the gathering is outside; you'll want to set up a few tents to block the casket from the sun. Bring out the folding tables and chairs if you have the wake in the barn. And make room in the living room for a wake held inside.
2. Bring out the family photo albums
Parents and grandparents will have lots of photo albums and maybe a few home movies, too. Set the albums up on a table, let people page through them, and revisit memories with their cousins and other extended families. When guests wind down eating, bring out the projector to show some movies, too.
Pro-tip: the funeral home will likely have a movie screen, but if not, you can rent one at a local AV store along with any other necessary equipment.
3. Potluck it
Managing grief while planning a wake or service is heavy enough. So, go easy on yourself whenever possible. So, if you are at a loss for food ideas for a wake, consider calling for a potluck or instant meal train. Just make sure to include dishes to pass for people with:
- Food allergies
- Dietary concerns
- Hot/cold trays
Most family members will be happy to provide food and beverages to help out, especially for beloved parents and grandparents. Plus, leftovers can be packed up and taken home at the end of the wake, leaving less to worry about or clean up.
4. Create a memory table
Set up a table with memorabilia from your parent’s or grandparent’s lifetime. Imagine it like a museum where you can display anything from baby clothes and photos to military uniforms and records. Here are a few more ideas:
- Show some of their personality with a favorite book and smoking pipe
- Frame quotes, jokes, and words of wisdom
- Set out their perfume or cologne to activate memories through smell
- Layer in hobbies with tackle boxes, drawings of inventions, card games, and embroidery
Encourage people to interact with the memories, pick up things, and have conversations with others about fond memories. Don’t forget to leave a box of tissues nearby.
Wake Ideas for Siblings
Keep scrolling for a few ways to honor your longest friend and your closest ally throughout life.
5. Create a photo collage board
Photo collage boards are a beautiful way to highlight and honor your sibling’s life at a wake. Print and gather as many photos as you can to fit in the collage. Make it interactive by asking your guests to bring a photo to pin on the board, too.
After the wake, take photos of the collages and post them on any social media page or website dedicated to your sibling so that guests and others unable to attend can take a look at a beautiful life history.
Pro-tip: while it’s okay to take a picture of an inanimate object, it’s rude to take photos of the grieving people and then post them online.
6. Make small, personal gifts
Small, personal gifts do not need to be expensive or time-consuming. They can be as simple as putting together:
- A packet of flowers with a short, personalized poem
- Sand collected from the beach nearby with a pretty bow
- Homemade cookies and a special note
- Small tea light candle holders and candles from the dollar store
Small gifts at a wake don’t have to be extravagant. Their purpose is to enhance people’s memories of your sibling so that when they see flowers blooming or dust off that tiny, sand-filled jar, memories will flood back.
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7. Bonfire by moonlight
After the wake, gather together at a suitable location for a bonfire, such as a beach or country property. Remind your guests to bring blankets, chairs, and anything else that will aid in their comfort if the night gets too chilly. Include the following:
- Ask one or more of the family musicians to bring instruments for easygoing, live music
- Use a piece of driftwood or souvenir from their life to pass around as the speaking stick
- Write wishes on paper and send them into the cosmos by placing them in the fire
- Scatter fresh, organic flowers on the beach to be taken out with the tide
- Writes names or one-word memories in the sand for the waves to absorb
Often, wakes feel very formal, leaving people ill-at-ease with their honest feeling. Gathering less formally, with a speaking stick, may enable people to be freer with their thoughts and feelings.
Pro-tip: no matter where you choose to hold the bonfire, bring a first aid kit just in case.
8. Blank diaries and pens
Invite your guests to share one of their favorite memories with the family by writing it down in a blank diary or memory book. Since most people will want to read the stories and find joy in hearing the different perspectives, you can choose any blank book based on the number of pages instead of its aesthetics.
Pro-tip: turn an inexpensive blank book into a masterpiece by asking the youngest members of the family to design the covers.
Wake Ideas for a Partner or Spouse
Losing a spouse is so much harder than people realize. That person was there 24/7, knew every little secret or hope, and was the one person you could always count on no matter what. For those reasons and more, take advantage of help when offered.
9. Back patio with string lights
After the wake, ask friends and family to join you at your partner or spouse’s favorite eating and drinking spot, whether that’s at the back patio of the local Japanese izakaya or the craft brewhouse. There, you’ll have more opportunities to share thoughts and feelings without feeling confined by the space.
If possible, schedule ahead with the staff to bring in inexpensive succulents or cacti as table displays, so your guests know where to find their group. When finished, give the plants to your guests, so they have something to remember the event.
Pro-tip: if you have dogs, choose a pet-friendly place. That way, the extra love, and attention will help the little ones manage their grief, too. Dogs, after all, are going to miss their mom or dad just like any other kid.
10. Commission a video
When you place an order for programs and cards at the funeral, ask your funeral director about putting together a video, too. You’ll be able to send as many photos as are necessary and pick out any kind of music to help make the video more memorable.
Pro-tip: Include as many friends and family as possible and then create a thumb drive or other digital copies for anyone who asks.
11. Minimalist catering
Funerals are already expensive, so if you plan on serving food at the wake, make it as minimal as possible. Some people aren’t very good at cooking or baking, which makes catering an excellent option, especially since grieving, not kitchen time, is the most important matter at hand.
12. Decorate with market flowers
Depending on the time of year, you may be able to purchase local, seasonal flowers from the weekend market instead of a florist. Not only will this decrease the overall funeral expenditures and plastic waste, but you’ll be supporting a local farm and its whole crew, too.
Pro-tip: let someone else pick up the flowers. When you’ve got a widow(er)’s brain, everything is so much harder to remember, so go easy on yourself and accept help whenever possible just to make life easier.
Other Interesting Funeral Wake Ideas
Here are a few unusual but interesting ideas to implement into the wake itself or for friends to gather and experience immediately afterward.
13. Optional speeches
Rent a microphone and speaker at an AV rental store so that guests can stand up and tell stories or voice love and concern for family members. Make the opportunity formal or informal with an announcement at the beginning of the event.
14. Personalized golf balls
Order some personalized golf balls and leave them in a bowl next to your mom or dad’s pictures. Ask interested friends and family to head out to the golf course or put-put after the wake for an afternoon on the greens. When finished, gather together in the clubhouse for some Irish toasts and a few drams of whiskey.
If your loved one battled through a terrible disease, make or buy support ribbons for the guests to wear in memory of struggles and show unified support.
15. Saplings and trails
Everyone has that friend who lives to serve the environment. In that case, order enough saplings on the day of the wake and gift one to each family who attends. They can choose to plant a tree in a day or two, or you can all head out in the woods and plant a tree together afterward.
Ask everyone to take photos when they plant the trees so you can share the events on social media. Add a link to a nonprofit so that others you’ve inspired can also plant a tree in your friend’s name.
16. The kids’ table
It’s no secret that kids love their electronic video games, but those could end up being quite a disturbance at a wake when adults are trying to have a conversation. Instead, preoccupy children with quieter and more traditional things to do like:
- Crayons and coloring books
- Puzzles or cards
- Beads for jewelry-making
- Building blocks and wooden car kits
- Memory games and mazes
The New Traditional Wake
Most people believe that wake etiquette involves the sterile traditions of generations past. But today’s wake can include some more non-traditional elements while embracing the personality of the deceased.