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planning a wake for your loved one

Wakes: From Past to Present

Holding a wake for a loved one who’s passed on is an old and beloved tradition, but today’s wakes bear little resemblance to the wakes of our ancestors. While, historically, wakes were solemn vigils intended to watch over and protect a loved one from the time they passed until their final burial, today’s wakes are more of a celebration of the loved one’s life, a time to remember the special place they hold in your heart and in the hearts and memories of their family and friends.

A wake is a celebration and a time for remembering, but it’s also a time for closure. Mourning and grief are unique experiences for every one of us. Holding a wake makes us all feel less alone and more connected to those around us. Remembering the gestures, actions, words, and deeds of a loved one is a truly unique experience that honours not only the memory of a loved one but their life as well.

Tips for Planning a Wake

Wakes don’t need to be elaborate. In fact, the nature of a wake is to be a more informal gathering — a place for family and loved ones to swap stories and share memories. Ideally, the wake itself should be centred on the loved one’s life and interests, creating a celebration that’s as unique and as individual as their own personality. While historically wakes were held before burials, today many people decide to hold the wake immediately after the funeral as a way for people to unwind, remember, and connect.

Picking a Location for the Wake

No matter when you hold your wake, the first step in planning is to choose the location. Ideally, you’ll want a location that’s comfortable and fairly private and intimate, a place where people feel connected and at ease while sharing their memories and recollections.

To make the event more personal and reflective of your loved one, you might consider holding the wake in a location that holds a special place in their heart — a sports club, the local pub, a church hall, or even the home of a close friend or family member. Depending on the time of year, you might even hold the wake outdoors in a park or other natural setting.

Most wakes include food, so if you choose a home or other venue that doesn’t serve food commercially, you’ll need to arrange for catering. Potluck is another option, but because it requires a lot of coordination, it might not be the best choice considering you’ll probably be quite busy with other preparations. For restaurants and similar locations, see if the wake could be held in a small room apart from the main area so your celebration
can be held privately.

Personal Touches

Incorporating a few personal touches is one way to help everyone in the wake feel connected. There are several ways to make sure your wake is as personal and meaningful as your loved one’s life and interests.


When deciding on what kind of food to be offered, many people decide to feature dishes that were special favourites of their loved one. It can be anything from Indian food to burritos, sushi, and even breakfast foods regardless of the time of day. If your wake is a casual affair and not a sit-down meal, try to offer foods that are easy to carry and handle. Sandwiches and other finger foods are good choices especially if guests will need to carry drinks as well.

If you can, try to make allowances for a variety of tastes so everyone has something to nibble on. Alcohol is fine as long as it’s in moderation, perhaps limited to one toast. Remember, this is a stressful and emotional time for many, and emotions and alcohol often don’t mix well.


Decorations are another way to make a wake more personal. From balloons and flowers to sports jerseys and other memorabilia, featuring items that reflect your loved one’s life or memories can help form a basis for sharing and conversation as well.

Photos can be displayed in frames, on bulletin boards, in albums or even put together into a video that’s played in the background. Because photos can trigger other people’s personal memories of your loved one, having a journal or a videographer on hand can help you capture stories and memories you haven’t heard before.


If your loved one had a favourite colour, adding streamers or paper products in that colour is another way to personalise a wake. Friends and family members might wear clothing in the same colour to play a more active role in the celebration itself.


Music is one of the most powerful memory triggers. Focus on the styles, genres, and bands your loved ones enjoyed listening to now and during their younger years. Try to steer clear of very sombre, serious music that could wind up making people more emotional.

Final Thoughts

Even though it might seem difficult to plan an event after a loved one’s passing, the wake can actually play an important role in helping you move through the grieving process in a more positive way.

If you feel overwhelmed by the wake-planning process, remember that most family and friends will be happy to help plan the wake or offer ideas and tips of their own. And of course, the staff at Kelly Family Funerals is always on hand to provide guidance and support. We can also arrange catering and tend to the clean up afterwards, to ensure you can focus on your family and friends instead of the details of the wake.

In the end, the most important thing is to create an opportunity where friends and family can come together to share, bond, and remember. Focus on what your loved one enjoyed during their lifetime, and let those ideas be your guide.