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In North Carolina, a wake, also called a viewing, is generally a time of social occasion held before a funeral in which the body of the deceased is present. This is not a sit down occasion and is generally a time to briefly see the family and the deceased and to talk with others who are mourning. Often, the family will receive guests for several hours, but the guests are not expected to stay for the entire wake.

What About Flowers?

It is customary to send flowers to the close family and/or to the funeral home to be used at the wake and funeral services. Flowers express your grief and also comfort the family with your care and concern. Some families specifically ask for other gifts in lieu of flowers so be sure to read the obituary or talk with the funeral home before sending an arrangement.

Family Roles

As the wake begins, immediate family members generally stand in a receiving line to the side of the deceased. The family greets guests and expresses thanks to them for coming to share their sorrow. If you are a grown son, daughter, mother, father, or spouse of the deceased, it is customary for you to stand with the family in a line to receive and greet the guests.

In the past, it would have been normal to shake hands with or hug each person who came through the line. Because of the pandemic though, there is currently a need for masks and social distancing. However, it is always appropriate to speak to the family and friends who have attended and let them know that you appreciate their kind gestures (flowers, cards, food) and their presence during this time. It may be healing to remember the times spent together with the deceased. If you don’t know the guest, you could ask how they knew the deceased or when they last saw them.

If You Need Anything

Many visitors to a wake will ask family members how they are doing and ask if they can help in some way. If dinner would be helpful, say so. If a phone call would bring you hope, let them know that they can call anytime. If you enjoy drop-in visitors, let them know that you would appreciate them checking in on you. If you could use some help with sorting or moving things, let people know that you will call them with requests soon. The others affected by this loss will generally want to help you however you need help.

Mourners Express Sadness

As mourners greet the family, they express their condolences and keep moving toward the deceased. If you are one of the mourners going through the line, it is normal to express your sadness at the passing of the deceased. You might remember fondly to the family a moment shared with them, or let them know that you are available if they need anything in the next several weeks. Hugs and handshakes were always appropriate before the pandemic. Now, we try to show our care through other means. 

Say Goodbye to the Deceased

It is customary to stop at the casket for a moment and take an opportunity to say goodbye to the deceased. A short prayer or a light touch upon the hand are common gestures people make. Mourners may say a quick goodbye or simply walk slowly by. There is no right or wrong in saying goodbye. Some people are more private than others and there is no customary gesture that must be made.

Wakes are Community Events

Wakes are often held the evening before a funeral. This gives mourners a time to mingle with the friends and family of the deceased and express their grief with each other. This can be a time of community togetherness and healing as mourners spend time comforting each other and expressing their sadness or shock over the loss of the deceased.

Wakes Can Be Held at Home

In the past, wakes were often held in the home of the deceased. There are many old movies in which someone passes away and the body lies in a room at home as people come and mourn together. Today, wakes are most often held at churches, community centers, and funeral homes, but there is no law against holding a wake or viewing in your home or someone else’s home. 

Evening Wakes

If the wake is held the evening before the funeral, the dress code is usually a bit more casual as people often come by after work or busy days. The funeral the next day is generally a more formal occasion in which there is an inspirational message or eulogy. Sometimes wakes are held immediately before a funeral and then there is a break before the funeral service starts. 

No “Right” Way

There is no “right” way to plan a funeral, but having a discussion with an experienced funeral director at a funeral home can help you make plans that are seamless and work well for everyone involved. Funeral directors are skilled at helping families navigate through times of grief. It is soothing and calming to trust that someone knows what to do about every situation during a time that you may be too distraught to think clearly. 

Funeral Home Director

Funeral home directors understand your situation and have handled the problems you may face before. An experienced funeral director can help you make decisions about everything from when and how services should be scheduled to how you will help family members from out of town feel welcome and able to relax in a new area. They also can look at your budget and help you decide where your money is best spent for the type of services you wish to plan. During the wake and funeral services, they move everything along smoothly and make sure that everything goes according to plan.Important Community Resources

Community Resource

If you would like to plan your funeral in advance or if you are thinking you may need to plan for someone else soon, most funeral homes will meet with you to discuss what you are thinking and make a pre-plan. Whether you are attending a funeral or planning one, a funeral home is a resource to guide you through so that you are comfortable with what is happening and how to navigate the process.