How to organise a wake

When it comes to organising a wake, there are a number of decisions to make. If you aren't sure about how to go about organising a wake, read on.
How to organise a wake

A wake is a gathering of family, friends and acquaintances wishing to pay their respects to the deceased. Normally held after a funeral service, generally speaking a wake is a less formal and sombre affair. In this way, a wake offers the bereaved an opportunity to join together to share stories and memories and just generally celebrate the life of their loved one.

When to hold a wake?

There is no obligation to hold a wake straight away, or at all. If you are already feeling overwhelmed with the funeral arrangements or you don’t feel a wake is the right choice for you, you may wish to consider hosting a memorial service at a later date or no service at all. Whatever your choice, it will likely be the best one for you and the ones closest to you.

There are no hard or fast rules, when it comes to organising a wake. It can be as formal or informal as you like. It might be a small, intimate gathering with just a few close family members or a large public event. Once you have determined the style of event you’d like to host and number of guests you wish to invite, you will be better positioned to choose the venue, catering and decor. 

Decide on a venue

Deciding on a venue in which to hold the wake is a good place to start. Depending on the number of guests invited, you may wish to hold the wake at home or at a public venue. Suitable public venues include church or scout halls, social clubs, restaurants and pubs.

Depending on your location, you may even be able to conduct the wake in an outdoor setting.

If you have decided on a public event space, be sure to book it in as soon as possible, especially if you’d like it to coincide with the funeral date.

Write the guest list

The next step when planning a wake is to organise the guest list.

Oftentimes, most people who attend the funeral will also attend the wake. This is especially true if you share the details of the wake at the same time as sharing the funeral details.

If you want the wake to be a smaller, more private affair, it can be helpful to specify this when you put out details about the funeral. Similarly, if you want someone who wasn’t invited to the funeral to attend the wake,  you will need to send them a separate invitation.

Inviting guests to the wake

Guests may be invited in a number of ways.

You could send invitations in the mail or choose to telephone, email or message guests. You can list the details of the wake in the local newspaper or create an event page or group message on Facebook. Announcing the details of the wake on social media can be a great way to notify guests whom you do not have contact details for or know personally.

The invitation should include the date, time and location of the wake. You should also let the guests know if they are expected to bring anything to the event. For example, you might ask everyone to bring a photo of themselves with the deceased, which you might collate into a photo book. Alternatively, you might ask guests to bring a memento or object which prompts a special story shared with the deceased.

If you plan to serve food and beverages at the wake, then you might also like to seek information about any of the guests dietary requirements in the invitation, so they can be catered for.

Finally, if you’d like guests to dress a particular way, then it should be noted in the invitation. For example, you might like everyone to dress in bright colours or in the deceased’s favourite footy team’s colours.

Catering for a wake

Depending on the size, venue and formality of the wake, you may choose to offer catering, but it isn’t essential. Wakes are usually simple affairs.

If you do want to feed the guests, then simple finger food such as cakes and sandwiches or even a buffet are all suitable options. Similarly, it is commonplace to serve tea and coffee at a wake. Alcoholic beverages including wine, spirits and beer can also be served, but are not essential.

If you are catering for a large number of guests, you may want to consider hiring the services of a professional caterer. Although it might be more costly, it might also be less stressful at what is already an emotionally taxing time. Another 

What happens at a wake?

Sometimes, the host might like to arrange an organised activity or two for the wake. This creates an excellent opportunity to remember the person who has passed in a unique way. Some suggestions include:

  • a video montage, either of the deceased’s life or of photos of the deceased with friends and family
  • displaying photo albums
  • providing memory jars, books, or ‘memory trees’
  • lighting candles
  • safely releasing butterflies, balloons or biodegradable lanterns. 

How much does a wake cost?

Like any event, the cost of a wake can vary significantly based on the choices you make. Hosting a small wake at home will be cheaper than hiring a large venue and inviting everybody you know. Likewise, catering the affair yourself will likely be cheaper than hiring a professional catering company. Serving alcohol can also significantly increase the overall cost of a wake.

When it comes to budget, it really is up to you to choose where your money is best spent. For this reason, it’s worth taking the time to consider how you wish to allocate your budget.

A wake or a funeral?

Some families prefer to focus their attention and funds on the funeral itself and keep the wake a simple event. Others prefer to do the opposite. In those instances, they will usually arrange a direct cremation or simple funeral service and then spend more time and money on the wake.

Wrap up

When it comes to organising a wake for your loved one there really is no right or wrong decision. It all boils down to your personal preference and available budget. For this reason, it is perfectly acceptable for families to arrange both a simple funeral and wake. Whatever you choose, it’s important to remember that what you’re able to spend on funeral arrangements is not a reflection of how much the person meant to you. 

Saying goodbye to a loved one is an emotionally charged event. Arranging a wake is one of the many ways to connect with others to farewell a loved one. There are no set rules to follow when organising a wake, the size or expense of the wake does not make it any more or less meaningful.

If you’d like to organise a direct cremation, the team at Willed can help. Our team of dedicated funeral arrangers will take care of everything so you can focus on what matters most.

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