A wake is an opportunity for friends and loved ones to say farewell to the deceased, comfort each other, and support and share memories. Historically, wakes involved family members staying up all night with the departed to watch for any hopeful signs of life, but traditions have changed in modern times.

What to do at a wake

Usually, the first thing you'll see when you enter a wake is a registry book where you can write your name and address. The address is so the family can send a thank you note later, if they wish. You also may see envelopes to make a donation to a charity in honor of the deceased. Some families choose to offer remembrance cards. Say to loved ones of the deceased, "I'm sorry for your loss," but keep conversations brief.

Viewing the body

In the United States and Canada, the wake is often synonymous with the viewing. Whether the casket is open or closed will depend on the family's preference and how the deceased died. Guests at a wake should never question the family's decision about whether the casket is open or closed -- this is very offensive. It's customary for each guest at a wake to approach the casket and stand or kneel for a moment.

Wakes in the home

Most wakes in the United States take place in funeral homes, but some families choose to have the wake in their own home. If this is the case, guests at the wake often will bring food to share with others and the grieving family. Bring something that will keep for a few days in a container that you won't need back -- it's tacky to ask the mourners to bring back your casserole dish. Observe the customs of the house -- if everyone takes off their shoes, you should too.

Wake etiquette

When attending the wake, it is important to be quiet, soberly dressed and respectful. While black attire is traditional, gray and navy are also fine. Make sure your clothes are conservative and neat, and avoid loud colors or festive patterns. All cell phones and other electronic devices should remain off during a wake. Boisterous laughter and loud conversations are unacceptable.