The funeral has become the wake! Why did I miss that? We have not turned the funeral into a celebration of life, we have confused the wake with the funeral. We don't have wakes anymore. Why? Because nothing we do is located into the home anymore. The traditional (Irish) wake has a long and storied history. Some still practice the traditional wake but many, if not most, have come around to the more staid idea of a time of visitation. The wake was, in part, utilitarian. Death was not so easily certified and the wake was to see if the body was, indeed, dead. The wake was a watch over the deceased. But it was also born of the need to have people remain with the body until burial.
The time of waiting for the person to “wake” began to be accompanied by more people, some food, and much drink until the mourners and family came together as much to remember, tell stories, and reflect upon the life of the deceased as much as any other reason. The wake became a party but the guest of honor did not eat or drink and resided in a box. Of course, there was a religious side of it and a prayer vigil was certainly part of it, as well. When all of this moved from the home to the funeral home, the food may have gone along for the ride but somebody forgot the booze. It was often a social rite that highlighted the loss is one of a social group and how it affected the whole group.
Traditionally, the body would be prepared by the family and laid out in a designated room at the family home. The body would never be left unattended, just in case the deceased did “wake.” The length of the wake depended upon the funeral. The wake would begin as soon as the body could be prepared and it would continue until all left for the Church. All the clocks in the house would be stopped at the time of death as a sign of respect for the deceased. Mirrors would be turned around or covered. Candles would be lit and placed around the deceased. The Rosary would be said at midnight and most left, leaving only the closest family members to watch through the night. It was part of the healing process for family and friends left behind -- time filled with tears, laughter, and memories -- not to replace the Christian hope but because of it.
Now we have only visitation. A long or short line (depending upon how well know and beloved the individual), the signing of the guest book, a few moments before an open casket, a few words exchanged with the family of the deceased, a few moments before the revolving picture book showing highlights of the individual's life, and you can be home in about 15-20 minutes. Or, if that is too much, you can view online, sign the guestbook, and not have to bother with personal contact. Our lack of having a real wake has left us with the desire to convert the funeral into one (minus the booze, of course).
Here is my radical thought. Serve booze at the funeral home. Go back to the wake instead of the staid, chaste, pious, and brief visitation. Eat, drink, tell stories, laugh, cry, and sing. And then we can meet death in the funeral and face its sting with the cross and empty tomb. Then we can let the funeral be about Christ because the wake was about the dead. What do you think?