Nobody ever feels quite comfortable at a wake or viewing. It's only natural to be unsure of how to act or feel when saying goodbye to a loved one and giving your condolences to their family. However, there are certain etiquette rules to follow whenever you attend a wake. If you are about to attend your first wake or viewing, here are some guidelines to ensure you adhere to in order to avoid offending or upsetting anyone.
Wear somber clothing.
Wearing black to a funeral or visitation used to be the standard. You will still certainly look in place wearing black, but in recent years, other somber colors and clothing has become acceptable. You can definitely wear a dark gray suit or a brown skirt with a tan top. Just don't pull out the loud floral patterns or bright colors -- those belong at a wedding, not a wake.
Greet the family.
There will probably be poster and displays about the deceased as well as some other things to look at and do at the wake. But your key obligation, while you are there, should be to greet the family and give your condolences. There will generally be a line to pay your respects. Get in line and wait your turn. When you do reach the family, do not worry too much about saying something unique or witty. Everyone knows that it's tough to come up with something unique to say. You can simply say "I'm so sorry for your loss," give them a hug, and move on. Your attendance at the wake shows that you care more than words can express.
Turn your phone off.
Turn your phone off before you even enter the funeral home. It would be very rude for it to ring while you were paying your respects, and it is not appropriate for you to be texting or checking your email while at the wake, either.
Sign the registry book.
There is typically a registry book by the door of the funeral home. You can sign this when you first arrive or before you leave, but do make sure you put your name down. This is how the family will remember the wake, and it is also a way for the funeral home to keep track of attendance and gauge their needs for future events.
Do view the body.
If it is an open casket wake, you might not feel comfortable going up to the body -- but it is expected that you do so. You do not have to linger. Just walk forward calmly, spend a moment pondering the person's significance in your life, and then step back. If you absolutely do not think you can do this calmly, then skip the tradition. It is better to skip viewing the body than to make a scene. Do not touch the body, however -- only the family members are meant to do so.
Don't bring a card.
Sympathy cards are definitely called for when someone passes, but you should not bring one to the wake. Instead, send it to their home. It would be awkward to hand a family member a card while they are trying to deal with everything else involved in the wake. Plus, you can write those meaningful words you struggled to come up with during the wake into the card so that they do not go "unsaid."
No matter what you do, attending a wake will probably never be a comfortable or easy experience, but if you follow the tips above, you can be assured that it will at least go smoothly.