What to Say at a Wake: Offering Genuine Condolences

Published July 16, 2020
Two people holding hands at a funeral

If you are attending a wake, it's important to know what to expect, as well as how to connect with those in mourning. Being respectful and genuine are key components of knowing what to say at a wake.

Examples of What to Say at a Wake

When offering condolences, consider how what you are saying may be received. If attending the wake, you can say:

  • "I wish we were here together under different circumstances. I am here for you during this time and I love you so much. I'd love to help you out today- would you like me to set up the food for the guests?"
  • "Thank you so much for organizing the wake for (insert deceased individual's name)- I know they would have loved every special touch that you've done. Know that I am here for you and would like to help you clean up afterwards if you'd like."
  • "You've organized a truly special wake to honor (insert deceased individual's name). I know how much (insert deceased individual's name) meant to you and I am here for you for anything you need. I love you."
  • "I know I didn't know (insert deceased individual's name) well, but I know just how loved they were. Thank you for allowing me to be present today and please let me know if there is anything I can do to make today a bit less stressful for you."
  • "I so appreciate you hosting the wake for (insert deceased individual's name) today. You've done an incredible job putting this together so quickly. Would you like me to help with any set up or clean up so you can take a breather for a bit?"

What to Say in the Wake Receiving Line

In a wake receiving line, the deceased individual's family may be standing near the casket. Tips for offering condolences in the wake receiving line include:

  • Say something supportive such as, "I love you so much and am heartbroken alongside of you. (Insert deceased individual's name) was a gracious, loving, and amazing person. I am here for you and your family during this time for anything you may need and would love to check in with you later today if you're comfortable with that."
  • Say something to illustrate your relationship with the deceased individual such as, "(Insert deceased individual's name) was an incredible person who made me laugh harder than anyone I've ever known. (Insert deceased individual's name) will be deeply missed by many. I am here for you for anything you may need."
  • Say something kind when you didn't know the deceased individual well such as, "I can see how loved (insert deceased individual's name) was and I am so sorry for your loss."
Family Receiving Guests at a Funeral

What to Say to the Family at the Wake

At the wake, it's important to connect with the deceased individual's family members and show them support and compassion during this incredibly difficult time. Condolence quotes include:

  • "(Insert deceased individual's name) spoke highly and often of you- so much so that I feel as if I know you. I know we don't know each other well, but (insert deceased individual's name) was a large part of my life and I'd love to be here for you all during this time. If you're comfortable with me doing so, I'd love to drop off dinner for you tonight."
  • "It's hard to express just how sorry I am to hear about this loss. I hurt for you and your family, and I will forever miss one of my most incredible friends. Know that I am here for all of you day or night for anything. If you're comfortable with me doing so, I'd like to check in with you later on to see if there's anything I can do for you and your family."
  • "Even though I didn't know (insert deceased individual's name) well, I know how much you loved (insert preferred gender pronoun). I am here for you all and love you. Would it be ok if I helped you clean up after the wake has concluded?"
    Mother and daughter at military funeral

What Do You Say When a Client Passes Away?

Your relationship with your client will vary in terms of intimacy. Think about how well you knew them before speaking with their family to ensure you are saying something appropriate, given your relationship. If you are attending your client's wake, you can consider saying:

  • "(Insert deceased individual's name) was an amazing person who I truly enjoyed working with. Please accept my deepest condolences for your loss and please don't hesitate to reach out if there's anything I can do for you."
  • "(Insert deceased individual's name) will be incredibly missed. There was no one quite like (insert deceased individual's name)."
  • "I am so sorry for your loss. Although I didn't get to work with (insert deceased individual's name) much, in the short time I knew (insert preferred gender pronoun) I could tell (insert preferred gender pronoun) was someone truly special."

Wake Etiquette

Wakes are a somber event, but tend to be a bit more casual than funerals with guests coming and going at different times to pay their respects to the deceased individual, as well as their loved ones. A wake may take place in someone's home the day of the funeral, a few days before the funeral, or on the day of the funeral at the funeral home. Wakes typically range from two to six hours, though they can be longer. At a wake, food may be served, loved ones may be connecting and comforting each other, as well as sharing memories of their time with the deceased individual. When attending a wake:

  • Bring a card, gift, and/or flowers to the family who is hosting the wake. Pass on your condolences when you give the food or gift to the family hosting the wake.
  • Try not to shift the focus solely onto your feelings and experience, and be there for the deceased individual's close friends and family.
  • If you attend the wake and you do not know the individual who organized it, be sure to introduce yourself, pass along your condolences, and be a helpful and respectful guest.
  • Do not make a mess or make excessive requests.
Woman at a funeral with flowers

What to Say at a Funeral

You may be attending the wake before heading to the funeral. The funeral will vary from the wake in that there may be more people in attendance, people will not be coming and going, and based on how many individuals are there you may not have a chance to speak with the deceased individual's family. If you do get a chance to speak with the family, speak from your heart, be genuine, and avoid saying cliche or invalidating sentiments.

What to Say When Offering Condolences

When offering condolences, think about what you plan on saying before saying it, consider your level of relational intimacy before connecting with the family, and be genuine. Even though you may experience some discomfort in reaching out to the deceased individual's family, know that it can be such a meaningful and supportive gesture for them during this painful moment.

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What to Say at a Wake: Offering Genuine Condolences