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margeryred's avatar

Wake, is it true that this ritual came about...?

Asked by margeryred (289 points ) June 24th, 2008

Is it true that a wake before a funeral is held for three days prior to burial so that they could be sure the person was really dead & not just in a deep sleep, barely breathing?

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11 Answers

marinelife's avatar

From Sacred texts, CHapter 4:

“DURING the period between death and burial (which varies according to custom and climatic conditions) it seems natural enough that the body of a deceased person should be kept under close observation, for one reason or another, not the least of which is a scarcely abandoned hope of a return to consciousness. The separation and sudden change of conditions which death has brought with it, will be but gradually realized. The friends and relations who have so recently been accustomed to tend the sick person, now that their ministrations are no longer required, will hesitate to leave their charge till the moment when the body must inevitably be taken from them for the burial.

Thus, “watching” the dead became a recognized institution. It was an old Jewish custom to place the dead in the sepulchre, which would remain unsealed for the space of three days, during which period the body was frequently visited by the relations in the hope that signs of a return to life would be found.

In Christian practice the offering of special prayers for the deceased at a time when the soul might be considered as in need of consolation in passing into another state, suggested the gathering together of friends and relations, who in the actual presence of the body, would pray for the soul of the departed and console those who were afflicted by the loss. This was the origin of the “wake” or “watching.”

thebeadholder's avatar

No wake for me. I want to be burned. I have been to a few wakes and they still haunt me.

MercenaryWriter's avatar

well I’m Irish, and for us the only difference between a wedding and a funeral is one less drunk. But I believe it’s purpose is two-fold—to allow the living time to mourn the dead, and to celebrate the deceased’s passage into the next world (provided you subscribe to the idea of a heavenly hearafter of one kind or another).

cheebdragon's avatar

its not to see if the person wakes up, urban legend, there is page on http://snopes.com about it, I’ll get on the computer when I get home and post the full link….

gooch's avatar

Yes. My grandmothers sister “died” and at her wake which was in the home in those days and before embalming was mandatory another sister thought she saw her breathing. She put a mirror up to her mouth and it fogged up. They took her out of her burial dress and she woke up a few days later. She then lived another 45 years….Can you imagine being buried alive?

syz's avatar

The fear of being buried alive apparently reached epidemic proportions at one point. There were quite a few inventions that were supposed to prevent said trauma – one was a bell attached to a cord that would allow you to (upon awaking underground) ring for assistance, supposedly the source for the phrase “saved by the bell”.

syz's avatar

From a review of “Buried Alive”:

Jan Bondeson, a doctor of experimental medicine, lets a playfully morbid mind run pleasantly amok in this brief and entertaining book. The illustrations, of “safety coffins”, plans for “waiting mortuaries”, and devices for administering smoke enemas to dubious cadavers, are all from his private collection. He traces the mythic history of the prematurely entombed from the late middle ages through the long upward progress of medical science, as doctors slowly freed themselves from the flawed physic of Aristotle through Paracelsus, to the critical debates over precisely what constituted vital signs in the apparently deceased.

mzgator's avatar

As Gooch said , in the past,Cajuns had wakes in their living room. The dead were not embalmed. When I say past I don’t mean all that long ago. The story I am about to tell you happened during my fathers childhood. He is sixty . His uncle died at home. The local traveling dr. Came and pronounced him dead. My grandfather built him a pine coffin. They set it up in the house. It was summer in south Louisiana with no air conditioning. They could only have the body put for a day before burial. During a wake, neighbors bring tons and tons of food. I guess my great uncle smelled it because he sat right up in his coffin and said, I’m hungry, get me some food now! My dad said people took off running. He scared them so badly. To this day, my dad HATES going to wakes!

Knotmyday's avatar

I told my family (who are firm believers in burial) they had two options when I died.

1. Cremation, and burial of the ashes at sea.
2. Cook me, and serve me as a casserole at my funeral. Hey, everybody loves a potluck, I just want to contribute too.

I hope they choose cremation. If not, they can all eat me.
I despise wakes too

marinelife's avatar

@cheeb Here is the Snopes page. While it does debunk an email making the rounds about all these phrases and rituals that originated in “everyday life in the 1500s” it confirms the facts about the custom of wakes as noted in my post above. It is just that the custom is older than the 1500s (about 1,000 years).

cheebdragon's avatar

thank you for finding it, I totally forgot about it by the time I got home…

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