Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Funeral Wakes -- Back Then...

The incident in Southern Maryland, once again, has led me to think about funeral wakes, when I was a child and now.  I have thought about this a great deal over the last few years.  As someone who has attended a number of wakes, I have noticed a much more relaxed atmosphere (almost like you were going to a party) in what people wear and how they behave.

When I was a child, many years ago...
  • Men wore black or dark blue or navy suits.  Some wore dark grey, but never light grey.  Those who wore grey, were usually guys who worked in offices as managers, or a profession, like accounting.  However, almost everyone adult male I knew, had at least one black or dark blue suit.  You wore it to funerals, to weddings, to first Communions, etc.
  • Men also wore white shirts with black ties.  Some of the blue collar guys I knew, would wear a light blue shirt -- but without any sort of design.  Just a simple blue shirt.  If they did not have a black tie, then it was usually dark blue or navy blue. Sometimes the tie had a little design -- small dots or diamonds.  But never anything with too much color.
  • Men wore black shoes, with black socks. No brown, no boat shoes, etc.
  • The only time I remember men not wearing a suit, was if they stopped at the funeral parlor during work or immediately after work, knowing that they could not make it home to change and back in time.  They were truck drivers, electricians, plumbers, etc.  Everyone understood that these were working men and appreciated the fact that they came to pay their respects.
  • Women usually wore black dresses, especially both immediate and distant relatives.  If they did not wear black, they usually wore something dark.  Of course, dark shoes (black, navy blue) were the norm.
  • Boys (usually up to the age of 11 or so) wore white collar shirts, dark pants (usually navy) and shoes.  Sometimes a tie, which usually lasted only part of the way through the wake, esp. if it was summer.  No shorts, no jeans, no t-shirts, no sneakers, etc.  
  • And to be honest, I cannot remember what little girls wore.  I don't recall seeing many at funeral wakes.

At the funeral parlor...
  • Wakes were held at a funeral home or parlor.  The only time a wake was held in a church, was for a priest.  
  • A male member of the family, usually greeted those who had come to pay their respects, at the entrance of the wake.  Sometimes, they would bring the person(s) up to the other members of the family and introduce them. The spouse and female children usually sat in the front row of the wake, and thanked people for coming.  
  • People talked in hushed tones. There was no laughter or joking.  That was reserved for outside of the funeral home.  And if there was any of that inside where the viewing was taking place, all heads would turn at the offender.
  • Most of the time, people sat in silence.  
  •  Crying and at times, in a loud voice, someone (usually the parent or surviving spouse) calling out as to why this person had to go so soon. 
  • Wakes were typically two days (at least two evening and one afternoon viewing, as they were called).
  • Always, a priest showed up about 8pm to say the Rosary for the deceased.

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