How to behave at a wake or funeral social story

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When a relative or friend of the family dies, it’s important to attend the wake and/or funeral.  This is called an obligation.  An obligation is something you might not want to do, but is the right thing to do.


photoxpress image - boys in suitsCertain things are expected at a wake and funeral.

Everyone dresses in their nice clothes.  Men will wear a suit or dress pants with a button down shirt and tie.  Women wear a dress or dress pants and a blouse.  Kids will wear their nicest clothes. I may not like dressing up but it is the right thing to do when going to a wake and funeral.



istock image girl at wakeAt a wake, people usually walk up to the casket where the person who died is laying.  Some people kneel and say a prayer.  Others stand and think about the person for a moment before walking away.

Many people don't talk until after they walk away from the casket. I can follow my parents and do what they do. I can let my parents know if I'm uncomfortable going up to the casket.

The closest family members sit up at the front of the room or stand next to the casket.  It’s respectful to go up to one of these people and say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” If the person who died is someone I knew, I might say, "I'm going to miss ________."


Even though everyone knows the person is dead, people try not to use the words “dead” or “died” when talking about the person. Instead they use words that help comfort the family members. I might hear comments such as:

“His passing was a blessing.”
“He’s in a better place.”
“He looks real good.”

These comments might sound odd.  If I'm confused, I can ask my parents to explain what the comment means.

A wake is also a time to talk to relatives and friends who my family hasn’t seen in a long time.  This can take a long time so I must be patient.  I might get hugged and kissed by relatives and people that I don't remember. Relatives will ask how I'm doing and what I've been up to. This is not an invitation to talk about my favorite topic for a half hour.  These relatives are looking for one or two sentences about me.

When it’s time to go, it’s good manners to say goodbye if the family members are not busy talking to other people. 

More resources on death for special needs famiies

Why people die -
Why people die young -
What does it mean to be dead? -

Addressing death when you have an elderly relative -
Telling your child a family member died -
Handling anxiety, sensory and behavior issues at a wake or funeral -
Kid friendly memorials to remember your family member -
Going to a wake social story -
Going to a funeral social story -

Here is a video of what a visiting room at a wake looks like (except for the hundreds of flowers). This family made a wonderfully respectful video that children should be able to watch -
Here is a close up view of the person in the casket from this same wake -

Dawn VillarrealAbout the writer

Dawn Villarreal runs One Place for Special Needs, a national disability resource that lets you find local and online resources, events and even other families in your neighborhood plus over 4,000 online resources! Stay awhile and check out the site. She is also moderator of Autism Community Connection, a Yahoo group for families in Illinois. Reprint permission granted by including: Reprinted with permission from One Place for Special Needs