By Tracy Beckerman of Lost in Suburbia
I had to go to a wake recently. I was a little apprehensive because I haven’t been to that many wakes before.
Actually, I have never been to any.
However, since I am Jewish, I have made my fair share of shiva calls. I wasn’t sure if a shiva call was like a wake and I felt a little funny asking the bereaved what the proper wake protocol was, because, after all, they were, you know, bereaving.
I did know that the deceased is in attendance at a wake, but not at a shiva. I think this is because Jews like to eat at a shiva, and the general consensus is that it can be a real appetite-killer to eat when there is a dead person in the room.
With no one to ask, I decided to Google “wake” to see what I could learn. I found out that originally, wakes were held to watch for signs of life and to confirm that the person was dead before burial.
Personally, I would think it would be a good idea to determine this fact a little earlier in the process, but that’s just me.
I also learned that a wake is kind of like a party for the deceased. Of course, my mother taught me that you should never go to a party empty-handed. So I did what my people have done for thousands of years when someone dies:
I brought a brisket.
Now here’s what I learned when I arrived at my first wake. There are lots of flowers. And sometimes, a fair amount of booze. But no briskets.
This is not to say the family wasn’t very appreciative of my brisket. They just thought it was a little odd.
I’m not sure if the same is true for a wake, but funerals are important in the Jewish religion because it gives us the chance to patch things up with family members we’ve been feuding with since our wedding over something really important like the seating arrangements.
We don’t talk for ten years and then someone dies and all the same people who were at the wedding show up at the funeral.
Everyone cries and eats brisket, and suddenly the feuds from weddings past dissipate and all is harmonious once again.
That is, of course, until the next grandchild in the family is born… and then someone gets angry again because the newest member of the family isn’t named after the last member of the family who died. This is a Jewish custom that goes back as many thousands of years as the brisket tradition.
Meanwhile, back at the wake, I noticed that everyone seemed to be getting along just fine, no one asked the engaged couple which table they were seated at for the wedding, and no one seemed bothered that the new baby was named Blue Sky.
..no one seemed to mind eating their brisket with the dead guy in the corner.