a warm photograph of a living wake with sparklers and smiling people

What exactly is a Living Wake?

A Living Wake is a re-imagining of the traditional Irish Wake.

A traditional wake took place before a funeral with the person who has died still present, often in an open casket.

lots of glasses with red wine saying cheers

The tradition of the Wake

The story of the Wake is complex, the stuff of myth, legend and varied interpretations. This link will take you to a Irish Urns which describes some of the origin stories of the Wake and the purpose of it.

What is different with a Living Wake?

The clue is in the title…a Living Wake is for those still living who are aware of their own mortality. Perhaps they are aware that they are nearer to the end of their life than the beginning. It does not matter how close to the end of their life they are. The difference between a living wake and a traditional wake is that the person who is celebrating their life is present at the celebration. Stories are shared with food, drink, music and merriment, just like a tradional wake but the person is present.

A group of people on a beach around a campfire

7 things to consider for Living Wakes


  1. Venue
  2. People
  3. Food & Drink
  4. How you want to feel
  5. What you would like to do
  6. What (if anything) you need to say
  7. How to invite people
  8. What makes you feel safe?

I will be covering the answers to these in separate blog posts so watch this space!

A Japanese style black teapot and a pink flower

What is different about Living Wakes with Jess May

At a Living Wake with me you will get extra value in the form of a keepsake story. I use the Wake as a vehicle for sharing your stories, hearing them, writing them and creating a small story book as a keepsake. This can then be used at a later date if needed depending upon what you decide to do.

packaged Keepsake copy of a script with a turquoise ribbon in a bow and thistles behind it on a table outdoors

Choose a meaningful place for your Living Wake

You can have a living wake anywhere, and I am going to cover some ideas in another blog post for you. Suffice to say that there are no limits whatsoever…you can even have one at a festival if you like!

A bar at a festival with BEER written in circus font.

Living Wakes are Celebrations of Life

The central purpose of a Living Wake is to celebrate life. A Celebration of Life tends to be what people want these days and with a Living Wake you get that but before you or the person you care about dies. 

Everyone gets to celebrate your life. With my Living Wakes you also get to focus on the story of your life and record it as a legacy.

lots of women in shorts with smoke flares in blue,  yellow and orange

The healing power of a Living Wake

A living wake offers many of the benefits of a funeral and also of a traditional wake.

First of all they gather your people around you. You have to opportunity to hug or hold hands. It is so important to revel in the healing power or touch when we are sad.

There is a great deal of scientific evidence which grows daily proving the vital importance of communal gathering and the terrible impact of social isolation.

You get to share your stories and make meaning of your shared lives. You get to celebrate the good and come to terms with the less easy aspects of your life experiences.

Best of all, you get to eat, drink and be merry and express sadness all at the same time.

Two people hugging. both are wearing yellow. One has a face to the camera and is a person of colour with a yellow headband.

Why am I so passionate about Living Wakes?

After living through so many bereavements and conducting hundreds of Celebrations of Life over the course of a decade I have seen first hand the healing power of funerals.

I have also witnessed their decline in popularity and affordability. I can’t ignore the change in our culture or forget what I know about the essential role sharing our stories and being heard plays in grieving ‘well.

Living Wakes are my response to this societal shift and a chance to try new ways of doing what I do best…giving you or your people one last round of applause!

Want to share your thoughts about Living Wakes?

I really want to serve my clients.

It is so important to me to offer you what you need and not make assumptions about what you need.

Please do contact me or book into my calendar for a free chat and to share with me your thoughts about Living Wakes.

If you are local I will treat you to a cup of coffee and a piece of cake on me!


with thanks to Charlotte Burn Photography