Make no mistake about it: death is as much a part of life as just about anything else I can think of as I sit here typing with no pants on. And chances are, unless you are some sort of friend-and-familyless maniac or something, you will at some point find yourself attending a wake during your lifetime. Usually it will be the wake of someone you know or perhaps a relative of someone you know. That said, in my experience, no one is ever going to stop you from attending the wake of a complete stranger, either. Odds are there are plenty of great wakes listed in your local paper every day, so if the mood strikes, I say have at it: Get out there and meet people. However, let's first focus on the best way to attend a wake where you either know the dead person or simply someone who is totally related to the dead person.
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when we hear we are to attend a wake is something along the lines of "Oh no, I better run out and pick up some balloons and candy." And while I will be the first one to agree that almost any wake is greatly improved by the presence of balloons and candy or at the very least a pinata, these things, while really, really great, are in no way required. Out of all the hundreds of wakes I have attended over the years, I can only think of a handful where anyone in attendance ever said "I can't believe so-and-so showed up here today without balloons and candy or even a pinata. What a fucking prick." In fact, the only thing that is required at all at a wake is a dead body. However, I cannot stress enough the fact that you should in no way get involved in the procurement of a dead body for a sake of having a "good," "successful," or "cool" wake. That is quite simply not your problem. Let someone else deal with that. Trust me, you don't need the hassle.
Assuming the dead body is all set and ready to go, the next thing to focus on when attending a wake is what you are going to wear. And make no mistake about it, this is your chance to shine. Of course, there are those who will tell you to wear some black or other boring dark-colored outfit when attending a wake, but I promise you those are the same lameass bastards who go out and lazily buy a dozen red roses for their significant other on Valentine's Day, refuse to use cold medicine in any manner not listed in the instructions, and won't stop giving you shit for using the toilet with the door wide open. Still, it is important to remember not to think of yourself first when dressing for a wake, but of the relatives of the deceased and what they might want. And take it from me, what the relatives of the deceased want more anything is to be cheered up. And nothing does that better than a clown costume, a look that says "fun", "good times," and "Hey everybody, let's all forget there's a dead body in the corner for a second" without fail, every single time. If a clown costume is not immediately available, your favorite mascot or mariachi uniform or — at the very least — whatever you might have in your wardrobe that's bright and colorful will do just fine. Just don't wear flip-flops unless you want everyone to think you're some kind of asshole.
Once you're at the wake and looking great, it's time to offer your condolences to the relatives of the deceased. It doesn't have to be anything fancy with quotes from Shakespeare or Mike Ditka or anything. A simple "I sure wish (insert name of the deceased here) wasn't dead" will do. It never hurts to mention how great the dead person looks while you're at it, too. Just be sure to also say how you've seen them look better, like when they were alive, for example. If you don't, this will arouse suspicion, as if you actually prefer them dead or something.
After the small talk is out of the way, it's perfectly fine to discuss more important matters. For example, if by chance the dead person owes you money, by all means this is the time to ask for it. To bring it up later would be weird. However, I strongly urge you to refrain from making any sexual advances toward the significant other or any relative of the deceased at the wake because everyone knows the funeral is where the real action is at.
Of course, the big question on everyone's mind when it comes to attending a wake is whether it's okay to touch the body. And I am happy to report that it is perfectly acceptable as long as you make an honest effort to keep it from the waist up. Also, take it from me: Do not mess up the hair or you will never hear the end of it. Ditto on smoking next to the corpse, which makes no sense since they are already dead but whatever.
Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning of all this, there are also times when you might find yourself dropping in on the wake of a complete stranger. Rest assured, there aren't a whole new set of "rules" to learn for this situation: Just do everything I've discussed above and you'll be just fine. And don't worry: Seven times out of 10, the family of the dead person will be absolutely thrilled to meet you, this handsome and delightful stranger who had the good sense to show up in a clown costume.
From Dave Hill's forthcoming book on basic life instructions. He's not sure how you've managed to live this long without it.
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