In recent years, the concept of living wakes has gained popularity as a unique and meaningful way to celebrate life. Unlike traditional wakes, which are held after someone has passed away, living wakes are held while the person is still alive. This allows individuals to be part of the celebration, hear the stories and tributes from loved ones, and appreciate the impact they’ve had on the lives of others. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of living wakes, including their significance, how to plan one, and the emotional benefits they offer both the honoree and attendees.

What is a Living Wake?

A living wake is a gathering where friends, family, and loved ones come together to celebrate the life of a person who is still living. The event is typically filled with personal stories, heartfelt tributes, laughter, and sometimes tears. Living wakes create a space where the honoree can experience the love and appreciation of those around them. Unlike traditional memorials, a living wake allows the person to be an active participant in their own celebration.

The Significance of Living Wakes

Living wakes offer a unique opportunity to celebrate life in a way that traditional ceremonies do not. They shift the focus from mourning a loss to celebrating the present, giving everyone involved a chance to express gratitude and love while the person is still alive. This shift in perspective can be incredibly powerful and healing for everyone involved.

Celebrating Achievements and Impact

One of the key benefits of a living wake is the opportunity to acknowledge the achievements and impact of the honoree. Friends and family can share stories and memories that highlight the positive influence the individual has had on their lives, creating a tapestry of experiences that honor their legacy.

Providing Closure and Peace

For the honoree, a living wake can provide a sense of closure and peace. Knowing that they are loved and appreciated can be incredibly comforting, especially for those facing terminal illnesses. It allows them to reflect on their life with a sense of fulfillment and contentment.

How to Plan a Living Wake

Planning a living wake requires thoughtful consideration and careful planning. Here are some steps to help you organize a memorable and meaningful event:

Determine the Guest List

The guest list is a crucial component of a living wake. It should include close family members, friends, and anyone who has played a significant role in the honoree’s life. It’s important to ensure that the guest list reflects the honoree’s relationships and connections. Don’t feel bad about omitting people that don’t make the honoree feel good.

Choose the Right Venue

The venue for a living wake can vary depending on the preferences of the honoree and the number of guests. It could be held at the honoree’s home, a favorite park, a community center, or even a virtual setting if in-person gatherings are not possible. The key is to choose a location that feels comfortable and significant to the honoree.

Plan the Program

A well-structured program can help ensure that the living wake runs smoothly and that everyone has an opportunity to share their stories and tributes. Consider including:

  • Opening remarks to welcome guests and set the tone for the event.
  • Storytelling sessions where guests can share their memories and experiences.
  • Musical performances that hold special meaning to the honoree.
  • Photo and video montages that capture key moments from the honoree’s life.

Personalize the Event

Personalization is key to making a living wake meaningful. Incorporate elements that reflect the honoree’s interests, hobbies, and passions. For example, if the honoree loves gardening, you could have a flower arrangement activity or distribute plant seeds as keepsakes.

Emotional Benefits of Living Wakes

Living wakes offer profound emotional benefits for both the honoree and the attendees. By creating a space for open expression and connection, these events can foster deep emotional healing and bonding.

For the Honoree

For the person being celebrated, a living wake provides an opportunity to witness the love and appreciation of their community. This can be deeply validating and reassuring, especially during challenging times. It allows the honoree to:

  • Feel valued and cherished by their loved ones.
  • Reflect on their life with a sense of fulfillment and joy.
  • Receive support and encouragement from their community.

For the Attendees

Attendees of a living wake also experience significant emotional benefits. By participating in the celebration, they can:

  • Express their feelings and share memories that might otherwise go unsaid.
  • Strengthen their connections with the honoree and other attendees.
  • Find closure and peace in knowing they’ve had the opportunity to say goodbye and show their appreciation.

Living Wakes vs. Traditional Memorials

While both living wakes and traditional memorials serve to honor and remember an individual, there are key differences between the two:


  • Living Wakes: Held while the person is still alive, allowing them to participate in the celebration.
  • Traditional Memorials: Held after the person has passed away, focusing on mourning and remembrance.


  • Living Wakes: Emphasize celebrating life, achievements, and the present moment.
  • Traditional Memorials: Focus on mourning the loss and reflecting on the past.


  • Living Wakes: The honoree can actively engage with guests, hear their stories, and express their own feelings.
  • Traditional Memorials: The honoree is absent, and the event is more about the attendees processing their grief.

Stories and Testimonials: The Heart of Living Wakes

One of the most touching aspects of a living wake is the sharing of stories and testimonials. These personal narratives create a vibrant picture of the honoree’s life, highlighting their unique qualities and the impact they have had on others.

Memorable Stories

Encouraging guests to share memorable stories can lead to heartfelt and often humorous moments. These stories serve as a testament to the honoree’s character and the joy they’ve brought into others’ lives.

Written Tributes

In addition to spoken stories, written tributes can be a lasting way to honor the honoree. Guests can write letters, create memory books, or even contribute to a collective scrapbook that the honoree can cherish.

The Role of Technology in Living Wakes

Technology has made it easier than ever to organize and participate in living wakes, especially in situations where in-person gatherings are not feasible. Virtual living wakes can be just as meaningful and engaging with the right tools and planning.

Virtual Gatherings

Platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams allow for virtual living wakes, where guests can join from anywhere in the world. These platforms often include features like breakout rooms for smaller group discussions and screen sharing for photo and video montages.

Digital Tributes

Creating a digital tribute can be a wonderful way to honor the honoree. This could include a website or social media page where guests can post stories, photos, and videos. Digital tributes are accessible from anywhere and can be continually updated.

Cultural Perspectives on Living Wakes

Different cultures have unique perspectives on celebrating life and death. Incorporating cultural elements into a living wake can add depth and meaning to the event.

Western Traditions

In many Western cultures, living wakes are a relatively new concept, but they are gaining acceptance as people seek more personal and meaningful ways to celebrate life. These events often emphasize individual achievements and personal connections.

Eastern Traditions

In some Eastern cultures, the idea of celebrating life while living aligns closely with traditional practices. For example, in certain Buddhist traditions, it is common to hold ceremonies that honor the living and express gratitude for their contributions.

Indigenous Traditions

Indigenous cultures around the world often have rich traditions of celebrating life and honoring individuals within their communities. Incorporating these traditions into a living wake can create a profound sense of connection to one’s heritage and community.

Practical Tips for a Successful Living Wake

Planning a living wake involves several practical considerations. Here are some tips to ensure a successful and meaningful event:

Communicate Clearly

Ensure that all guests are informed about the purpose and format of the living wake. Clear communication can help set the right expectations and encourage meaningful participation.

Be Mindful of Emotions

Living wakes can be emotionally intense experiences. Be prepared for a range of emotions, and consider having a support system in place, such as a counselor or spiritual advisor, to help guests navigate their feelings.

Capture the Moments

Consider hiring a professional photographer or videographer to capture the moments of the living wake. These photos and videos can be cherished by the honoree and their loved ones for years to come.

Conclusion: The Profound Impact of Living Wakes

Living wakes offer a beautiful and meaningful way to celebrate life while the honoree is still present to appreciate it. By focusing on the present and the positive impact an individual has had, these events provide a unique opportunity for emotional healing, closure, and connection. Whether through heartfelt stories, cultural traditions, or the use of technology, living wakes can create lasting memories and profound moments of joy and gratitude. As more people embrace this concept, living wakes will likely continue to grow in popularity, offering a powerful alternative to traditional memorials.

About the Author Heather Honold

I am a Certified Conscious Living & Dying Coach, End-of-Life Doula, Eldercare Doula, Advanced Care Consultant, Grief & Spiritual Coach, and Energy Healing Practitioner. I offer a range of services to support any person working through the human experience. This may look like conscious living coaching, spiritual coaching, end-of-life support, vigil sitting, legacy projects, energy healing, and more. I offer support throughout the Phoenix-metro area, including Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria, Avondale, Litchfield Park, and Sun City.

My intention is to offer a safe space for everyone, regardless of what phase of life you are in.

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