Offer music at a wake?
July 22, 2009 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I've recently learned that someone I used to know from when we were both much younger, has died. I knew him only in the context of church and we'd pal around on those Sundays, but we hadn't spoken in years. It's been suggested to me, by my parents, who still attend the church (I don't), that I might play some music at the wake, since I'm a violinist. But it seems to me this might be inappropriate for a few reasons.

First, I'm not entirely sure music is traditional for a wake.

Second, I'm not sure it's appropriate for me to offer my services before being asked (although it's true that the deceased's parents don't know I'm in town).

Third, given that this person and I hadn't spoken for some time, I'm not even sure if it's appropriate for me to attend the wake in the first place, let alone perform music.

I'd be glad (not literally) to play music at the wake, if it would make things easier for the bereaved, but I'm wondering if there's a chance this might make things more complicated instead, or if it might be inappropriate.

What do other people think?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (10 answers total)
I think it would be very awkward for you (or your parents) to bring this up to the family, as it seems somewhat like you are showboating your talents. If your parents know the family and really think that they would like music, the more appropriate route would be for your parents to mention it to your pastor or priest who may pass on the offer to the family.

I'm not sure how traditional music at a wake is, but if it's not customary than I believe that your presence would be more appreciated. The family would probably like to hear about the good times that you and their son shared.
posted by amicamentis at 8:30 PM on July 22, 2009

I don't know about the customs around having music at a wake, but I think you should at least attend if you can. If someone I loved had died, and a friend of his from long ago popped out of the woodwork to come to the wake, I'd be happy people still remembered and loved him. I don't think you can ever really go wrong by respectfully attending a remembrance service- in my observation, people will tend to feel sort of proud and gratified that their late loved one will be missed by so many.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:32 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it's up to his family to ask or not ask. I think that making the offer would be a bad thing.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:33 PM on July 22, 2009

1) Sure it is. Or at least it can be. Traditions vary. Wakes can be everything from a somber viewing service to a massive bash, depending on who's doing it. Play it by ear.

2) I'd say probably not. Don't worry about playing if asked, but I wouldn't go out of my way to offer to do so.

3) Sure it is. All sorts of random people show up at things like this, many of whom haven't seen each other for years, assuming they've even met. It's entirely commonplace. I saw people at my grandfather's funeral that I didn't know from Adam and others I hadn't seen for over a decade. Don't sweat it.

4) If you were going out of your way to insist on playing, then yeah, you'd have something to worry about. But if it's something you're asked to do, hey, whatever the family wants, you know?

Don't let your parents shanghai you into anything here, but you might consider putting out some feelers through them. If this is simply their idea, I wouldn't follow up on it, but if they're hearing things from the family, I'd consider saying something.
posted by valkyryn at 8:33 PM on July 22, 2009

There are few reasons that I can think of to not go to the wake. If you don't have a reason to believe that your presence there would make things worse for the family, go. It lets the family know that their son/sibling/nephew/grandson was cared about and thought about, and that people will remember him.
posted by that girl at 8:49 PM on July 22, 2009

I am a violinist as well, and I have been in situations of this sort.

If your parents are close with his parents, or another relative, it would not be at all odd for them to contact them privately and say, "You know, our child (anonymous) is in town and would be happy to provide music at the wake if you felt it would be comforting to your family." Under these sorts of circumstances, especially if they are music lovers, they will certainly appreciate the gesture even if they don't choose to take you up on it. There were times when I was younger and avoided offering my services for occasions such as these, thinking I would be perceived as "showing off." This was never the case and in retrospect I really regret not saying something.

If your parents are not close with the family, though, it would probably be awkward. Best to just make an appearance at the wake as a respectful mourner.

Oh, and of course you'd be playing for free. :-)
posted by chihiro at 8:50 PM on July 22, 2009

Nthing the thoughts about going (sans violin).

Was in a similar situation, decided to go, wore a dark suit and a tie, and it was about 105. Afterward I talked a little with the man I knew a bit, who'd lost his wife of many decades.

At some point he said he was worried about me (Pause, smile ) because anyone who wears a suit and tie in this heat has to be crazy. Big laughs.

I'd wouldn't have guessed that going would have had a hand in the guy finding something to laugh about on the day he buried his wife, but I was glad it did.
posted by ambient2 at 9:20 PM on July 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

You should contact the parents, express your regrets, and offer "any" support you can give. That puts the onus in the proper place: on the parents.

I think your parents are being overzealous in wanting you to perform in a place where you're probably not welcome.

Talk to the deceased's parents.
posted by wfrgms at 10:48 PM on July 22, 2009

My grandfathers funeral, I met scores of people I hadn't seen in twenty+ years and didn't remember at all, including an aunt I never even knew existed.. *awesome*
My new brother-in-law who could not possibly have the exact right connection to my grandfather got up and sang a beautiful song. Everybody was amazed, he has that years of choir and amazing solo voice. Admittedly I was a little pissed in the day prior that some 'stranger' was going to sing, and that my mom's husband was doing the service. It all melted away.

(gramps died at 99 and 11 months and was pretty much senile for the last few years, got to see Masonic funeral rites. Very polite 100+ yr old family owned funeral home treated us all the best.)

About the same for father back in 1992, met dozens of people I didn't know.

Go! You only have one chance ever. Offer to play or not, up to you. Many people will have people that family didn't know that well, nobody tells everything all the time, but the end is the only time you have. Miss it and you have nothing more.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:14 PM on July 22, 2009

When someone dies, everybody always says "If there's anything I can do..." Call or visit the parents, say really nice things about their child, express sincere sympathy at their loss. Then tell them that you are a violinist, and offer to play at the service or wake. Give them some idea of the type of music you can play, and some idea of your credentials. Tell them that if it's not something they want, you would totally understand and not feel slighted.

Funerals are Coldchef's area of expertise. I can tell you from experience that if you contact him, he'll reply with good advice.
posted by theora55 at 7:05 AM on July 23, 2009

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