Debbie, a family friend from a suburb of Chicago, told me about her mother-in-law’s wake in Ireland. Debbie’s husband was born and grew up in Ireland. Though he immigrated to the United States, the majority of his family remains in Galway, Ireland. Debbie’s mother-in-law passed away in March 2014. She told me about the Irish waking process this past February after my grandma’s wake. Learning about Irish Catholic wakes was particularly interesting because I was able to compare it to an American Catholic wake and funeral–a process that was fresh in my mind.
Well they did take her then to a building, the other way. But they had like 200 people, they did a mass in the house, and they did a wake. And then we took her the next day to be waked in a regular funeral parlor.
I mean when they brought her home, I was like, Oh my God! I mean you hear about this.
They brought her home and she spent the night. They made sure that there was always somebody with her. And they brought her home around three o’clock in the afternoon. We had mass that night and we took her out the following day at 3:00. And brought her down to where she was going to be waked.
All the sons carried her on their shoulders. You know, they have the smaller caskets. And, yeah, it was really…One girl in the family kept trying to turn the heat up and I’m like, “Please don’t turn the heat up in this room. Not for for 24 hours.” Yeah but it was really interesting. You know what, it was nice. The grandkids and great grandkids were able to talk, were able to touch. And the talk that we had around the casket was really interesting. It’s the way it used to be. I was taken aback, but it was a very nice experience especially for the family.
Debbie’s initial shock at her husband’s family’s practices reveals how different these Irish Catholic practices are than American Catholic practices. As Debbie expressed, the Irish waking practices are “interesting” and “nice” to Catholics in America who do not have the same waking practice. Debbie’s story reveals that it is important for the family to talk about the family member who has passed away. Their practices also reveal that it can be therapeutic to touch the person that died. Sharing stories in the presence of the casket may be even more therapeutic than sharing stories after the wake as is common among American Catholics. I believe that the fact that her mother-in-law was never left alone suggests that Irish Catholics believe you are not alone in death. As Debbie said, it seems like a nice experience.