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I'd like to cater my own wake

No, I'm not planning on dying anytime soon, but you never know. I've attended several wakes where I was sure that the honorees would have loved to have been there to see their friends, and eat the wonderful food everyone brought. Having the wake after they're gone is such a waste of fun.

For years, I've been toying with the idea of catering my own wake because I love to cook and I'd love to see my friends gather together BEFORE I die, so I can be included.

There are two other compelling reasons:

First, I don't know my real birthdate; even though both my parents were in attendance, they disagree on when I was born, and neither one knew the date anyway (this was in rural China, with no calendars). An annual wake could take the place of annual birthday celebrations.

Second, my husband said that if I did this as an annual event, then my friends could pick and choose which one to attend, and then after I die, they wouldn't feel guilty if not being able to attend the last one.

Any Chowhound suggestions for fun food themes, other than the requisite RIP cake? TIA.

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  1. Hard to say without knowing more about you. Would the RIP cake be angel's food or devil's food?

    1. This sounds morbid... why not just have a birthday party? Would you expect your friends to eulogize you?

      2 Replies
      1. re: iluvcookies

        No eulogy - I think they'd roast me, no pun intended.

        1. re: iluvcookies

          I don't think it is morbid at all. Go for it. My mom was going to order her box casket early..and use it for a coffee table, but she died too soon.

        2. I find this a charming idea, though I'm thinking of it even more literally than you - leaving instructions and a bequest in my will to ensure that my friends and family will be fed after my passing as I feed them while I'm here! I can just imagine them saying "This is SO Bob."

          As for what would be on the menu - I'll have to give that some thought.

          1. I'm a little confused about your first reason. You don't want to throw a birthday party, since you don't know your birthdate. But you'll throw a wake, even though you don't know your deathdate, either.

            That said, you should serve fugu, because there's a chance that someone will die and give the party that extra oomph. Or one of those ridiculous "death by chocolate" desserts, if you don't want to risk actually killing a guest.

            6 Replies
            1. re: small h

              Well, since I don't know either date, then why not a wake, and be different? Everyone else has a b'day every year, but wakes are pretty rare. Perhaps this isn't a good idea after all, unless there's only one...

              1. re: Claudette

                I think it's an excellent idea to throw an annual party. I just question tying it to your death, which hasn't happened yet.

                If this is mostly about the food and the company, how about celebrating the anniversary of the first time you made a certain really excellent dish? You can just make up a date, since you were going to, anyway.

                1. re: Claudette

                  I think it would be like throwing yourself a wedding every year just because they're not as common as birthdays. There's a reason for a wake just like a wedding. If you want to celebrate yourself, have a celebration party. Throw it on a certain day like donut day or April Fools Day or Valentine's Day or pick something that is meaningful to you. Despite the good food you'll miss at your real wake, you can't have your wake and eat it, too.;-)

                  1. re: Claudette

                    If someone threw herself a wake, I'd assume she had some terminal illness and would be dead within a few months. There's nothing wrong with just finding some significant date in your life and celebrating that instead of having a faux wake.

                    1. re: queencru

                      I tend to agree - you could scare people, and possibly offend someone who has had a recent loss/actual wake to plan. Even if people understand your sense of humour etc, I think it would be more appropriate as one-off, not a yearly party. But there is nothing wrong with throwing a yearly party unrelated to a birthday - many people have yearly BBQs for example.

                  2. re: small h

                    the fugu comment is pretty good, small. =)

                    also, i agree: skip the wake, just throw an annual celebration for no reason. (like chowser, i guess i'd find it a little self-absorbed for someone to throw themselves an annual wake.) or maybe just throw a killer (hoho) lunar new year celebration. i think traditionally that's when all chinese people celebrated their birthdays, anyway. (there are some risks, according to superstition, to telling people your real birthday.)

                  3. Hold on a little longer to 12/21/2012, then splurge!


                    1. If you were high church Christian you could be hyper traditional and choose your onamastic day - aka name day - that is, the feast day of the saint associated with your name (this is not as common in the US as it is in other parts of the world). St Claude (a male saint) was commemorated by the Roman church on February 15; St Claudius of Rome on November 8; and St Claudius of Besancon on June 6.

                      Or if you prefer Claudette Colbert as a secular patroness, her birthday was September 13, 1903. People get to greet you in a bath of milk:


                      That's a shot from Claudette's legendary scene as the Empress Poppaea, the Emperor Nero's wife, in De Mille's "The Sign of the Cross" (1932), which spurred a more rigorous movie censorship production code....

                      1. Why not celebrate your LIFE as opposed to your death? Attending your own wake is really morbid and I'd find it unlikely that many people would want to attend such an occasion. (With the exception obviously being if you are critically ill and you know without a doubt)

                        However, if you were talking about catering a real funeral (after an actual death):
                        I know that in the Polish culture it is normal to celebrate a death as if it were a wedding. However, most Americans (myself included) have difficulty doing this. Personally, if I'm at a funeral for someone I love or care about, food is the absolute LAST thing on my mind. Granted, I grew up in the Jewish culture where during sitting shiva you are expected to put out a ton of bagels and goodies for the people visiting to say their condolences. However, this is done after the actual funeral- the reality is- for those in mourning- are they really caring about the quality of the lox or are they still in mourning? If food is important to you and you want to be celebrated in that way then by all means. It definitely may bring a more positive outlook to the otherwise sad occasion. But for many people, myself included, for someone I love, I'd be lucky to be able to swallow a single bite and it would just be money wasted. Why not discuss this with your loved ones and see how they feel?

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: NicoleFriedman

                          I'm Polish. We don't celebrate afterward. We do, like most cultures, have a dinner after the burial and usually share memories about the departed.

                          Wow, I'm really surprised how threatened so many people are about death. I thought it was an interesting idea, but then again I have a dark sense of humor at times. Personally, I'd add a pool to the event betting on the actual date.

                          So given all the backlash, I wouldn't do it since a lot of your friends might have the same reaction.

                          I do concede your point about food being the last thing on the mind after an actual funeral. There is only one funeral meal I ever remembered ... and it was for the bad food ... but it was the love that went with it that made it special.

                          When my dad died, one of our neighbors was so overcome with emotion she said she could not go to the funeral. She was ill also, with MS. She made us breakfast of scrambled eggs. Being a picky teen at the time, even a dot of white in scrambled eggs would have me tossing the dish. These were almost all runny whites but the compassion and love that went into this dish made it one of the most memorable in my life. I ate it and felt comforted.

                          Still, I cant help but thinking this may have been a good idea. If nothing else, when the real time comes people could get together with a smile and remember those wacky wakes and perhaps say it's too bad the departed couldn't be here for the real deal.

                          Maybe these early wakes would be a time to stop and reflect ... in a fun way ... about the people we love, how we would miss them when gone and to celebrate life while we have it.

                          Because of the circumstances of my life, I'm probably in the minority of people who don't fear death. I don't welcome it, but I'm not worried about it. It is just a part of life.

                          1. re: rworange

                            I see death as something as natural as birth. It is something I don't fear.....I do fear living into my 80's, but that's another subject. Neither my husband nor I want a funeral/memorial....but a big festive party instead.

                            My FIL died in June after years of poor health and we hosted friends and family at a local Italian place after his memorial service. It worked out very well.

                            1. re: rworange

                              rworange, I'm putting you on my guest list!

                              I have six close girlfriends (none who live close to me), and when two of them almost died of medical ailments within months of each other, I flew to each one's bedside. After they recovered, I went to see my other four friends for no reason other than to cook them dinner and tell them how much they meant to me.

                              My friends would understand about my wake, having put up with my humor and my cooking all these years.

                              1. re: Claudette

                                Cool. I'll bring the flowers ... unless in liu of flowers you have other wishes

                                1. re: Claudette

                                  I always found it interesting how people will go to great lengths to attend a person's funeral, but make little effort when they are living. I don't get that at all.

                                  Count me in the dark/twisted camp and so I think this is a great way to protest the absurdity of what I described above. I imagine that quite often folks have these elaborate dinners/wakes and they get drunk and eat and hug and love each other and remember the departed... and then wish they would've done that exact same thing only when the departed was still full of life.

                                  Nows your chance. <wink>

                            2. Serve a 10 course offal menu.

                              1. I'd take you up on it, if I can use it as a get-out-of-going-to-the-funeral excuse. In my family they always set aside some money to have a good piss-up after a death. Oddly enough, it was a sign of respect.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Paulustrious

                                  "they always set aside some money to have a good piss-up after a death"

                                  Brilliant idea! We always have a good "piss up" after a family death as well, but no one has ever funded it from the grave. Again, brilliant idea!

                                  Oh, btw, I love the term "piss up" too.

                                2. I think it's a charming idea, so add me to the minority vote. A wake is a celebration of a person's life, so you're celebrating yours to this point, even if it's not quite over yet. If your friends are like-minded, you could have a lot of fun with it. You could take some cues from the Mexican Day of the Dead, both for food and for the idea of celebrating those who have passed on as well. Or you could go the goth/halloween route if you have a blacker sense of humor. (Have you seen that jello brain mold?!)

                                  Another thought -- you could call it your annual 'Not A Wake' and walk around croaking, a la Monty Python, "I'm not dead yet."

                                  Don't let the nay-sayers get you down if you want to do this. If your friends are okay with it, then you're good to go.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                    Yeah, I was thinking Mexican day of the dead also.

                                    However, I was thinking for Claudette's "First annual wake" IMO the theme should be 'comfort food'. It could possibly be a pot luck where Claudette auditions dishes friends will bring to her real wake. She could cook up dishes she would bring for the occasion ... if that were possible.

                                    Of course, at least one person has to bring a casserole in a disposable pan ... lasagna? mac and cheese? Maybe some fried chicken. Invite a friend who is out of the area and can't make it so there is a fruit basket ... or send yourself a fruit basket. A cold cut plate, maybe a ham. Well, you get the idea.

                                    For another year, the theme could be global food. This book would be a great resource

                                    Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World

                                    Another year could be a "Meet your maker them" ... devilled eggs, angel food cake

                                    Maybe a retro-Goth year ... Goth is over, isn't it? Black foods ... black bread, black forest cake, figs,

                                    You could have a Southern theme year ... they seem to go all out food-wise. You could try to get a copy of this book - Being Dead Is No Excuse--The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays

                                    There could be a Death and Taxes year with money themed food ... maybe a brunch that year with silver dollar pancakes.

                                    Hey, how long are you planning to live anyway?

                                  2. I like it. Although it is kinda sorta a self-aggrandizing act. But what the hell, right? Just make certain that everyone wears black and fights over who gets your china. ;-P

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: lynnlato

                                      LOL! lynnlato, rworange, and Karen - love your comments & suggestions, and you're all on the guest list, and it won't be a pot luck!

                                      Actually, I've been giving myself "Unbirthday" parties for years, but thought a wake would be a refreshing change. It started out tongue-in-cheek, but this thread has been more thought-provoking than I could ever have imagined.

                                      1. re: Claudette

                                        In this Chowhound thread about funeral food it mentions ...

                                        "In Nigella Lawson's 'Feast,' she has a whole section devoted to Funeral Feasts. The Rosemary Cake seems like a nice thing to make and bring to the family. I think it was part of Ophelia's ramblings when she mentions "rosemary for remembrance," but if I'm correct rosemary does have that symbolism to it."

                                        You could narrow your Southern year to a New Orleans funeral and spring for some music.

                                        ... or ... stealing again from the above link, one year with a 'Soul Food" theme.

                                        A death euphamism year? ... A Slumber Party? Crossing the bar cookies, sleeping with the quiches, kicking the bucket of chicken

                                        Ok, I'll put this topic to rest.

                                    2. When I initially read this thread, I tended to agree with those posters who felt that some of the OP's friends might take this all the wrong way. But this thread has been very thought-provoking, and I appreciate the thoughts that have been shared on this thread. Many thanks to Claudette!

                                      I have had a lot of reason to think about wakes in general, and I agree that it is a shame to celebrate a person's life when they are not around. I like the idea of letting someone know before they are gone how much they mean to you, and how much you would miss them when they are gone. Why do we wait until they are gone? I guess a lot of us can't always have our emotions out on our sleeve all the time.

                                      I don't know that I would bother with a theme. If I were catering my own wake, I think I would just make a bunch of my favorite foods, it would all be very tasty and home-made, and there would be a lot of it. And lots of wine and drinks as well, nothing like a bit of the tipple to make you all very sentimental. I have this feeling fried chicken and champagne would have to play a big role. Perhaps some biscuits and gravy, corn pudding/succotash, yummy macaroni and cheese, some big salads.The nice thing about fried chicken is that almost everyone loves it and it is great hot or cold, no need to worry about serving temperatures. I have this great image of a bunch of us completely sloshed, waving around pieces of fried chicken and dancing madly to "The Night Paddy Murphy Died" under a full moon. I'd have pictures of me with all my friends over the years, and as pictures came up on the screen, I'd start yelling "Hah! Do you remember that night???? That was completely crazy!" More champagne corks would fly, more fried chicken bones flung with abandon. There would be the maudlin moments: "No man, I love YOU more..." "NO NO! I love you WAY MORE!" snuffly hug circles, tears wiped away with ragged shirt sleeves.... Until someone sits in what is left of the corn pudding/succotash and everyone breaks into hysterical laughter. Now that would be quite the wake.

                                      On the other hand, the plus side of not attending your own wake is that you don't have to prepare the food before and you don't have to live through the hangover after.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: moh

                                        A perfectly painted picture.

                                        Hey man, I'm so-o-o happy you're not really dead.

                                        Happy Deathday

                                      2. Make an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian on Saturday evening, invite all your friends to the wake on Sunday, and prepare all the food on Friday and Saturday. You'll have to get a helper to do the last-minute prep work on Sunday morning.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: jeremyn

                                          It is funny how threatened people are by this idea. I'll bet 99 % of the people who nixed this idea gleefully celebrate Halloween. People just don't like to make death personal.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            I just think it can bring up painful memories for people if they've had a loved one die recently and/or in an unexpected, tragic manner that is in no way natural.

                                            1. re: queencru

                                              I see your point, I avoid weddings like the plague since I've been divorced. OTOH, it could be life affirming and cathartic and assist with grieving process. I see it as an opportunity for people to talk and share their feelings about life and death in a non threatening environment.

                                              1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                                I had a close friend die unexpectedly last year and have found that some people prefer to reminisce vocally about him, while I'm the type who prefers to reminisce individually. I just know for me, those types of events where people reminisce are worse than just being able to think about it on my own. I'd imagine that in any group, you'd have a similar makeup of people, some of whom like to talk openly and another group who is more private.

                                        2. You mean there is some who has odder ideas than myself? If your friends understand your humor then you should have your party. Selfishly, I would like you to have it just so I can read the follow up afterward. Personally, I'd go with the mexican day of the dead theme.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                            But after a few years you get tired on the habituaries.

                                          2. I have a good friend who's a caterer, so if I knew the end were near, I'd make arrangements with her, pay up front, tell my family what music I'd like playing in the background, and draw up a list of invitees.

                                            1. Before my best friend suffered with and ultimately died of cancer we had about 4 good months of non stop laughter, kick ass meals (including some crazy mad food fights), music (even a live band in her bedroom) and she insisted that we end every night with a bar of dark chocolate, split in half for both of us to enjoy. I think of her every day. I never felt closer to my bf. She taught me alot about living.

                                              So-I say cater your own wake, make the arrangements you desire while you can because it is about celebrating YOUR life...all the way out.

                                              1. If you're going to cater your own wake. Make LOTS AND LOTS of spicy appetizers. That way by the end of the get together everyone has an Idea of where you've been and where you're going

                                                On a serious note. It's you're wake. have any food that YOU like. Cater it to yourself. You know how at birthdays you always go to a place that can accomodate you and your friends. Well here, you should just have a menu with all your favorite things!

                                                1. I LOVE this idea! My grandfather was a small-town undertaker (I guess they're called funeral directors, these days), and the room where the "viewings" took place was part of the house. Often grandpa had a job while we were visiting for the weekend. I guess I learned early that death was very much a part of life. The "wakes" were pot-luck affairs, held in the school across the street.
                                                  Now, MANY years later, I'm a member of our church's Grief Support Committee. It's a group that gets called when there is to be a funeral at our church. We each make a dish, then serve it pot-luck style in our church hall.
                                                  The dishes change based on the season, and occasionally, based on the ethnicity of the family. However, there are 2 dishes that ALWAYS show up: devilled eggs, and cheesy potatoes (aka, party potatoes, aka funeral potatoes). The potatoes include butter, sour cream, full-fat cheddar cheese, sometimes even bacon bits. Can you see why this recipe is associated with death? ;-)
                                                  Having said all that, I'd have to agree with the posters above: serve what YOU like. Sounds like a hell of a party!!!!

                                                  1. I've had this on my mind over the last year. I've had some health issues which have given me pause. I've watched my mother go from a vibrant 70something who had hiked the Himalaya's yearly since the early 70's loose her independence and most of her fine motor functions overnight. I have moved to an area where I no longer have daily interaction with any family and friends. I also have my 50th approaching soon.

                                                    So I invited my nearest and dearest for a weekend house party. My mother is not well enough to travel so my folks can't attend. Most of my friends are muisicians or craftspeople, and amazingly we were able to coordinate show/gig schedules and get almost everyone here!

                                                    Folks started arriving Friday. I've been cooking up a storm - which I love- and we've been talking, laughing, hiking, eating and having a blast. I brought everyone out to a nice restaurant tonight and it was perfect. Great food, drink and most of all company. We all live pretty frugal lives due to career choices, so it has been really nice to host this weekend and spend time with everyone and get to enjoy watching new friendships begin as they get to meet new people.

                                                    This is really my version of your idea - I operate under a life is short so try not to have regrets philosophy. I would not call it a wake because a few of these people would have a hard time getting past that tag...but that is basically what it is. I'm not anticipating passing anytime soon, but you never know. I am so happy having everyone camping in my home while I type this -and knowing we have brunch tomorrow and several more days together. It is great!

                                                    I'm usually not much for birthday party's and such. But this time I was able to do it with exactly who I wanted, how I wanted and two days into it - it is truly wonderful!

                                                    So do it -phrase it how ever best works with your loved ones, but do it!

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: meatn3

                                                      meantn3 - what a perfect celebration! Congratulations! Unfortunately, my friends are scattered across the continent, so I only see them once a year, and individually. I might have to wait for them to retire, or for me to expire, before I can get them all in the same place at the same time.

                                                      1. re: Claudette

                                                        Yesterday the last of the guests left. I've been getting calls and e-mails from everyone about how much fun they had and how delicious the food was. The one person who felt it was "wrong" ended up having the best time and has changed her tune!

                                                        Since I'm generally a bit of a hermit by nature, I went for a hike in the afternoon to transition from happy chaos to peaceful silence. Came within 2 inches from stepping on a copperhead. Got a quick adrenalin rush! But one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was I was so happy that I had thrown the house party weekend!

                                                        1. re: meatn3

                                                          Wow - a copperhead! A beautiful snake, but I'm glad you're safe, and I toast your party, too. I've had a couple of brushes w/ death myself, and they were truly life-changing: a divorce, a change in attitudes about possessions (fewer), food (only what I like), friends (see regularly).

                                                          1. re: Claudette

                                                            Yes, each challenge leaves you with more clarity. That is the plus side of going through difficult times. Our experiences sound like we have had similar paths!

                                                    2. I can tell you what I'd do:

                                                      Cremation - gotta have barbecue!

                                                      Also: maybe if you're in a position to know you've only got a couple of years or less, but still feel well enough ... put up some relishes in canning jars now, and have them served then.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: wayne keyser

                                                        I agree...a bbq but make it a dug out pit in the back yard! Do it pot-luck..or un-luck and let people choose appropriate sides...like, deviled eggs, death by chocolate dessert, dead as dirt chili, etc. Yes...a roast is in order fer sure! Preserved jams, tomatoes, etc....yes!

                                                        Formaldahyde french fries.....yum. Casket Cake....I can't stop!

                                                      2. are you asking this because you are ill or just want to shock your friends?

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: iluvcookies

                                                          Are you asking this because you didn't read the thread except for the OP?

                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                            I read the replies... just trying to wrap my head around this one.... it's so morbid.

                                                            Never mind.