Does the phrase "in the wake" mean "following" or refer to the "funeral vigil" in the excerpt from the chapter Eight of The Great Gatsby?
They had difficulty in locating the sister, Catherine. ...Someone, kind or curious, took her in his car and drove her in the wake of her sister’s body.
This phrase “in the wake” means to follow here, but it is an intentional double meaning to make you think of a funeral wake.
You are correct that “in the wake” can refer to following something in water, which is the wake, or refer to a “wake” meaning a funeral proceeding. In this case, think about the way the word was chosen. It could have been following, but that would not conjure up images of funeral wakes.
When Caroline finds out that her sister’s body is in the ambulance already, look how she responds.
When they convinced her of this, she immediately fainted, as if that was the intolerable part of the affair. (Ch 8)
This phrase is used in the very beginning, to introduce Gatsby. It is part of the mystery when “foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams” (ch 1). In this case, the double meaning is not as strong but is still there. The death of Gatsby’s dreams is a major theme in the book.