Friday, April 24, 2015

A Dozen Things to Say or Do at a Funeral

It's been two months since Mom died.

It doesn't feel like it has been that long, and yet it feels like forever.

I'm not doing all that well today, and then I see two friends working through the recent loss of their husbands.  Ouch.  One of those men would have turned 47 today.  For the other, it has been six months.  I truly want them to be posting and sharing as they travel this horrible road, but -- selfishly -- both of those status updates were tough to read this morning.  And yeah, that response makes me feel guilty. 

Anyway, I've been thinking about writing a post about things to do, or not do, at a funeral.  This morning, with their posts, it just seems like the right time. 

I'm not saying I'm speaking for everyone who experiences a death in their family, or even that I'm speaking for everyone who loses their mother.  Just my observations, folks.  People all handle things differently, so take 'em or leave 'em. 

We were really blessed in that we had a lot of supportive folks around. 
  1. At the funeral, when coming over to talk to the family, give your name and your connection to the deceased.  Even if you think they ought to know.  It's really overwhelming, talking to so many people I don't know, but who knew my mom, or know my dad or brothers.  I may not recognize your name, and I'm quite sure I won't remember it.  But tell me anyway, and help me to make the connections.  I nearly broke down in tears when a lady walked over to me to express her condolences, starting with, "Hi, I'm Cassie lastname, and I..."  I cut her off at that point.  As soon as I heard her name, I knew who she was, and we had a nice conversation.
  2. If you start a conversation with, "You must be Glenn and Nadine's daughter!" the advice given above is even more important.  If you aren't positive who I am, then you can bet I don't know who you are.  One woman, who did start with the above phrase, continued with, "My name is Mae lastname and my husband and I had lunch with your parents quite often." That was enough of a cue for me to be able to say, "Oh, Dad said you were here!" and we had a nice conversation.
  3. If you were twelve last time I saw you, and you are now married with tykes of your own, definitely tell me who you are.  I might recognize you in other circumstances, but it isn't likely right now.  (Actually, her mom introduced us, which works too.)
  4. Don't ask me if I think my dad will remarry.  Just don't.  Not only is it none of your business, but my mother isn't even in the ground yet.  This is one where I feel reasonably comfortable speaking for "everyone" -- we are not ready for this question, so don't ask.  This is a family blog, so I'm not going to print what I wanted to say to the SIX different people who asked me this on that day.  What I did was smile and say, "I certainly have no idea."  Really, really, just stop and think about what you are asking.  I can think of NO situation where that question is appropriate at a funeral.  NONE.  I just pray that they didn't ask Dad that too, but some probably did.
  5. If you want to offer help, be specific.  "Is Friday a good day for me to bring over a casserole?  Your family will still be here, right?  I'll bring two then."  I can respond to that.  "Yes, please," or "Thank you so much, but actually, Friday is already covered.  Would either Saturday or Monday work?"  (The casserole was amazingly yummy too.)
  6. Tell me a story.  A short one.  "Your mother always had a smile for everyone.  Always." Or, "I'll always remember the first time I stopped by your house in high school, and your mom was sitting in the kitchen, completely bald, and I realized that she really was fighting cancer.  And she welcomed me as though she had invited me over herself."  It's even better when the story starts with, "I'll always remember..." because I like hearing that someone else will always remember. 
  7. Tell me a funny story.  And if someone else tells me a funny story, be approving as you glance over at me when I laugh.  Mom would have wanted laughter.  Like so many people said to me, she always had a smile.
  8. If you don't know us well, and we're completely sobbing after the funeral, it is a very nice thing to not come over and introduce yourself right at that moment.  Someone scored major points with me when I realized they had done that.  Giving some space to overwhelmed family is amazing. 
  9. If you are asking me how I'm doing, or how Dad is doing, really look at me so that I think you really want to know.  And be okay with any answer I give you.  We both know I'm not "fine," but that may be as much as I'm willing to say right now.  Don't push me for more.  And conversely, don't ask if you don't want me to be honest.  Because I might be.
  10. A hug is often a million times better than words.  Keep the words simple.  "I'm sorry" or "I can't imagine how you are feeling" or "You must still be in shock" are great.  "She's in a better place now" can wait.  So can, "At least she didn't suffer."  If I say either of those things, feel free to agree.  
  11. If you drop off a card, make sure your address is on it.  Just make it easier.
  12. If at all appropriate, ask if you can take a photo of the family.  I really love the extended family photos that were taken at my grandparents' funerals, but nobody thought of it at Mom's.   Posing for a picture and smiling isn't high on the list of things I'd have wanted to do that day, but I'd sure appreciate it now.

Certainly not an all-encompassing list, and I probably missed something obvious.

Funerals can be a really amazing time to celebrate a life, and to reconnect with friends and family.  Mom's was, overall.  It's also a time when people are frazzled, stressed-out and possibly a bit shell-shocked.  Even if the death was expected.  Moreso if it wasn't.

Think before you say something, but even if you say the wrong thing what matters most is that you are there.


Anonymous said...

Oh friend. I am so glad you posted this. Just know I love you - forever and always.


grtlyblesd said...

I'm so sorry. Sometimes when people expect you to be "over" your grief you have a raw day, and it's just hard all over again. :( I wish I could say something comforting.

Unknown said...

This couldn't be more perfect. All of it. I heard many of the same things (minus the remarry thing) when my Mom died. And I loved the stories, too. It is so precious to hear how much our moms touched the lives of others.

Thanks for saying the hard stuff. Out loud.

Love you!

Unknown said...

I am so sorry this was a post you had to write but thank you for your raw honestly. I am sure it was not easy. You continue to be in my prayers.

Debra said...

You guys are great.

Beth Hollmann said...

Oh, Deb. I'm appalled that someone would ask the remarrying question, much less six people. I am so very sorry about your mom, and I thank you for your beautiful post.

Sarah said...

Debra, well said. My inlaws were first in the receiving line at my hubby's visitation, while it should have been me - but I was still too stunned at that point to really know. Thankfully my MIL was able to introduce me to those they knew, some of who didn't even know I was his wife :( that really upset me. As for #4, yes, don't ask also don't tell the widow (or widower) that they are young and can still remarry and have children. Yes, I've been told this several times including the day after Don passed. Uh, no! #5 yes - while I know people wanted to help, asking me what do you need, when I could barely think straight enough to make sure my children were fed is not good - definitive are what we need. #6 and 7 YES! I had several tell me stories of my husband and yes I even had a few moments of laughter but then again I also had those who thought I should not be laughing. #9 there are still days when I get asked how we are, in my grief and loss I've realized that I need to be honest - if I'm not fine I'll say so, if it's a good day I'll say that too. Unfortunately, most people don't want to really hear the truth :( #10 yes, there were several people that I wished had just given a hug versus opening their mouths. I also can't bring myself to say the 'd' word, only passed away, gone, etc - the d word sounds so cold, so final. #11 I've had several anonymous cards/gifts, I would love to give a thank you but I also know they needed to bless us that way in order for them to be blessed. #12 I had our pastor take a picture with just me and then one with the children and I in front of the casket, one day we'll want those pictures. A friend also took pictures of the service both at the church and the grave side, again they'll mean much to us later.

That said, grief is individual I've had some tell me that they don't know how I'm doing so well. It's not like I can stay in bed all day and cry - I have to raise our children but it's like I'm either expected to be clothed in sack cloth and weeping all the time or I should be over it by now. There is no middle ground - I'm coming up on the 6th month anniversary (if you can call it that) and honestly I'm dreading it so badly - for some reason it seems even worse than when my son found my husband but I don't know why. We've made it through Christmas, our wedding anniversary, our daughter's bday and his bday but six months just seems heart rending.

Anyway, I'm sorry for writing a book - thank you for writing.

Stacy Farrell said...

Beautiful. So sorry for your loss, dear Debra.

Leah Courtney said...

This was beautiful and a great reminder. I'm not always a naturally compassionate person and so I feel awkward at a funeral because I don't know what to say or do. I'm sorry you had to experience some of the bad things, but I'm glad some people were there to say the right things.

I will keep you in prayers also as things come up that remind you and bring your grief to the surface.

Brenda Prince said...

Perfect advice. Although #4, I cannot believe 1 person, much less 6 people would have the insensitivity to ask such a inappropriate question at such an inappropriate time.. *hugs*