I’m often asked, “What are the best and worst things to say at a funeral?” And it’s a great question to ask because the right words can help speed up healing, while the wrong words can delay the grief process by days, maybe even months.
I stumbled across this list from Grief.com and thought they were very helpful. Of course, there may be one or two pieces of advice that should be taken lightly.
The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief
- At least she lived a long life, many people die young
- He is in a better place
- She brought this on herself
- Edward Cullen does not exist and even if he did, he wouldn’t bite your loved one
- There is a reason for everything
- Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for awhile now
- You can have another child still
- She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him
- I know how you feel
- She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go
- Be strong
The Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief
- I am so sorry for your loss.
- I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
- I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in anyway I can.
- You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
- I have a ton of bacon in my car with your name on it.
- My favorite memory of your loved one is…
- I am always just a phone call away
- Give a hug instead of saying something
- We all need help at times like this, I am here for you
- I am usually up early or late, if you need anything
- Saying nothing, just be with the person
Taken verbatim (the humorous suggestions are mine) from the incredibly helpful Grief.com
If you’d like to share your experiences with what should or shouldn’t be said, please feel free to share. Or, if you agree or disagree with any of the above suggestions, let me know!
St. Frances of Assisi is attributed with saying, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” The idea here is that actions are more powerful than words.
When it comes to funerals, it often feels like just the very opposite … that our words are more powerful than our actions. We’re afraid that if we mess up and say something incredibly stupid that we could offend and hurt our close friends in their most needy of times.
You’ve waited in the viewing / visitation line for over an hour, your turn has finally come to greet the family and express your condolences and … what do you say?
Here’s the text of an article written by Gloria Horsley that can help you know what to say and what not to say:
What Not To Say To A Grieving Person:
• You will never get over it. - This comment really drove me crazy as it always felt so condescending and minimizing and how do you respond? I didn’t want to “get over my son and his cousin’s death,” yet I wanted to move on to become strong and hopeful once again. I did want to get over the hurt. I now realize that I have “never gotten over it” but with time and work have transcended the pain and suffering and have again found joy.
• They are the first things you will think of every morning. - This was a comment was made by my husband’s secretary at Scott’s funeral. It’s true Scott being killed in an automobile accident was the first thing I thought of every morning for a while, and then as time went on I noticed that I started giving equal thought to my three living daughters and now my ten grandchildren.
• It wasn’t meant to be. - This is very fatalistic. How does anyone know what was meant to be. Someday when we join our loved ones we will know all the answers or not.
• You’re young. You can marry again. - I know that this comment drives widowers crazy. That special person will always be a part of your life.
• You can have another child. - Again, people are not replaceable. Our loved ones are unique and fill a special place in our lives.
• Maybe God is trying to teach you something. - Now, this must be a really crazy God if he/she wants us to suffer. I just can’t buy into this idea of a God.
• You must move on. - Who says? It is your life, and people move and change when they are ready. As a therapist, I always try to remember, “Don’t want more for people than they want for themselves.”
• They had a good life. - My sorrow is not about their “good life.” It is about how I will construct a new life without them.
• Be thankful you have other children. - As if I wasn’t thankful for my living children already. Our special children can never be replaced, but that doesn’t stop us from having a unique and special place in our hearts for each and every child that comes into our lives.
• Be strong for your parents. - This comment really bothered Scott’s sisters — Heidi, Rebecca and Heather — because they felt as though it discounted their loss.
Helpful Things To Say Or Do For A Grieving Person:
• Show up. - I used to send a card. Now, I send myself. My friend Sally showed up at our house before our first dinner alone, brought a book, and just read while we ate. It was very comforting.
• Do a kindness. - Friends mowed my lawn, took out the garbage, walked the dog and took the kids to movies.
• Answer the telephone and take notes. - We had dozens of casseroles, walls of flowers, and random gifts. Without careful notes taken by friends, we would have had no idea what to do with the empty dishes or who to thank.
• Create a memorial website. - When I was working on the Columbia University 9/11 project helping the fire fighters’ families whose loved ones died in the Twin Trade Towers, we created a memorial website where our staff could tell his family the great things their son and brother had done to help those in need.
• Be willing to sit down and listen. - This is important, as people often get anxious when confronted with grief and have difficulty being silent when those in grief talk. I needed to tell my story over and over again in order to have the enormity of my loss become a reality.
• Ask how they are really feeling. - Don’t ask this question unless you are willing to take some time to listen. You feel dropped when people ask you to dig deep and then look at their watch.
• Don’t try to be profound. - This advice was given to me by a very insightful priest. Just showing up and sitting with grievers is profound.
• Be patient. Learning to live again takes time. - Friends and family don’t like to see you suffer, and they really do want you to get on with life. They want you to be the person you were prior to the loss. They don’t want to hear the reality that “you will never be the same but will have to find a ‘new normal’.”
Share your loved one’s name in the comments below. Tell us — What have people said to you? Was it helpful or hurtful in your healing process?
A facebook and real life friend of mine posted this in his status yesterday. It was so good that I wanted to share it with you.
If you know someone who is grieving, this is probably how they want you to treat them:
Please be patient with me; I need to grieve in my own way and in my own time.
Please don’t take away my grief or try to fix my pain. The best thing you can do is listen to me and let me cry on your shoulder. Don’t be afraid to cry with me. Your tears will tell me how much you care.
Please forgive me if I seem insensitive to your problems. I feel depleted and drained, like an empty vessel, with nothing left to give.
Please let me express my feelings and talk about my memories. Feel free to share your own stories of my loved one with me. I need to hear them.
Please understand why I must turn a deaf ear to criticism or tired clichés. I can’t handle another person telling me that time heals all wounds.
Please don’t try to find the “right” words to say to me. There’s nothing you can say to take away the hurt. What I need are hugs, not words.
Please don’t push me to do things I’m not ready to do, or feel hurt if I seem withdrawn. This is a necessary part of my recovery.
Please don’t stop calling me. You might think you’re respecting my privacy, but to me it feels like abandonment. Please don’t expect me to be the same as I was before. I’ve been through a traumatic experience and I’m a different person.
Please accept me for who I am today. Pray with me and for me. Should I falter in my own faith, let me lean on yours. In return for your loving support I promise that, after I’ve worked through my grief, I will be a more loving, caring, sensitive, and compassionate friend-becauseI have learned from the best.
By Margaret Brownley
You walk into a house full of fresh grief. It’s fresh because the death just occurred. Your best friend’s husband went out to the bar last night, drowned his hard day in hard drink and he never made it back home. Fresh. Because both you and your friend have never experienced death this close.
You open the door like you have so many times before, but this time the familiarity of the house is unexpected different, dark and lonely. What once housed parties, life and love now houses something you’ve never known before. Like a river, everything is in the same place it was when you last saw it, but this home has changed.
You see your friend’s children sitting on the sofa, staring into space.
You ask them, “Where’s your mom?”
And as you reach to hug them, they snap back to reality and whisper, “Upstairs.”
Each step brings you closer to what you know is only an apparition of your friend. The nerves build. Fear begins to build. You repress it as you ready yourself to meet your closest friend who has all of a sudden become someone you may no longer know.
“Can I come in?” you ask. No response.
You push open the cracked bedroom door and see the body of your friend collapsed on her bed, with used tissues surrounding her like a moat.
You tip-toe into the room, slowly sit down on the bed, and not sure if she’s awake or asleep, you reach for your friends shoulder and begin rubbing her back. Her blood shot eyes open, look at you and then, they slowly look through you.
You fill the weird silence with an “It’s going to be alright”.
“It’s not”, she whispers. “I’m alone with two kids and no job.” Her voice suddenly raises as anger courses through her body, “Why the f*** would he do this to me?”
The curse word chides you into recognizing that you’ve not only misspoken, but you’ve spoken too soon, so you decide to wait in silence. She starts to cry. You respond to her tears with your own. Even though you want to respond with words, you know this isn’t the time for words. There’s no perfection words here. There’s no perfect anything here. And so you wait.
You stay. Listen. Silence. You take her pain into your soul. Hours pass. She rises out of bed and makes the children dinner.
You’ve spoken, not with words or advice; not by trying to solve the problem; nor by placing a limit on your time. You’ve taken the uncomfortable silence, allow the grace for tears, for brokenness; you’ve allowed yourself to sit in the unrest without trying to fix it.
With your presence. With your love. In your honest acknowledgement of real loss, you’ve spoken the language of grief.
Although the language of grief is usually spoken in love, presence and time, sometimes it’s spoken in words. And when it is, here are five practical “do”s and “don’ts”
1. At least she lived a long life, many people die young
2. He is in a better place
3. She brought this on herself
4. There is a reason for everything
5. Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for awhile now
1. I am so sorry for your loss.
2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
3. I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in anyway I can.
4. You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
5. My favorite memory of your loved one is…
In our culture, touch is too often motivated by
1.) Desire. 2.) Demand.
Many don’t know how to touch outside of those two categories.
There’s a rather new interdisciplinary area of study called haptonomy which explores how to touch outside of the desire and demand categories. Haptonomy is the study of psycho-tactile communication. Psychologist and hospice pioneer Marie de Hennezel writes concerning her training in haptonomy:
One develops and tries to ripen one’s human faculties of contact; one learns to ‘dare’ to encounter another human being by touch. It may seem foolish to undergo formal training in order to develop a basic human faculty. Unfortunately, the world in which we all grew up and continue to develop is one that doesn’t encourage spontaneous emotional contact. Certainly we touch other people, but that’s when the intention is erotic. Other times, the context is impersonalizing, as in the medical sphere, when one is most often manipulating ‘bodily objects.’ What is forgotten is what the whole person may feel. “
There’s touching with desire, touching with demand and — here’s a third option — there’s touching with devotion. Touching with devotion is an ardent recognition of the value of people … it’s not forceful or uncomfortable, rather it’s respectful and produces ease.
There’s one place where the humanizing, respectful and relaxing touch of devotion is seen on a regular basis.
That place is death.
We receive the phone call that so-and-so has died at their home. We put on our dress cloth, drive to the house and there awaiting us is so-and-so’s family. We walk in and instead of shaking their hands, we reach for a hug. And they reach back.
At the funeral of so-and-so, family and friends hug and kiss and embrace all day. It’s those hugs and embraces that somehow make a funeral bearable … they somehow relax the otherwise tumultuous experience of death.
The irony is that a human has to die for true humanity to be found.
Mainstream medicine is catching on to the power of devotional touch.
The University of Miami conducted over 100 studies on the power of devotional touch and this is what they found: Devotional touch can: produce faster growth in premature babies
caused reduced pain in children and adults
decrease autoimmune disease symptoms
lowered glucose levels in children with diabetes
improved immune systems in people with cancer.
Other studies have show that devotional touch can
lower stress levels
boost immune systems
Why do we reserve the life giving power of touch only for death and funerals?
What would happen if we would daily interact with our friends and family like we were at a funeral?