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 (mostly) verbatim 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!
Over the past month I’ve been featured by NBC, CBS and the Facebook god George Takei (oh myyy). And while the NBC and CBS posts were rather innocuous, this post has been making it’s rounds. Like, it’s everywhere.
For those of us who watch “The Walking Dead” and other Zombie films, the joke is mostly funny. For those who aren’t interested in the zombie genre, though, it’s created some discomfort. Being that the post has gone viral, millions have seen it and not everyone has liked it.
One local person (who refused to give us their name) called the funeral home and demanded that I take down the post (by the time they called it was too late and the post had already gone viral).
Another person actually reported me to the Borough Council of my home town. Thankfully, the Borough Council realized my post was in jest and didn’t kick me out town.
But when a friend that I really respect was uncomfortable with that particular tweet, it made me reflect upon my platform. He constructively and kindly let me know what he thought via a Facebook message, and it provided me with a moment of clarification, which I communicated with this response:
So sorry. It is certainly something that I would never ever consider doing in real life. I understand why the thought of this would upset you and sincerely apologize. It has been a difficult process for me to understand how I can engage my generation in the death and dying conversation without being over the top. This is a process that I have continually modified based on constructive feedback. I thank you for being willing to offer me your thoughts and do know that I am very sorry this tweet called into question our trustworthiness. I will learn to do better.
I just want to make some things clear: I am first and foremost a funeral director who has the utmost respect for those I serve. And I would never, ever knowingly do anything through social media that would break the trust of my community.
Through six generations and over 150 years, our family has earned the trust and confidence of our community and I would NEVER trade that trust for anything. I would NEVER trade our reputation that my family has built for 15 minutes of personal fame. I have too much respect for my family and too much respect for this wonderful community that we serve.
So, why do I engage in social media? And why are some of my posts “edgy”?
My goal with social media is simple: I want to start a conversation about death. And, as a funeral director, I’m well suited to initiate the discussion. We need to talk about death, we need to embrace it, we need to understand it better and – at times – the best way to start the conversation about an uncomfortable subject is through a little bit of humor.
This whole death and social media thing is kinda unique. We’re doing it together. We’re learning. And we’re going somewhere. We’re learning how to live life better through a healthy perspective of death. So, learn with me. I’m trying my best.
Today’s guest post is written by Lynsie Lee:
They say you can’t help someone if they don’t want it for themselves. You can shove resources into their face, offer time, money, every ounce of yourself. But if they don’t want help, there is nothing you can do. Sadly, this is the case with my mother while she is dying from cancer.
Maybe she’s in denial. Maybe she is still trying to be the strong, independent woman that raised six children on her own. But now, when I walk into her dark, dingy apartment – the smell of old dishes and mildew filling my nostrils – I feel like maybe she just wants to die.
She has disconnected herself from us; much like when she was an alcoholic. We don’t know how to feel, what to say to her, how to help her. She has abandoned my siblings and I and it’s beginning to feel like she is already gone.
My family has always been the epitome of dysfunction. Our mother kept us from knowing relatives, so none of us have ever dealt with a death in the family. Questions, stresses and frustrations all swarm my mind when I think about when she actually does pass- not fully for the pain of the loss of my only parent, but for the realization that we will have to plan a funeral. The dread of needing to clean up an apartment that has been hoarded in for nearly 30 years. There’s also the weight on our shoulders of what to do with our eldest sister who still lives there because of psychiatric issues that our mother chose to neglect and refused to address. My mom is choosing to let herself die and leaving us to handle all of the issues she never could.
I’m not angry with her, which I know is a stage of the grieving process. I refuse to have anger toward somebody that did what she could with what she had (mentally, emotionally and physically). I spent enough of my childhood and adolescent being mad at her, hating her, wishing she would die. But now she is dying and it kills me to think that this is what she wants.
It kills me to see her curled up in a fragile ball on a couch surrounded by boxes with all of the light bulbs in her home burnt out. It kills me that my eldest sister has to live in these conditions and see this image every hour of every day. And it kills me that my mom refuses to let us improve this.
I’ve been grieving publicly for a few weeks and while it does mean a lot to me when I receive condolences, or when others relate with their own personal losses to cancer, I still feel alone in the fact that my mom is dying in these conditions. She’s choosing to be alone in these conditions. She’s choosing to abandon her children when she is all we have ever had.
I tried expressing to her the other night that I was sad and scared and she told me to leave her alone, that she just wanted to rest. You can’t help someone who won’t accept it. My mother doesn’t want help. My mother wants to die.
From Caleb: As a funeral director, I’ve had to learn to control my emotions. Not because I’m a selective empathetic, but because grieving families need me to be the level head in the midst of grieving souls. But I couldn’t control my emotions when I first read this post. I cried. I cried because Lynsie pulled me into her story. I cried because I’ve served families whose loved one’s have chosen to die alone. By their own choice. I’ve seen the empty pain in those left behind. The helpless pain. The grief that has been disenfranchised by the one who has died. When someone chooses to die along, it leaves behind a lonely grief. An orphaned grief.
I hope this post finds its way to other “orphans” because I know it will give them a small sense of comfort, knowing that although your loved one has barred you from grieving, there’s a community of the lonely … an orphanage for the lonely grievers.
Thank you Lynsie for being willing to share.
I picked up the phone with my rehearsed, “Hello. This is the Wilde Funeral Home. Caleb speaking.” The voice on the other end says abruptly, “I have a problem … my son-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident yesterday.”
Now that I know the nature of her call, the next five or six sentences are as rehearsed as the first.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you” she says.
I pause … waiting to see if the silence elicits any farther response; and, at the same time I’m contemplating if I should deviate from the script and ask her about details of the death.
Keeping with the script, I continue on, inquiring about the hospital he’s at, the name of her daughter, her daughter’s phone number and then the hardest question of them all:
“Do you know if you want embalming or cremation?” I say with hesitation.
And what proceeded was her only scripted response.
“It depends on the condition of his body. The coroner told us he slammed into a tree without his helmet on, but they wouldn’t tell us anymore. If he’s bad … cremation. If he’s okay … embalming.”
We went over the plan of action, which consists of me calling the hospital to see if her son-in-law’s released, calling the coroner to inquire about the condition of the body and then calling her back to let her know a time she could come in to the funeral home and make arrangements.
I called the coroner’s office.
Got the release from the hospital.
And an hour later I was standing in the morgue unzipping the body bag to see if the body of this 40 year old man was viewable. It was the back of the head that hit the tree … something we could fix for his wife and four young children (ages 5 to 13), so they could see their husband and daddy one last time.
15 hours of restoration. He still didn’t look right. Dead people never look right. We’re so used to seeing them alive that dead is never accurate … but this was different. This was a motorcycle accident that threw a man into a tree.
We gave the wife the choice to continue on with the public viewing or close the lid and she chose to keep it open, sharing the reality and source of her pain in all its distortion … sharing it even with her four young children and all their schoolmates that came out in support, many of whom saw unperfected death for the very first time.
The scheduled end of the viewing came and went but people kept coming to view.
Finally the last person filed past the casket and the family knew the time to say their last good-bye had approached.
The viewing was held in a church, with the casket positioned at the front of a totally full sanctuary. As a way to provide privacy to the family, we turned the open casket around so that the lid blocked the view from the pews … creating a private space where tears could be shed in all their honest shock.
The sanctuary echoed with the cries of four children and their mother.
And the sanctuary echoed with the cries of four weeping children and their mother … making time stand silent.
The grandfather came up to the casket, wrapped his arms around the children and said, “This is hard for you to understand.” The tear soaked porcelain skin cheeks. The last look of their father’s physical body save the memories their young minds have stored.
In those moments as the sanctuary resounded with the cries produced by an inexplicable death, there wasn’t a person in the room who understood.
Yet all tried to understand. All grasped for an explanation.
In these moments — as we watched these young children — we all became like them. With all the well intended cliches emptied of meaning, we allowed our minds to reconcile with what our hearts were telling us: we simply can’t understand something that doesn’t make sense.
In Nederland, Colorado, there is an annual “Frozen Dead Guy Days“, which, among other things, includes a casket race (pictured below).
This type of macabre sport got me thinking, “What if there was a funeral industry Olympics?” So, I asked this question to my facebook community:
And you guys responded with nearly 200 glorious answers, many of which were very much industry specific (i.e., if you don’t work in the funeral business, you may not fully grasp the event. And, some of the events might seem disgusting to you, but are very real to us).
I absolutely love getting together with fellow funeral directors. Because we’re sort of a unique industry, it’s almost like we’re a part of some club. And when we’re together, we can share a part of ourselves that we hide from everyone else, even our closest family.
So, the idea of an Olympics would be AWESOME. And even though I have no plans to organize this event, if anyone else wants to, here are some event suggestions:
And here are some of my favorite event suggestions:
I’ve had some practice in this event:
And this guy would be the director of the Olympics ’cause he’s taking it all very seriously
And this is REALLY hard:
Absolutely disgusting. Seriously, though, I’d be good at it.
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