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First, take a deep breath and relax. We all worry that we’ll say the wrong thing.
Second, know that you don’t have to be eloquent. While we wish it were so, you can’t make everything all better with a few words.
Here are a few simple ideas to keep in mind to be sure you say the right thing when attending a funeral.
Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.
It’s important. Just being there says more than you can know.
Keep your words simple.
“I’m sorry for your loss” may be all that is needed.
Share your story.
If you have a brief anecdote about how you interacted with the deceased, share it. Knowing how her sister lit up her workplace may just be the most comforting thing a mourner can hear.
Use deceased person’s name.
“Mary always made me laugh.” “John had the longest drive, too bad it wasn’t always straight.” “We always knew when Big Bad Byron was in the plant, everyone was on their toes.” “Nobody made better chocolate chip cookies than your mother.”
Avoid using common platitudes.
Resist the temptation to tell the bereaved how they must feel -- “grateful that he is in a better place,” “relieved that his suffering is over,” “grateful for a long life,” etc.
We don’t know how that wife, husband, mother, son, or daughter actually feels. Just say you’re sorry for their loss.
Let them tell you how they feel and accept it with a nod or hug.
Don’t forget about listening.
Listen to understand, not just to hear. Listen to show you care, not to judge. Listen with love, even when you’ve heard the story before.
When someone close to us dies, a spouse, a child, a parent, a sister, brother, or friend, their passing leaves an empty space in our lives. We will go on and we will have happy moments, then happy days, and eventually whole stretches of happy time. However, that initial year, after the death, we must deal with a whole year of firsts. The first anniversary, birthday, holiday or vacation without the one we loved can be challenging to celebrate.
Why are these occasions so hard and what can we do to get through this hard place? They are difficult because the pain of that empty space our loved one filled is so very acute on these special days. There is probably nothing that can be done to prevent the feeling of loss. It will follow you for sure if you run away from it and try to ignore the special day. But perhaps, with anticipation and preparation, the occasion can be made easier and maybe even special.
Keep an eye on your calendar, don’t be blindsided by an event. Prepare in advance, make a plan and include others. Tap your family members or your friends and let them in, tell them this will be a tough day for you. Consider what will be the most difficult part of the day.
Maybe it’s not receiving a gift from the love of your life, or not having your wife bake your favorite cake on your birthday. What can you do to work around the pain, acknowledge the loss, and save the day? Perhaps you can go shopping with a good friend and buy yourself a “gift”. Then write a little thank you or whisper your thank you to the one you miss in your prayers. Pull out your wife’s recipe for that cake, call in a grandchild and bake it together. It won’t matter one little bit if the cake doesn’t match up to the quality of your wife’s baking.
As you make your plan for the special occasion be sure to include some way to honor the memory of the person who died. Your day will not be the same without the one you lost, death is a loss. However, you can ease the pain and have a pleasant day in a slightly new and different way.