Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mourning for Dummies

This dummy is in mourning. Respect the rights of the Mannequin American.

Now having buried my grandparents and my parents, I sadly think I am something of a pro when it comes to what to say and not to say during a funeral or visitation. Not as a speaker; if you are looking for someone to deliver the eulogy, I'm calling a moratorium on my speaking, because none of you had damn well better go anywhere anytime soon. I'm referring to what can and should be said as a mourner to the survivors in the family who are there to say goodbye to their loved one. Yet going solely off my first-hand experiences - a lot of people apparently don't have the first freaking clue how or what to say, sometimes embarrassingly and humorously so. Therefore, in the spirit of education (and because Lord knows I need to find more humor and less biting sarcasm these days), I present to you...

What Not To Say At a Funeral Or Visitation
(Or at the very least, stuff that can be said a lot, lot less)

(CAVEAT: this is meant to be a little tongue in cheek, a little therapeutic, and a little genuine. It is not meant as a dig at anything anyone has done or said to me. So if you find yourself on the side of "Yep; I did that," don't worry. We're still friends. Until I remove you from Facebook or Twitter.)

"What Happened?" You may think you are the first person to ask this question, and for you, it may in fact be the first time you hear the details of the death of the person in question. But bear in mind that for the person you're asking, it may be the tenth straight time in a row they have retold this story. And while I applaud your willingness to seek out the truth from a first-hand source and not go straight for the rumor mill, please. You're there to express condolences to the surviving family, there to share in the grief, and there to help with the beginning of a cycle of closure. Let's leave the bandage on and not keep continually ripping it off to check the wound. Deal? If you really want to know, ask later.

"How are you feeling/holding up?" With the immediate comment "That's probably a dumb question, isn't it?" If I have to explain why not to ask this one, I can't help you. You may be wanting to genuinely check on the mental and psychological health of a friend or loved one, but come on. If you do ask this question, be prepared for an emotional deluge to potentially come pouring out. You can probably guess how they feel. Again: ask later. It's the struggle of living after a death when issues truly rise to the forefront. From the time of making the arrangements to the time when the body is interned, there are goals. Things to do. It's when everything is said and done that your mind can really start to do a number on you. So, as a friend, ask later to do a mental checkup.

"If there's anything I can do..." Here's a little secret: there's a lot you can do, but nine times out of ten, we're usually so scattered and out of it that we don't know what day it is, let alone what we need. Or we try to shoulder it all and say "I'm good; thank you; I'll let you know" as a diversionary tactic to avoid admitting we need something. Food is always welcome, even if we may not have the strength or desire to eat for days at a time. Just be creative. Deli trays are wonderful, but there's only so much pre-sliced meat and cheese one can consume before they swear off sandwiches forever. Frozen meals, gift cards to restaurants, or other "delayed dining" options are great for when hunger finally sets in but the drive to cook is still absent.

"I don't know if you remember me or not..." I can state with no hesitation that odds are, I probably do. And in another set of circumstances, I probably could remember you more clearly. If you are attending the funeral or visitation, odds are you knew the deceased. So with that in mind, even though it may be repetitious, please feel free to introduce yourself and how you know me, because I probably barely remembered deodorant or underwear when getting dressed that morning. I'm not advocating name tags like it's a speed dating event, but err on the side of caution and brain farts and simply state who you are and what our connection is.

"They're in a better place;" "They're not suffering;" or any combination thereof. Okay. This one is tricky. As the person being told this, I don't want to just shout out "I know. I know. But I'm here, I'm dealing with them being gone, and no amount of being thankful for Paradise is going to replace the Hell I am currently in," because the person saying it probably is genuinely expressing something they think will give me solace and comfort. SPOILER ALERT: peace, when/if it comes, will come slowly and in bits and pieces (har). I have to admit: during my mom's funeral, I wasn't thinking about what she might be doing, what street of gold she was getting lost on, or if she regretted not taking harp lessons while still alive. I was focused on me, the loss I was feeling, and how it was going to affect me and my family.

What for me helped a great deal at my mom's funeral (and I only use hers as an example, because most of my dad's is almost blocked from my memory) was the non-inclusive list of the following items:

I got hugs. Lots of hugs. From friends old and new, who were there to support me. And in their support, I got to excise some tears. They cried because I was crying because they were was a snotty cycle of cleansing.

I got texts and emails with blanket offerings. If I needed to chat. To yell. To swear. To cry. To sit quietly with. To share coffee. Craft beer. Things that spoke to me and what would almost be a normal, every day occurrence that happened to coincide with us working through the pain.

I got laughs. If in the midst of pain you can find a friend - one you've not seen in a while or one who helped talk to you during the 12 hour drive to the funeral - who can share a smile with you, that is far better than any smoked meat tray.

I got memories. Stories of my mom as a teenager. Stories of me growing up. And memories of this coda for my mom's life (see; I'm not so bitter and pissy that I can't even now recognize the idea of forever in Paradise).

Every person's coping skills and mechanisms are going to be different. Not everyone drinks coffee (their loss), not everyone might want to smile for days or weeks to come, and some people may genuinely have a joyous idea about the funeral JUST! BEING! AWESOME! since the deceased is in Heaven.

All I suggest is that you think. Think about what you would want said and done for you if you were the person standing there choking back a maelstrom of emotions because you had lost someone special.

And then do that. Pay it forward.


libertybain said...

Well done, friend.
I think anything scripted/from a movie/cliched prolly needs to be xxxxed out as a funeral saying possibility.

ari said...

I agree. My personal pet peeve is "G-d is in control" when said person has died of something terrible or unexpectedly (or both). I know they mean well, but... I also really hate the "let me know if you need anything" routine. Again, I know they mean well, but it's like ONE MORE THING that feels like a responsibility to you and ONE MORE DECISION to make and ONE MORE FAVOR to ask. It's overwhelming.