I was somewhat blessed in that I never had a loved one die until I was 25 when my father unexpectedly died of a heart attack. The only thing I knew of funerals was what I had seen in movies, and they don’t really show the true story. I was shocked, angered, horrified and hurt by the behavior of the funeral guests.
I had always thought funerals were somewhat of a dumb idea, as the person is dead and can’t hear what is being said, but at my father’s funeral I realized that funerals are for the surviving family and friends, not for the deceased.
I’ve been to many funerals now and have learned that I was somewhat mistaken….the funeral guests at my father’s funeral were not bad people, it’s just that 1) it was MY father, not theirs, so the depth of grief was different and most importantly 2) everyone grieves in their own way, one way is not more righteous than the next.
Some people wail, some are cried out, some emote, some are stone-faced, some laugh, some drink….some drink a lot, some consider it a great place to have a family reunion, some avoid the family, some pester the family, some mistakingly think they ARE the family.
The only funeral I had experienced prior to my father’s was JFK’s, so I had some notion that my father’s would be the same, with the world basically coming to a halt for the week, we everyone in town grieving and heart-broken. I found instead that only the inner nuclear family was deeply wounded, that other’s, fairly, didn’t have the same degree of pain and therefore acted less hurt.
Of course, there still were buffoons, that sometimes, now, years later, I can laugh about, but still have to shake my head. Examples that come to mind were the family limo following the casket….and having generic people hop right into the family limo like it was the school bus to the grave. People grabbing the family seats at the graveside. People laughing and carrying on like it was a cocktail party right next to the open casket during the viewing. People shooting obscene gestures because the funeral train was going to slowly for them.
I remember the random acts of kindness too…someone Insisting on carrying my bags as we changed planes. Food magically appearing at the house. Women who took it on themselves to wash the dishes, clean the house, make the beds, walk the dogs, things we were too stricken to do ourselves. One sweet dear even planted the Spring garden with flowers, as they knew I was too hurt to do it. I fondly remember the two (out of 200) cars who stopped and turned their lights on as the procession went by.
I have found that empty phrases of “let me know if I can help” are…empty. If you want to help a grieving family, then HELP. Don’t ask, find something that needs to be done and do it….wash, clean, carry out the garbage, make the beds, bring easy-to-eat, ready-made food, LISTEN, tell sweet stories of your remembrances of the deceased, help financially if needed, look for the little things that need to be done, and just do them. For gosh sake, however, don’t intrude and ask nosey questions about the death and dying and hospital. Don’t say they are in a better place. Don’t say that one is young enough to re-marry or have another child. DO NOT take it on yourself to re-arrange the house or take the deceased’s clothes or belongings. No, the deceased can no longer wear that coat, but it is important for the grieving process for the family to touch and smell those belongings until they are ready to move on. It’s absolutely vulture-like and barbaric to assume that this is a great time to take possession of the deceased’ items. Perhaps you feel that great picture in the hallway or that sofa should be yours, but it is up the the executor to disperse items. For goodness sakes, do NOT show up to the funeral with a U-Haul (seen this many times.)
When my wife’s father died, I tried to prepare her for the behaviors she would witness, but even I was somewhat stunned. One family member was a notorious alcoholic who decided to be sober for the funeral week. I knew this was probably a bad idea, even though well-intentioned, so I talked to him quietly and said anytime he needed to go to a bar to quietly tell me and I would take him. I was dumfounded when he chose his time, the very MINUTE my wife and I walked to the open casket at the viewing and she started crying seeing her dead father, begging him to play one last hand of bridge with her. THIS was the moment the alcoholic relative approached and said, “Ok, take me to the bar.” I whispered, later Later LATER….and finally had to leave her at the casket, crying, to take him for a drink. In the long run, it was better for her and for the family, but gosh.
When my wife died, to my absolute horror, a family member began to re-arrange the kitchen, saying they had never liked the way my wife had it. The kitchen arrangement was absolutely off-limits to me as clueless husband during our marriage, so it was sort of sacred to me to keep it that way until the grieving process had played out.
I guess, finally, let people grieve at their own pace. If Mom still has Dad’s coat in the closet 6 months later, then Mom NEEDS his coat in the closet still. If Dad decided to start dating again in 2 months, that is his right. 0620-12
Death and funerals are the fabulous crucible that burns off the dross of superficiality to reveal the true character underneath. Good people shine. Ugly people just get uglier.
I can’t agree with your last sentence, however. The Victorians grieved for a year which was marked by wearing black clothing or at least a black arm band before commencing with new relationships. Waiting to initiate a new courtship gave dignity to the memory of the deceased that they could not be easily or quickly replaced. Further, social science research is showing that rebound marriages too quickly after the death of a spouse have greater struggles than other marriages. There are online forums for second spouses on which they do discuss this very topic and the heartache they experience of their new spouse bringing a lot of unresolved grief into the marriage.