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The Fabulous Crucible Called Death…The Dos and Don’ts

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.

{ 72 comments… add one }
  • Me June 28, 2012, 11:52 pm

    When it comes to dating after the death of a spouse, one thing the dating widow(er) has to realize is that they also cannot dictate how other people grieve, and they will have to accept it if other people close to the deceased can’t handle their dating yet.

    At a couple of months after a death, even one following long illness or mental incapacity, people are often still in the early stages of grieving. So children, parents, siblings, and friends of the deceased may well find that having front row seats as the widow(er) attempts to replace their loved one is legitimately more than they can handle. This is even more true if the widow(er) is being aggressive about it – demanding that people meet and accept their new SO in social situations, pressuring kids to bond with them, showing up at family events with them.

    As a result, the cost of dating too soon after the death can be driving a barrier between them and the people they are close to, and that barrier may well last much longer than the official mourning period.

    One thing the official mourning period does is give an agreed upon time period to distinguish who is being unreasonable – remarrying a month after the death is the problem of the person remarrying, but if you remarry several years after the death, the onus is on the other people to come to terms with it, even if it still upsets htem.

  • Anyoldnonymous June 29, 2012, 3:24 am

    I’m glad for this dialogue on “let me know if I can help.” I am very guilty of saying this, but not of saying it insincerely. Caring and comforting, especially in grief, are a default reaction for me. Unfortunately, so is social anxiety. Erin’s comment describes this perfectly. Also my position definitely has been influenced by busybody relatives who thrive on crisis and martyrdom; nowhere to be found when you’re well, but swooping in heroically for the benefit of their own image. I understand if you think this sounds ugly and unnecessarily analytic but a pattern of abandonment once “things have settled” is well-known of these relatives and for length’s sake, I will spare you those stories; let me just say that these are the people rearranging your house and commandeering your kitchen. While I would never think to apply this stereotype to those offering to help, it’s definitely lodged in my head as something for which I never want to be mistaken. They “help” people to ease their own sense of obligation and not to actually help (no quotes) the bereaved.

    However, this has opened my mind to better ways of expressing the desire to help. It’s now completely understandable that some would take offense to vague offers, especially if delegating duties is uncomfortable for them or beyond their scope as they process their grief and sudden exposure to “the bigger picture”. I like the suggestion of making a concrete offer. In this way, it’s possible to offer what you -know- you can do well with increased confidence that you won’t screw it up in their time of grief. It’s beneficial for them, as 1) they can rest assured the task will be performed with proficiency and care and 2) this has the additional advantage of jogging the memory when their minds are preoccupied with loss. Of course, if specifically asked to do something, I’d do it. But to date, no one has. I wondered why, but the communication gap the preceding comments have pointed out has now been made absolutely clear to me.

    To those of you with funeral horror stories, my condolences on your loss and the affront of rudeness at the funeral of your loved one. I have plenty of stories on this topic, as well, but these memories are painfully fresh and only upset me at this point. Forgiveness is replacing my visceral reaction to recalling shameful funeral behavior. Primarily I feel sorry for people who don’t understand how their ignorance impacts those around them but it’s difficult not to feel cheesed off by their brainlessness. Being a kid is hard, especially when you should have grown up 30 years ago.

  • KarenK June 29, 2012, 6:57 am

    There’s nothing like death to really bring out the differences in people. When my mom died at home after a long battle with cancer, my father asked us to please dismantle the hospital bed and get all of her things out of his sight as soon as possible. It was not that he did not love her. He loved her very, very much. So much, in fact that even seeing her clothes in the closet or her things on their dresser was much too painful for him. So, my SIL and I moved all of her things into the spare bedroom (we sorted through it the next day) and my brothers put the bed in the garage.

    Then, a few months later, my older brother started trying to get Dad to come down to his church, which was really dumb, because he lived about 45 mins away from Dad, and Dad already regularly attended a church about a mile from his house. Next thing we know, a woman calls Dad out of the blue, saying that she goes to church with my brother. They chat a bit. That’s the end of it. As Dad is telling me all this, it suddenly occurs to me that my brother was trying to set him up! Which was equally dumb, because if my dad wanted to date, there were plenty of women much closer.

    I think we would all be very happy if he were to start dating. Heck, 92 year old men who have their own hair and teeth, and still drive are very hard to come by. My dad is a real catch!

  • The Elf June 29, 2012, 7:12 am

    Cat Whisperer, I never understand people like that. Is it really worth the hurt and pain it causes to score off a dead woman? Come on!

    When my grandmother died, the five children discussed getting together to go through her belongings and divide them up. The big ticket items were the easiest – the house was to be sold and split five ways, and she had already dictated that this son would get her car, etc. It was the little things, the things that don’t have much monetary value but have a lot of sentimental value, that were the kickers. But with the five children flung all over the country and two in the military, it was tough to arrange a time that all could be together. So, one daughter-in-law took it upon herself to do it while her husband was deployed. She cleared it with everyone else first. I was thoroughly impressed by what she did. She took requests, made lists, made lots of phone calls (this was before the days of emails), and in the end made about 5 equal splits, set aside a few tokens for the grandkids and other daughters/sons-in-laws, donated/sold the rest, and sent carefully packed boxes off to the recipients. That’s how you do it right!

  • Snarkastic June 29, 2012, 1:13 pm

    The Elf, your story of the Daughter-in-law doing a very nice thing for a large family was much needed after reading so many frustrating and heartbreaking stories.

  • Jane June 29, 2012, 9:57 pm

    I agree with Anyoldnonymous and Erin. I’m naturally shy – I would honestly feel uncomfortable just doing things for people without being asked or told (unless I was super-close to them).

    I do however, often extend the “let me know if there is anything I can do.” I don’t see it as being empty because I would happily oblige if a request was asked.

    Kay and DogLover have good points – offering to do specific tasks seems to be a nice compromise.

  • Cat Whisperer June 30, 2012, 1:37 am

    The Elf, when I found out what my father’s sister had done, I was dumbfounded. Absolutely speechless. She didn’t know my mom well at all, she didn’t like my mom, and she knew that my brothers and I were waiting until my father felt up to the task of dealing with my mom’s belongings before we went through them.

    But experience has taught me that a lot of people see a death as a chance to do a “land grab” and will swoop down on the belongings of deceased like a flock of vultures.

    I’ve got a somewhat funny story relating to this. When my aunt, my mom’s older sister, passed away, my mom asked my husband and me to drive her to San Francisco, where her sister had lived in an assisted living apartment building. The management of the apartment, which was rent controlled, nicely kept up and had a waiting list of dozens of people wanting to get in, wanted the apartment cleared out as soon as possible.

    The manager had warned us to not ever leave the apartment alone and unlocked even for a few minutes, but we hadn’t paid any attention to him. The building was a secured-entry building and it was entirely populated by elderly residents, most of whom weren’t very mobile, so it seemed kind of silly to be concerned about break-ins.

    Well, literally within minutes (no exaggeration) of the building manager letting us in to my aunt’s apartment, we started having other residents come by to ask us what we intended to do about my aunt’s belongings. We were all rather taken aback by this, but that was just the beginning of the surprises.

    My mom went to make the arrangements for my aunt’s funeral. My husband took her to the funeral home and I went to hunt down the apartment manager to find out about paperwork we needed to do. I left the apartment unlocked because my mom had taken the only key we had and I was only going a couple of floors down to the manager’s office.

    I was only gone about fifteen minutes, but when I got off the elevator on my aunt’s floor, there were a couple of little old ladies trying to carry one of my aunt’s end tables out of the apartment!!!!

    And we found that we literally could not leave the apartment unlocked and unattended for even a few minutes. I swear that the residents were watching us, because if we left, we always found someone trying to take things out of my aunt’s apartment!!!! Little elderly ladies would be trying to cart things out.

    The manager told me that was absolutely typical after a resident passed away. The moment a death became known, other residents in the building would be after the deceased’s property. It was actually kind of funny. We ended up giving away a good portion of my aunt’s furniture, which we had no use for.

  • justme June 30, 2012, 6:14 pm

    First of all OP, I am terribly sorry for your loss.

    Second, I’ve never seen someone show up to a funeral with a U-Haul, but if I did, I think I would absolutely lose my shit. I thought I’d seen every tacky, heartless thing a person could do, but I guess there are things out there I’ve yet to see. Wow.

  • Anderlie July 1, 2012, 9:09 pm

    I understand completely what the OP is getting at and some of those behaviours are indeed horrific but I can’t get past the tone of this entry. I feel as if I’m being dictated to on how to offer my generosity. People are going to be awkward at a time like this, rather than condemning them to the scrap heap for inevitable faux pas (and I’m talking about genuine mistakes, not robbing the place blind) be thankful you have people who care about your wellbeing, who are willing to cook for you or offer you money. Those are big things and not to be sneezed at.

  • Elizabeth July 2, 2012, 11:31 am

    Admin, I can only assume you’ve not witnessed the ‘long good-bye’ of Alzheimers. I have, and a close friend now endures this heartbreaking sadness. The grief begins when the patient is very much alive, and the grief endures for years – years and years. No one is in a position to judge that remaining spouse’s decision making, on anything, and especially on the timing of pursuing new friendships.

    Count yourself lucky on this one, Admin – you don’t have the frame of reference to offer advice on this issue.

    • admin October 30, 2012, 4:27 am

      You are quite presumptuous to believe that because my opinion is not to your liking that I have no experience with Alzheimer’s or dementia. My mother has dementia and lives in an assisted living facility, nearly all of my friends have parents in varying stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s and several have lost a parent. As I think of my close friends, some who have chosen to keep an ailing parent at home with them, I see many examples of heroic, tender and devoted care of beloved parents and spouses regardless of how much of their memories and personality has changed. I see the parents of my friends tenaciously supporting and loving their wife or husband as the disease advances until death finally separates them. In only one case did the father basically abandon his Alzheimer’s afflicted wife to start dating prematurely and the effect upon the family was devastating. Years after the death of his wife, the distance between him and the children has not closed.

      People who marry take a vow to love and care for each other in sickness and in health til death parts them. It seems for some commentators to this blog post that they should amend their vows to include the caveat that love, respect, honor is conditional upon what kind of terminal illness the other spouse may eventually contract.

  • JennJenn68 July 2, 2012, 6:53 pm

    I’m of mixed feelings about the widow/widower dating again in a hurry. I was very happy that my father found someone to date a few months after my mother’s death, but it completely knocked me for a loop when he told me, during a phone conversation that we had when my husband was hit by a car and had come close to dying, that he and his new girlfriend had just bought a house together–eight months after my mother had passed. I was almost insane with worry, anyway, because I knew that I was going to have to cross the border to pick up my husband (with a badly broken leg) and I could not seem to get my father to acknowledge the fact that something fairly major had happened to his son-in-law (whom he loves dearly, there is no doubt about that!) because he was so over the moon about this house he had just bought. I swallowed all of the angry/hurt words I wanted to say and simply listened to him and responded the way he seemed to want me to do, but it cost me.

    My brother wasn’t so fortunate, and although I did warn him that things were serious between my father and his new love, my father decided to call my brother on the first anniversary of my mother’s death… to announce his engagement. If I hadn’t alerted my brother, it would have come out of a clear blue sky. As it was, it caused a rift that lasted for two years. So yes, though the decision is ultimately that of the bereaved widow/widower, I do believe that it’s very hurtful to be so insensitive to the children of the original union. Things have improved vastly in the six-and-a-half years since my mother’s passing, but I have to say that it was no thanks to my father’s blind determination that the only person who mattered in the family was him, and that once he was done grieving, everyone was done grieving, like it or not. Frankly, it’s mostly been my determination that I would rather see him happy that has kept the family going as smoothly as it has, and I’ve often been told that I’ve been far too forgiving–but really, what purpose would it have served to tell him what I really thought? He was only hearing what he wanted to hear at the time, anyway…

  • Dr. Manners July 3, 2012, 12:42 am

    On a different note, I do have to offer a tale of funeral hell from my own family.

    When I was still in elementary school, I attended the funeral of my great uncle. This uncle, unbeknownst to me at the time, had the nickname of “grave robber” in the family.

    When family would pass away, he would descend on their home (often surprising and upsetting grieving spouses and children), so he could “help them clean.” In the process he would take whatever he wanted, often making grandiose claims about how “Tim promised me his golf clubs” or “Betty told me I could take her kitchen table.” If the grieving family would protest, he would scream, yell, and threaten to sue. Understandably, the family he robbed was so in shock from the death of someone they loved that they were not in the mental place necessary to deal with him. Thus, he got whatever he wanted so the surviving family could just get him out of their house.

  • Angel July 3, 2012, 7:36 pm

    When my grandmother died, she left behind very few things of any montary value. But most of them had sentimental value at least to us. My aunt, who was my grandmother’s daughter in law, swooped in and stole her wedding ring that was meant for my cousin (she and I were the two granddaughters, my cousin was oldest so she was to get the wedding ring, and I got a set of china). The aunt is a witch who nobody can stand. I will never forget what she did to my cousin and it was 20 years ago! Luckily my cousin got the dining room set which is antique and absolutely gorgeous. But my aunt swooped in and took the one item that had any monetary value and probably pawned it. Anger does not even begin to cover the feelings 🙁

  • Enna July 5, 2012, 10:20 am

    It is a bit strange that the OP complains about “empty offers of help” and then complains about people tidying up.

    As for dating and remarrying everyone does grieve in a different way. I do see were both the Admin and the OP are coming from: I think it is a case by case sitatuion due to different cirucumstances. Ff a widow/er does decide to date 2 months after being widowed then they do have to consider if they are ready or not and if they are still grieveing. I can understand why some close family members are upset, sometimes it isn’t justified. Communication is important here. I remember watching Rugrats when the Grandpa gets re-married to an old GF – he says to his sons that he still loves their late mother and the sons are happy that their Dad is not on his own.

  • justme July 6, 2012, 5:11 pm

    @JennJenn68: Wow, your father sounds very insensitive and self-centered. And yeah, it sounds like saying how you felt would have fallen on deaf ears anyway. But I’m sorry you and your brother had to go through that, that really sucks.

  • Beth July 6, 2012, 5:34 pm

    For many years my Mother was very ill. When I was a young teenager and she eventually passed away my Father took it very roughly. But when he was ready he asked my brother and I permission to start dating again. I was very touched as he didn’t want to hurt our feelings by acting as if he was trying to replace her. As he explained he wasn’t but he felt like he needed to continue living.

    One of my Aunts became extremely offended because he wouldn’t let her set him up and started dating ‘too early and tried to make my brother and I agree with her. I felt that was very rude because I felt she was putting her nose into a situation we did not want her involved in. Of /course/ you will miss your loved one but everyone is ready to move at a different pace and no one should make someone feel badly for grieving differently.

  • Missy July 10, 2012, 1:08 pm

    I think I can add something to what not to do: Don’t make assumptions about how hard someone is mourning. When I’ve experienced a death of someone close, I go numb and shut down for a few weeks. That means most of the time I’m staring into space with a dumb look on my face during the funeral. I’ve had a few people come up to me and remark that I don’t look sad. No I’m not. I’m numb. I’ll get to sad in a week or two.

    This is right out if they are a boyfriend of a cousin and met the deceased two weeks ago but act like they’re obviously hurt worse than those of us who are still in shock.

    As for dating, I would caution someone from seriously dating quickly, but I understand if they need to get out of the house (where they are confronted by sad memories.) One of my best friends lost a wife and was set up by well-meaning friends. He had a great time on the dates, but the women were understanding when he explained that he wasn’t going to care for anyone romantically for a long time.

  • Brockwest July 14, 2012, 2:41 pm

    Brockwest (OP)
    Sorry for the long delay in responding, but I did a lengthy response that apparently ended up in cyberspace as I don’t see it in my sent box. I’ll try a second time, and forgive me if both show up eventually.
    Everyone, ok I was wrong and you were right. Let me amend my statement….please find something to help the grieving family, something specific and then Offer to do that specific task before doing it. I can see that some would rather be alone, or some might be offended that offers of cleaning could be seen as an insult, but an offer could be given. I still stand by my original opinion that 200 generic offers of “let me know if I can help,” without follow-up, just don’t help much.
    Jenny, I agree, in circumstances where someone has been mentally gone for a long time, the grieving may have already taken place.
    Chris, I’ve witnessed the determined photographer. How interesting it was more important to take the photograph then let the griever grieve. My own sister was guilty of this. I had a major surgery and was not expected to survive. My sister had flown down, and instead of driving my grieving wife to the hospital, my sister Insisted that this was the perfect time to take pictures of my wife in my garden in it’s spring glory….lots and lots of pictures. At the hospital, my wife was bent over my unconscious body with all the tubes and gadgets….so my sister felt that was a perfect time for a picture too. To be honest, the picture came out Pulitzer quality, but it showed my wife in her deepest grief.
    Katrina, I agree, both my wives and I have requested the other to get re-married and live a full life if either of us dies. Grieving is a personal process, and everyone grieves their own way and in their own time.
    Angela, the incredible insensitivity I’ve also seen from some clergy, taking the funeral and using it to argue some position is horrid. I’ve seen the deceased never mentioned, I’ve seen Sermon #203 from the drawer used, I’ve seen it all. I prefer some mention of the family, the deceased, some nice anecdote.
    PM, yes it is an Excellent idea to have someone stand guard of the home, someone who is not a relative. This is not only to prevent vultures swooping, but unfortunately some thieves read the papers and rob homes during funerals. My best friend was severely brain damaged in an accident and not expected to survive. Her husband came home after several days and found her family had swooped in, taken all her jewelry and clothes (my sister would have wanted us to have them…never mind your own kids), and had literally taken over the master bedroom to live in (my sister would have wanted us to have this.) They presented him with a LONG list of Expensive gifts for him to buy all of them as it was near Christmas (MY sister would have wanted us to have these.) One DEMANDED $100,000 from the anticipated life insurance, NOW, as she didn’t want to wait. (MY sister would have wanted me to get it. They sort of ignored the husband was still alive, there were two kids, and the woman wasn’t even dead yet.
    Erin, yes, it is very easy to cause hurt with people who are grieving, but simple statements of how sorry you are, how nice the deceased was go a long way. Random acts of kindness go a long way at this time.
    Livvy, yes, you are correct, I was wrong, help should be offered before given. I don’t agree that ANYONE has the right to tell the survivor how long they must wait to start life again. For long illnesses the grieving may have already taken place. I DO agree that re-marriage should wait a minimum of a year, as should selling the home, moving, until emotions settle down.
    Cat2, I agree, let the griever move at their own pace. In my case, my wife was well one day and screaming in pain the next day, for the remainder of her life. I chose to sell my lucrative business for $1.00 (so legally I could not say it had been abandoned) to tend to her 24/7, and I do mean 24/7. Cancer is feared because at the end it goes to the bones and is painful. My wife had bone cancer, so it Started in her bones and took 2.5 years of agony. The pain meds made her mentally unstable, so I could not leave her side for more than a couple of minutes. I changed her hourly the final months and was unable even to get to the kitchen for even a minute in the final months, so had lost 50 pounds myself. When she finally died, I felt expiated of any sins I had committed in the marriage (being grumpy, having petty disagreements) and felt I had fulfilled my contract of marriage. When I dated again, it was without shame or fear, I think I earned it.
    JustLaura, I agree, with death, the marital contract is fulfilled. I know families who are horrified if the survivor marries even ten or twenty YEARS later.
    Phoebe, I understand that people don’t know how to help, so my suggestion is to find something that needs to be done and ask permission to do that specific task instead of generically offering let me know if I can help.
    GroceryGirl, that’s the whole point of my post….everyone grieves in their own way. Some want to be alone, some want to be surrounded, some want to drink, some to cry, some to garden, some to clean. The point is LET the grieving grieve in their own way. Ask permission to help, and don’t get offended if it is turned down.
    Clareish, well-said….difference of opinion does not create an etiquette breach.
    Boohaha, no I wasn’t kidding about taking a drunk with the shakes to get a drink, leaving my wife at the casket. In the long run, it was Best for her, the family, for the drunk. The timing upset me, but the point was to prevent the drunk from going into DT’s or hallucinating at the funeral. Not everyone understands how Dangerous it is for a severe alcoholic to go cold turkey without medical supervision. It can literally be life-threatening.
    One of the things I’ve chosen to do for grieving families, it to observe what is happening at the funeral home and ask the family member who seems to be the most cogent what I can do to help the funeral home process. I usually end up tending to the histrionic guests, the drunks, the druggies, the divas. I do it delicately so they don’t even realize I’m helping them not to fall into the casket.
    EllenCA, you are right, I am wrong. My own example showed that someone should ask permission to do a specific chore before doing it, but at least ASK something specific.
    Jess, you are correct, cleaning without asking could be offensive, so ask first.
    Otter, I experienced the same thing with distant relatives and especially in-laws trying to cash in before the body was cold. My wife’s dad had died, and she was given his wedding ring. When her cancer made her too thin to wear it anymore, she personally gave it to our daughter in a touching ceremony, asking my daughter to wear in remembrance of her. My daughter did so proudly. After my wife died, my wife’s sister imperiously DEMANDED the ring off my daughter’s finger as somehow my wife’s sister was family, but my wife’s daughter was not. My 14-year-old daughter refused to comply.
    I found her shaking with tears at the computer. My wife’s sister had written my daughter saying that my deceased wife hated my daughter and would NEVER talk to her in heaven because my daughter was wearing the ring. (BY THE WAY>….this woman was the wife of the drunk that I had to take to the bar at my father-in-law’s funeral.)
    Raymee, I agree, people can be SO insensitive to the survivors. I was absolutely worn out when my wife died. After a few months, I began calling people to let them know she had died. One woman blistered my ear, how DARE I wait to tell her. sigh.
    Roslyn, I’m so worry that as a close family member you weren’t notified in a timely fashion.
    Annie, I agree, life is to short not to live it when you can.
    TylerBelle, I’ve found it common for funeral directors to try to relieve the family of Any responsibility, so it’s not unusual for the family to wait in the car as final arrangements are made.
    Elf, I was saying I was offended at the cocktail chatter, but learned that it is very common at funerals, so I’m not offended anymore. I do so wish the chatter could be confined to sweet anecdotes about the deceased, but many find it a great way to re-connect with lost friends and family.
    Rattus, yes, please ask permission to do a specific task before doing it, and yes, let the living re-enter life.
    MichelleP, I’ve seen plenty of empty offers, mixed with genuine offers, which is why I suggest to find a specific way of helping and ask permission to do it.
    AnotherAlice, you bring up an excellent point….don’t just offer help on the funeral day, but also two days later, a week later, six months later. I’ve found most people move on while the family is still grieving. It really hurts when the phone stops ringing a month later and people avoid you. It was so nice for the people who remembered to offer to take my mother to the club even six months later.
    Lisa, I totally agree how important the little things can be. In my case, after about a year, my Mom asked me to see if any of his suits fit me as she was ready to start parting with them. I found his butterscotch candies in the pocket and Mom and I both cried happy tears.
    Kay, you are right, ask permission for a specific task, but ask.
    Doglover, the same, ask permission for a specific task, but do ask.
    June, I personally love personal anecdotes at funerals, but everyone grieves in their own way.
    Katherine, I find it sad that people sometimes never accept that the living have the right to re-enter life, ever.
    Huh, everyone grieves their own way, and every death and relationship is different. Those emerging from a prolonged death process may have already grieved.
    Josie, I experienced the women expecting me to date before I was ready and experience their wrath. When I was ready, I dated, when I wasn’t ready, I didn’t.
    Gloria, I agree, keep statements to the survivors sweet and short without ANY reference to either how it is better this way, or that they can get another wife or child or dog or anything.
    Caffeine, what a MARVELOUS idea….I’ll add it to my list of what to do for grieving families….GO to the grocery store! I forgot how HARD it was to go the grocery store without my wife by my side, comparing items, seeing favorite foods. I wanted to hibernate in the house, and how marvelous it would have been for some to have…offered….to go buy the basics, soap, paper towels, milk, soup. Great idea!
    AnotherLisa….it is dangerous for a severe alcoholic to go cold turkey without medical supervision. 48-96 hours is the most dangerous time, which coincides with the funeral time. It’s better for an alcoholic to drink until he can get medically-supervised withdrawal. The death rate for untreated DT’s can approach 30%. The death rate for medically-supervised withdrawal is almost nil.
    RedDevil, good post. IF you are helping, FINISH the task….don’t mop without putting the mop away. Don’t cook without cleaning up the dishes. DO ASK for permission to help, but COMPLETE the task.
    Library, I agree, those dating too soon can be susceptible to the vultures, so take caution.
    BagLady, from what I gather from the posts, the best idea is to ask permission to do a specific task. Think of the basics….food, cleaning, shopping, pets, lawn.
    Nannerdoman, I’m sorry you had to experience that. People say the dumbest things to the survivors. I thought I would be prepared for my Mom’s death years later as I had endured my father’s, but I found instead that I not only lost my Mom, but my PARENTS…that generation was gone. I no longer had either to listen to my woes, or more importantly my joys about my kid. My sister and I were grieving her death, when it dawned on us, by George, we were orphans! She looked at me, and said, “but I don’t LIKE gruel!”
    CatWhisperer, OMG, but how horrid for you. People do NOT get it that it is frequently not the items of intrinsic value (family silver), but items of sweet memories (some trinket from a favorite vacation) that can be of the most dear value. NOBODY should THROW away items without making sure they aren’t important to the immediate family. I had someone throw out those banana split glasses from the old days of drug stores. I Miss them today, even if they didn’t have obvious value, they meant something to me.
    KarenK, you did Well! Your dad’s way of grieving was getting rid of the reminders…HIS way to grieve and you helped. Brava!
    Elf, I Envy you, what a nice story, and how very very rare. I wish that could have been the case for everyone. I had witnessed in horror the funeral vultures and family fights about possessions so THOUGHT I had a perfect plan to prevent this. I gave my sister my permission to divide the family possessions between us. She would have the stuff appraised, and just make sure I got 1/2. Sadly I didn’t consider that no value sentimental items meant they all went to her, none to me. She had a “friend” do the appraisal and had sterling silver candlesticks appraised at $25.00 and sent me $12.50. She sent me ALL the worthless old generic books, and even my mother’s unwashed underwear, with a high price attached. Sigh. I tried.
    Snark, I agree, I liked Elf’s story.
    CatWhisperer, I’ve never heard of tenants swiping the stuff, but perhaps it’s because they know in most cases it will end up in the trash and with their limited income, they want first pick. It IS so insensitive though! I’m sorry you experienced that.
    JustMe, yep, I’ve seen the U-Haul….third cousin IN-LAW. From the other posts here, there are genuine funeral vultures.
    Anderlie, no you are not being dictated to..rather, I’m saying every grieves in their own way. And, (with the help of the posters here), I’m now saying, find a specific task and ASK permission to do it, but ask.
    Manners, I definitely have witnessed the grave robbers, many times, many funerals.
    Angel, I’m so sorry for the stolen ring. I don’t get it about jewelry….it seems to be SUCH a focus of relatives and IN-LAWS of all things. I was deeply saddened a year after my wife died to open my safe for the first time to look at her jewelry to find it had been plundered by a relative. It is not just the intrinsic value, but the sentimental value…I bought those earring in Paris, that ring in Maui and the like.
    Enna, you are right, I was wrong, ASK to do a specific task.
    Missy, you are exactly correct….everyone grieves in their own way, IN PARTICULAR being the “cried out” state. I was numb, dry, wounded, hurt. I’m glad nobody complained that I was weeping and wailing at the funeral…as I had done that, but privately.

    It seems the the point of the post is well-proven…everyone grieves in their own way. Some want to be left alone, some want help, some wail, some are quiet, some engage in cocktail chatter, some drink. Everyone has the right to grieve in their own way.

    I’ll say what I do at funerals…..and starting today, I will ASK before helping! I do help at the funeral home, if chairs are needed I get them. If someone is drunk, I try to politely escort them away from the family. If the family warns me of a known trouble-maker, I make it my job to politely tend to them and prevent trouble.
    I send fresh flowers in a small vase. Families are frequently overwhelmed by the masses of dying, dried flowers. I find it very common for families to take my simple vase home with them, as the flowers are alive, and small.
    I try to find what needs to be done. Starting today, I’ll include grocery shopping to the list. I walk the dog, I wash dishes, I mow the lawn, I get EASILY eaten food in DISPOSABLE containers (I HATED people giving me globs of food with long instructions on how to cook with demands the containers be returned…I was in no condition to cook or remember who owned what.) Starting today I will ASK permission to do any task.
    I also mark on my calendar 6 months and 12 months and make a very brief call to tell them they are still remembered. I make sure they are included in invitations longer than one month, but don’t take offense if they are not ready. So I will incorporate the suggestions here and try to help.

  • C August 2, 2012, 10:52 pm

    When my grandma passed, I remember I liked to go into her room and just look at all her old jewelry and clothes. She had jewelry and scarves from anywhere between the 30’s and the 80’s(She was born in 1914 and passed in 1995). Some of the jewelry was stuff she wore all the time, others were pieces she probably hadn’t taken out in years. Her bedroom still smelled like her. I liked to look at the jewelry and imagine the places and events she wore it to.

    My grandpa would constantly say “don’t go putting anything in your pockets!” And when I came out of the room he asked, “Did you put anything in your pockets?” and he made me turn out my pockets. He was perfectly lucid with no memory issues at that time. I’d never seen that side of him before.

    The jewelry, scarves and several of grandma’s purses ended up being given to me anyway, but grandpa’s distrust really hurt my feelings and I never forgot it.

    My mom took grandma’s clothes to the Goodwill store, and she told me later that when she popped the trunk, somebody tried to yank it open and grab the clothes! She got out of her car and swung her purse at the lady to make her get away!

    People really ARE vultures, but not ALL of us will act that way.

  • erica September 9, 2012, 10:01 pm

    I never did get what I was promised in my Grandmothers will. My brother almost didn’t get her engagment ring either. It took a letter from a lawyer to get my dad to send it to my brother. He claimed he “was holding it for safe keeping”. More like going on wife #6’s hand!

    My gram had a habit. She would tuck away money in her pockets of the clothes she had hanging in her closet. She called it her “mad money”. When she died she left all of her clothing to my mother. I believe it was her way of leaving my mom something without openly dissing my dad (there had been divorced less than a yr). She was told the clothes would cost too much to ship…so they gave them away. Nice. Wonder which of my relatives stripped the clothes of the money…as EVERYONE knew that’s where she hid money. Death does make ugly people uglier.

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