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

by admin on June 28, 2012

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… read them below or add one }

Jenny June 28, 2012 at 7:23 am

I have to disagree with your disagreement, admin. If someone has been very sick or mentally gone for some time, that person has basically been gone for some time. No one should judge a widow/er for when they choose to continue their life.

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admin June 28, 2012 at 7:35 am

I’m old enough to experience and witness the deaths of friends and friends’ parents and in every situation where the widower remarried or started dating with alacrity, adult children and/or grandchildren were hurt and offended that dad/granddad could replace mom/grandmom so easily.

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Chris June 28, 2012 at 7:28 am

My last living grandfather passed away last month. Unfortunately for her, he passed on my younger sister’s birthday. The results of that are probably worthy of an ehell story in and of themselves. However my story is about the funeral. My grandmother survived him, and understandably is heartbroken over the affair. He was a retired Airman and we had a small squad from the local Air Force base come perform an honor guard with 21 gun salute (we only got 3 rounds of 3 instead of 3 rounds of 7 but good enough on short notice). We had all gathered around grandma to watch and support as the commander presented the flag to her following the salute. At this point my Aunt and her daughter both started crying loudly. I, as the closest person able to, moved to comfort them. I was SHOOED out of the way because suddenly I was in the way of another person (who I later learned was grandma’s recently found aunt) because SHE WANTED A PICTURE of my grandma receiving the flag. My family was grieving and she forced me to WAIT to console them for a picture. Even now, a month and a half later, the incident still upsets me…

Now OP the one thing in your tale that I disagree with is that offers to help are empty and that help should just be given. Not all offers are empty. It just depends on where they come from. I wouldn’t trust an offer from any of my “family” on my mother’s side. But for me, I’d be taken back by what I considered rudeness if someone just presumed to do something without asking, even with the best of intentions on their part. For me I grieve better and more thoroughly if I have something to do. I don’t like sitting there doing nothing when I am upset. When I learned my grandfather was going to die (he was being taken off machines), I immediately began to do laundry, clean the kitchen, etc.

And admin, the OP said if dad needed to date, he should. OP didn’t say get married again in 2 months. Some people just don’t keep attachments once the person is gone. They grieve quietly and quickly and move on with life. Old traditions are just that, old. They may no longer be applicable to life. I’m NOT saying that marriage should be entered into so quickly, and I am NOT discounting the feelings and complications you mentioned. I just don’t see a problem with getting back into the dating scene at that point.

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Katrina June 28, 2012 at 7:57 am

I to feel it is okay for the widow/er to date when ready. If people are hurt, they need to deal with that. I think it speaks well of the relationship the couple had, the survivor was so happy, they want the same type of relationship again.

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Angela June 28, 2012 at 8:00 am

Everyone is different and some adult children will never accept a parent’s remarriage, whether it is a year or twenty years. I have told my husband that if I pass on before him he should feel comfortable dating and remarrying when/if he is ready. I don’t want him to be lonely. He should probably wait at least two months, though!
I posted a story here several years ago about my grandmother’s funeral and in this case, I ended up being thoroughly ticked off at the minister. V. short version: the church my grandmother had attended for decades had a new pastor who didn’t know my grandmother. I asked to speak at the service, so that the service would include words from someone who actually knew her (it’s common in our area for a family member to speak). I thought I did a good job, five or so minutes revisiting treasured memories, but the pastor worked several things I said into his service in a bad way. I said that she and my grandfather set a good example of marriage and I never knew them to fight; he made a point of saying he was sure they fought because all married people fight. I mentioned her taking me to the ice cream parlor and letting me know I could get anything I wanted and how I felt like a princess. He said to my aunt “I bet you were never told at the ice cream parlor that you could get anything YOU wanted”. This was part of the funeral service! I don’t know what his goal was, but if it was to become more popular with those in attendance, he failed miserably.

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PM June 28, 2012 at 8:00 am

I have mentioned on the forum several times that I have asked family friends to “stand guard” at my house right before and during my funeral, should anything happen to me. There are two relatives who are known for insisting their way into the deceased’s home to “help clean and organize” and the next thing you know, they have the family bible with all of the names, births, deaths, etc., or a collection of antiques that was supposed to go to someone else. I think about these people swooping into my home under the guise of “helping” and taking things that my husband and children should have and it makes my blood boil.

Still, they’re not as bad as the family of a friend, D, whose father died a few years ago. D and her mother went to the funeral home to plan the service and while they were gone, several people on dad’s side of the family got into the house to “clean it up” for the funeral luncheon. Highlights include:

-taking the dad’s collections of old coins and pocket watches, all of which D’s dad repeatedly said he was putting together for his grandkids.

-taking the gas grill and patio furniture

-taking the TV, Dad’s easy chair, oh, and D’s mother’s bedroom set. Yep, the whole set, bed, dresser, nightstand and all. Because, in the grasping relatives’ opinion, D’s mother didn’t need that big bed anymore and they were hauling it away so she could get a twin bed.

D and her mother came home, saw that they’d been robbed by “loved ones” and were devestated. D’s mother could only cry. D went and reclaimed the furniture. Her dad’s side of the family still think she’s a “cold, greedy person” who took their keepsakes.

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Erin June 28, 2012 at 8:04 am

Being naturally awkward, I’ve never been comfortable with the advice of just doing things for people in mourning without being asked. What if I do it wrong and make things worse?

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livvy17 June 28, 2012 at 8:04 am

I agree with Chris – offers of help are appropriate – “helping” without direction can be very far from helpful – as the OP himself mentions, in his story about the kitchen re-organizer. Some people also honestly don’t want help. When I’m mourning the loss of someone, I just want to hide in a dark room and cry. I couldn’t do that if someone were in my house, puttering around, knocking on my door, etc.
As the OP says, everyone has a different way of dealing with things.
I also agree with the Admin – a decent amount of time should be taken. Even in a case where the spouse has been languishing / in a coma / somehow unreachable for a long time, a period of reflection and respect shoudl be observed.

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Chocobo June 28, 2012 at 8:09 am

I disagree with the admin on the last sentence. Whether or not we personally think dating is good idea, or whatever statistics may exist, we are bound by etiquette not to tell other people who to live their lives. That is absolute.

I will agree with the writer that it is none of our business and certainly not our place to tell other people when their grieving should start, end, or how it should progress. It doesn’t matter how many anecdotes one has or what the statistics are, the only person who is capable of determining what is best for them is their own self. Others are not in the position to make judgement, they have no idea what the situation is or was of the marriage before the spouse’s death, what conversations might have been had privately, or how the widow or widower feels. The idea that outside viewers could possibly know better is preposterous.

I hope readers will keep opinions to themselves if a widow or widower seems to move on too quickly for their tastes, and at least pretend to be happy for them when they seem to be finding new happiness, in whatever form that may be.

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Cat Too June 28, 2012 at 8:16 am

Well admin, then I guess you haven’t met me or my family.

My grandfather was dating 2 women within 3 months of my grandmother’s death. There is no question that he loved her, but as she had Alzheimer’s and had been in a nursing home for 2 years prior to her death, he had very much already most of his major grieving. Even though he respected and loved and continued to visit her several days a week up until her death.

The family reaction was a kind of amused bemusement. As far as I know, nobody thought he was trying to replace her or that he loved her any less for it.

Perhaps if we, as a society, didn’t imbue so much “meaning” into someone beginning to date again relatively quickly, other family members wouldn’t be so offended when somebody who is ready to live THEIR life goes ahead and does it.

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Just Laura June 28, 2012 at 8:27 am

The wedding vows are until death do they part. If a spouse has died, I’d say the vow has been fulfilled.

Well, if there’s been a death, we should not be shackled to one period of history’s idea of mourning. If the person wants to date again and this brings happiness, who are we to get on our proverbial high horse and tell him or her ‘no’? Obviously he shouldn’t show her off to his late wife’s family in the first couple months, but all relationships and people are different and handled emotion differently. Some people may bounce back and have a tough time cultivating a real relationship, and other people may do just fine.

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Phoebe161 June 28, 2012 at 8:37 am

OP had some excellent suggestions, but 2 of them I somewhat disagree with: 1) Not all “call me if need anything” comments are not always empty words. Many people (including myself) are clueless on how to help a grieving family. Not all of us were taught how to help. 2) Dating so soon after the funeral. I partially agree & disagree with both OP & Admin. Yes, 2 months does sound like rebound, but I’ve seen families upset because the widow(er) started dating, even after a sufficient period of mourning. Dating & remarriage is something only the widow(er) can decide if that’s what they want to do once they gone thru the mourning process.

Also, I’d like to add one more bit of do’s & don’ts: Don’t ask the widow(er) if he/she plans to remarry. That’s really none of your business, & quite rude to ask, especially soon after the funeral. Once the grieving is done, only the widow(er) can decide if they want to remain single or to remarry, & the widow(er) retains the right to change he/she’s mind. And remarriage is not an insult to the memory of the loved one. I’ve seen adult children upset that their surviving parent “replaced” the deceased parent with “that man/woman.” Grow up; your surviving parent is not “replacing” anyone; they have a right to remarry, if they want to.

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GroceryGirl June 28, 2012 at 8:40 am

While I think this post is a nice way to remind people to be considerate to those in grief but I disagree a little bit with the finality of all these statements. Everyone grieves differently and needs different things. When my best friends mother died her house was full of people cleaning and cooking and being helpful and all she wanted was for them to get out and leave her alone. When it comes to grief everyone is different.

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Abbie June 28, 2012 at 8:44 am

Admin,

It’s nice for you that you would like to claim age and experience on this matter, but the pain of the survivors is just that; their own pain.

If the surviving spouse has dealt with their grief and has found someone new with whom to spend their life, that is their business. Each person has their own timeline. It is the business of the people being married.

If the children and relatives take issue with the remarriage, there are hundreds of qualified therapists who can help them make sense of it all.

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Clareish June 28, 2012 at 8:44 am

I also have to disagree about re-marriage or dating soon after death. That is a personal opinion, and not an etiquette breach in western modern society. It is ok to not feel it right that a widow/widower is dating/marrying soon after death, but it is not ok to say anything unless directly asked for your opinion by that person. Even then, I would not cast a survivor to the pits of e-hell, as no one ever knows the complete story unless they are living it.

Children have a right to be hurt, but they also have a right to be hurt about other things that their parents might do, which are perfectly ok in the name of etiquette (ex. that are far less serious than death might include saying no to requests to babysit, not giving money, etc.) Such is human nature. Again, personal opinion does not equal etiquette.

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boohaha June 28, 2012 at 8:48 am

I’m agreeing with admin here. I have known at least two men who have replaced their wives so quickly after their deaths with new spouses that it left our heads spinning. I wasn’t even a relative, but I still needed to grieve, and it was awkward after just 3 months to go to one man’s home and discuss the death of his spouse while the new woman was sitting there. And I can’t imagine she wanted all that baggage either. And it also makes you wonder if they had these women waiting in the wings, so to speak, when you consider how fast they remarried. It’s not seemly.

While the story was well written and thought out OP, you really are joking, right, when you said you left your wife crying at a casket to take someone to a bar?

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Lily June 28, 2012 at 9:31 am

I’m also going to disagree with your last statement too admin. My mother-in-law was ill for a very long time and passed away last year. My father-in-law still misses her dearly, but is the type of person that needs to have some direction, and doesn’t really do well on his own. He started dating a few months afterwards and found a really nice woman who keeps him active and makes him happy. He still misses his wife, and his new girlfriend knows this and is very insistent in NOT replacing her, but they have been happy and doing a lot of the things my FIL wanted to do before but couldn’t because of my MIL’s ilness. (Travel, going out to eat, theater, wine tastings, etc.)

Everyone grieves differently, and everyone has different needs. What business is it of mine to dictate what my FIL does as long as he is doing the best he can to move on.

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Ellen CA June 28, 2012 at 9:40 am

“Don’t ask, find something that needs to be done and do it”
However OP was horrified by someone with the nerve to rearrange his kitchen, but was grateful for someone stepping in and planting his Spring garden without asking. These examples show how important it is to offer your help to the greiving, but do not assume that what you want to do for them is what they need. That’s why people say “let me know if I can help.”

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Jess June 28, 2012 at 10:04 am

I would far rather someoen offer me help than busily start doing what they think i needed – i certainly wouldnt want anyone making beds, washing or cleaning etc as OP suggested – i would find it intrusive (even if was a family member). I might even be offended and start feeling a bit defensive – “yes, my house is a little bit messy but ive been focussing on the fact a family member passed away, theres no need to start washing the floor!”

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Otter June 28, 2012 at 10:12 am

My dad passed suddenly of a heart attack when I was ten. My mother and I were left with only each other, living in a rough neighborhood. Relatives came out of the woodwork to ask for my dad’s things, mainly, his artwork (he was a graphic artist). They were “willing to display it in their homes” as a tribute. No offer of purchase was made. Then, my cousin asked my mom for a loan from the life insurance (there was none). The last straw was when my mom called her brother for help with a minor plumbing problem during a party. He said, “call a plumber.” Great family…we send a Christmas card annually, that’s the only contact in 30 years. In time I will even stop that.

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Raymee June 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

Funerals and death do strange things to people’s manners.
When my brother passed, we had a few incidences that absolutely stunned me.
One that stands out is when we went to a social function and few months later and had a family friend tell me the horror of checking her email during their holiday at the time only to find out about brother’s passing. “That’ll teach us to check our email! Absolutely ruined the rest of the trip!”
I’m still trying to work out what she wanted me to say in response… “I’m sorry..?”
Although I felt like giving her a piece of my mind, I think my bean-dipping would have made you all proud :)

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Roslyn June 28, 2012 at 10:37 am

I have not been to many funerals. So I have not seen much unusual behavior, and am shocked and quite horrified at some of the above behavior.

However, the one thing that stands out in my mind is how the family is notified. My Grandmother raised me and taught me more about life and living and loving than my Mother. My Mother has three other siblings and she is a selfish and controlling woman. She insisted that my Grandmother go to a retirement home that was in her hometown instead of her sisters’ town. Everything that happened with my Grandmother from that moment on had to go through her. Everything.

The inevitable happened and my Grandmother passed. One would think that my Mother, who insisted on controlling everything would take care of notifying the family etc. How did I find out? My husband was doing some deleting and cleaning up on his laptop computer and he just happened to open up an OLD email account that we never use anymore. An email from my mother from 14 days earlier was in the Inbox just stating “Mummy passed away last night.” Nothing else. It was a mass email sent out to everyone in her mail list. This was 2 WEEKS ago, no phone call, nothing.

I later found out that my Aunt didn’t even receive an email. She was planning a trip to visit her Mother, she had taken off work etc. SHE HAD SPOKEN TO MY MOTHER on the phone about coming for a visit. She was on the phone with her other sister the night before leaving and found out that her Mother had died, FOUR MONTHS EARLIER.

My Mother had called no one, she sent the email and went on with her life. She later told me that she was grieving too much and just couldn’t make “those calls, over and over” to everyone.

So, my advise to all, if you are the person who everyone thinks will “take care” of arrangements either take care of the arrangements or find someone, a friend, someone who can. My Mother has friends and family, cousins that she goes to lunch with, has weekly games and get togethers, a full circle of church friends. There are lots of people who would have been glad to step in and make phone calls and help. She only needed to ask.

My Grandmother had stated many years ago that she wanted her body donated to Science, and did not want a conventional funeral. I understand that and that is what happened. There eventually was a Memorial Service about 9 months later, but that…………is another story.

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Annie June 28, 2012 at 10:43 am

My grandpa started dating soon after my grandma’s death. He had taken care of my grandma for many years, and grieved deeply as she slipped away from him bit by bit. By the time she died, his grief was spent.

I wasn’t offended that he started dating again within a few months. He wasn’t trying to replace her–nothing could do that. He was looking for companionship. He’s 90 years old, and if he doesn’t want to wait, I don’t see why he should have to.

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TylerBelle June 28, 2012 at 11:14 am

I too am a firm believer in everyone grieves differently. When my dad passed in ’91, I wouldn’t tell either of my brothers, ‘I know how you feel.’ Because I didn’t. I could relate to what they were going through, but only the person and the Lord knows truly what was being felt. With his passing, there were the good and the odd. The good such as 4 or 5 of the sheriff deputies, who had come to make their official reports of the death, holding hands and praying with my mother and I in the middle of the living room, and my aunt who took charge with the funeral people who had come to get my dad so my mom wouldn’t have to deal with those matters at that time. And not really outrageous, but I found odd, was arriving in the funeral car to the gravesite and the director advising us to stay inside there for a few moments, and someone my parents knew coming up to the car and fully leaning back on one of the windows as he was engaged in conversation with others there.

Outside of my older brother wanting the flag my dad received for his military service, which was given to my mom, I don’t recall anyone grubbing for his possessions. People doing this, or the first I heard as the OP mentioned a person rearranging someone else’s house to suit them, would drive me bonkers, and I’m sorry to see it happen to folks, especially during those sad times.

@PM – Wow. My jaw’s hitting the floor while I can’t wrap the brain around a reason why people would do something as that. I’m glad your friends got their furniture back. :)

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The Elf June 28, 2012 at 11:20 am

Great post, great advice.

One quibble: “People laughing and carrying on like it was a cocktail party right next to the open casket during the viewing.”

No question that frivolity should be constrained, but many people grieve by sharing stories of the dearly departed. Some of those stories are going to be funny, or quirky, or in other ways elicit a chuckle or a smile. At my grandmother’s funeral – my first – the entire family spent the day telling each other jokes, most of them dirty or off-color. My grandmother was a vivacious woman who never passed up the opportunity for a joke or a quip. We had a wonderful time retelling our favorites and remembering her good humor. Years later, at a dear friend’s funeral, I remarked that it was really odd seeing him (in open casket) so quiet. This guy was never quiet! Another person said that he kept expecting him to sit up and say “boo”, just to see the looks on our faces. That lead to a hilarious round of story-telling of all the stunts he’s pulled over the years. We think he even worked one into his own funeral – since he knew he was dying, he made specific requests of his minister. It was an obscure reference to an in-joke, so the only people who got it were his nearest and dearest. But when it was explained to me later, I nearly fell over laughing. It was exactly the sort of thing he would do!

So, any laughter should be restrained and quiet, but laughing, smiling, joke-telling, and fondly reminiscing are all fine at a funeral, even right in front of the open casket. However, it should be centered on the deceased, not everyday chitchat. I have no idea of OP’s funeral guests crossed that line or not, or if she was just so overwhelmed with grief that any kind of laughter seemed terribly out of place.

When my father dies – hopefully a very long time from now! – I would expect laughter at his service. My father, like my grandmother and my friend, is a joker, a talker, a people-person who can make friends wherever he goes. I’m totally not, so I admire these traits in others. He has a deep, loud, belly laugh that has a way of lifting my spirits even if I don’t know what he’s laughing about. And if no one is going to laugh at his funeral, I’ll start it. For him.

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Rattus June 28, 2012 at 11:38 am

I don’t have much to say other than I agree with the majority of posters. Personally, I would be much happier with an offer of help than with someone coming in and just helping themselves to helping. I mean, how can you gracefully shout “get the hell out, I want to be alone” at someone who feels that they are doing good.

And if I predecease my husband (and there’s a really good chance that I will), I would be ecstatic that it wouldn’t take him more than a few months to meet someone and start life anew. I love him and don’t want him to be sad and lonely, so why would I begrudge him a new, but not improved, love?

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michellep June 28, 2012 at 11:41 am

I agree with admin about waiting an appropriate amount of time, but I have to take into account that everyone is different. Every situation is under different circumstances.

I agree with OP about most everything except “don’t make empty offers”. There is no empty offer of help, unless it’s obvious the person offering obviously doesn’t mean it. There is nothing wrong with offering; I would never just presume to do anything in someone’s home.

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Another Alice June 28, 2012 at 11:51 am

I feel bad that the OP thinks all offers of help are empty. I agree with many commenters who said that most people just are at a loss of HOW to help, and don’t realize that the last thing a grieving person wants to do is make a list of things to be done and organize who does what. Most are just trying to get through every second of the day, one by one, and can’t bring themselves to reach out.

In addition, if you are not especially close to the particular person, there are those situations where one worries about being more of a nuisance to the bereaved as opposed to being helpful, so they’re merely leaving the ball in the other’s court, not realizing they are not apt to make that decision.

Perhaps a better way to offer help is with something very specific: “Would you like me to come over next week and do some laundry/pick up around the house?” In addition, NOT asking at the actual funeral or wake, but leaving a call a day or two later. The actual “business” of a funeral is already stressful. I think most people don’t offer to help, or don’t just do it without asking, because they are well aware this is a sensitive time and don’t wish to bother someone who may very well want to be alone. And, lastly, simply dropping off a meal or two without being asked may be the best solution over all, as you can stay if the person indicates they’d like you to, but are helping without being bothersome if they do not.

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Lisa June 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm

My Mom passed Sept 05, and Dad passed Feb 07. It fell to me and my brother to empty out the house that we grew up in, and sort through Mom and Dad’s personal items. My I just say that if it’s too painful to sort through everything all at once, box up what you can and sort through it when your emotions aren’t so raw. When I was young, my Mom had bought some cheap 29 cent holiday candles that we’d bring out each season and for some reason I got rid of them. What I wouldn’t give to have those silly cheap candles back, not to mention Mom and Dad. Another tradition that needs to come back is the black armband, or some form of public display of grieving; a way of letting other people know that you have a heavy heart and to please extend some kindness and understanding towards you.

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Kay June 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I understand why ”Let me know if I can help.” seems like an empty offer. Also, I see why ‘just doing things’ can be upsetting to people. I usually like to compromise by saying ”Could I wash these dishes for you?” or ”Do you need someone to take out the garbage now that all those people are gone?” or “Would you let me take your kids out for the evening so you can have some quiet time?” or whatever seems appropriate based on the situation and my closeness to the bereaved. Often, after doing one or two things, people will just ask me for whatever help they need, and when I leave and say ”Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you,” they know it is sincere even if they didn’t take me up on my initial offer.

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DogLover June 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm

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.

Wow that makes me cringe. I’m sure some people would love for people to step in and just start doing stuff, but it would make me horribly uncomfortable. I would want to be alone or with very close family to grieve in my own way. I think asking how you can help is the kindest thing. Or maybe taking it a step further – “I would be happy to do xxx – would that be helpful?”.

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June June 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm

There’s a reason people should avoid sweeping generalizations.
That’s because blanket statements don’t apply to every situation.

I’m guilty of a funeral faux pas. My great-aunt passed away, and the minister asked for impromptu stories to share. My great-aunt was 99 when she passed, and there weren’t a lot of people at the funeral. With nudging from my sisters, my college-aged self thought it would be a good idea to share the time bed-ridden Great Aunt found out my mother’s age and shouted that she couldn’t believe Mother was THAT old!
*foreheadsmack*

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Kirsten June 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm

The Victorians had strictly prescribed mourning periods. It wasn’t as simple as “mourn for a year.” Depending on the degree of relationship, mourning was worn for varying lengths of time, from deep mourning for the first period – everything black – to other types and colours of mourning clothes as time passed.

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Katherine June 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I agree with Angela that some children, whether they are adults, teenagers, or children, will never be alright with one of their parents marrying another person. While my sister has disapproved of my father’s relationship with his fiance since after he and our mother got divorced, I fear it has only gotten worse since my mother’s death last year. When asked whether she was alright with my father proposing, she outright refused, and she has told me and others many times she doesn’t like our future step-mother.

However, I feel it is again the thought of our mother being replaced instead of an actual dislike for our future step-mother. My biggest fear is that this will continue into adulthood (she is 17 and I am 19) and she will cut off ties with our father due to her anger towards him.

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Huh June 28, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I have several friends who are divorced after 20-plus years of marriage, who have told me therapists and books they’ve read said you should wait 2 to 3 years to start a relationship because “it is the death of a relationship” and you need those years to properly process and grieve. I understand everyone processes grief in different ways, but being honest, if a friend/family member was dating 2 months after their spouse died, I would be looking at them funny.

I’ll also add that not everyone processes grief in a healthy way.

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josie June 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I think one reason men start dating so early after the wife’s death is that there are women just waiting to help him thru his grief. Beware of ladies bearing casseroles! A lady that I know already has her sights on a gentlemen whose wife is ill, but certainly not dead. I, too, hate the phrase “he’s in a better place”. Last I checked, we are not in charge of that final decision. One friend I know lost her husband not long before Christmas and was promptly univited from her hubby’s extended family Christmas dinner. Her kids could still come but she wasn’t considered family anymore. Unreal!

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Powers June 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Chris (#2): That was not a 21-gun salute. “Guns” in military parlance are large-caliber weapons (i.e., cannons). What you saw was the traditional triple volley of rifles, which is standard at any military funeral. It’s always a triple volley regardless of how many riflemen are present.

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TurtleDove June 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm

3 admin June 28, 2012 at 7:35 am
I’m old enough to experience and witness the deaths of friends and friends’ parents and in every situation where the widower remarried or started dating with alacrity, adult children and/or grandchildren were hurt and offended that dad/granddad could replace mom/grandmom so easily.

Admin, I also strongly disagree with your generalizations and assertions that your experience is the only one. I started dating about a month and a half after my husband died. I was 37 years old, and my friends and family were thrilled that I was embracing life again and that my 3 year old daughter was seeing a happy Mama instead of a grieving widow. It had nothing to do with not loving my dead husband, or replacing him. It had to do with living my life as I am, after all, still alive. And I am not about to NOT live my life to satisfy someone else’s determination of when I can and cannot fully be who I am, which is someone who happened to bump into another man I am very happy with.

I will add that my boyfriend’s sister, who is 43, unfortunately also lost her 41-year-old husband about 6 months ago. She has been actively dating for the past 5 months and her friends and family are also thrilled for her. Same goes for other young widows I have connected with in the past year.

I grasp that other people have different experiences, just sharing that admin’s opinion is not fact.

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Gloria Shiner June 28, 2012 at 4:07 pm

The reason many people say things that are offensive to close family members who are grieving is simply because they don’t know what they should say. I find “She’s in a better place.” and “It’s for the best.” up there on the offensiveness scale, but I heard both a lot at my MIL’s funeral. However, it was the only thing many of the people could think of to say. Yeah, I’d rather have a hug and hear “I’m so sorry for your loss.”, but people don’t think that’s enough. And, who knows, maybe they find those platitudes comforting themselves.

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CaffeineKatie June 28, 2012 at 4:29 pm

One offer I have learned to make is “Can I go to the grocery store for you?” It’s concrete, it’s not in their way and it’s usually gratefully accepted. In one case, the widow was unable to get past the fact that she had visitors coming, a funeral to plan and she was down to one roll of toilet paper in the house. And it allows me to make a concrete contribution without having to come up with something to bake/cook/transport–I just pay for whatever they say they need and drop it off.

As far as following the Victorians and their mourning customs, all I can say is they had a lot of bad ideas–that women were too stupid to own property, vote, receive a solid education or read the newspapers, etc. etc. etc. Not a group I look to for life guidance.

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WrenskiBaby June 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm

FWIW I think it would be very courteous of a widow or widower to wait 10 or 11 months before dating, just out of respect for the high regard the family feels for the deceased and the newly ended relationships. JMO, but personally I would find nothing bad in living quietly for a few months and putting my personal drives aside in order to enable healing and peace for people I care about.

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Another Lisa June 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I agree that I would much prefer an offer of help rather than someone just jumping in and doing something.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd that the OP offered to take his wife’s brother to a bar at any point? How is it a dumb idea for the guy to vow to be sober for the funeral? Offering to take him to a bar whenever he needs it is just offering him an out when he should have just been supportive of the guy’s decision. If the guy ended up wandering off to the bar himself, at least it’s only him who looks disrespectful. Instead the post-funeral story ends up being, “The decedents son AND his son-in-law took off for a bar right in the middle of the viewing!”

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Catvickie June 28, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Definitely men should beware of women or widows bearing casseroles! When I was 15 my mother was gravely ill and not expected to make it, and two women from the church kept hitting on my dad, who was the clueless minister, of all things. They were both vying to buy some derelect house just behind the church–one woman made sense because she lived in the country and was selling a farm, but the other woman had a really nice gorgeous house in another part of town and her husband left her well off.
After my mother recovered, I told her what I thought was going on and she put a stop to it. I felt guilty telling mom, but I though as she was the adult, she would know what to do. I don’t think it did any wonders for their relationship, but I had no idea what to do or even if what I thought was going on was true. So happy when we moved two years later. I guess dad had no idea what was going on and my folks stayed married. I think my mom ended up more bitter about life, though towards the end.
Any wonder I am not sold on church women bearing casseroles—I am on the side of wanting to be alone!

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RedDevil June 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I think the OP has it right with “If you want to help a grieving family, then HELP” – that help just has it’s limitations.

You HELP by washing the dishes (and leaving them on the draining board, not putting them away), you HELP buy cooking an easy heat & eat dinner and leaving it with them, you HELP by feeding the animals, walking the dog, or taking the kids out for a few hours.

What you don’t do is move anything around, ‘fix’ anything (unless there’s a burst pipe!), or stay for longer than 30mins-1hr at a time. You don’t touch anything personal, and this one for me includes the bed and laundry – the grieving person may want to keep that person’s ‘smell’ for a little while, don’t presume just because it looks dirty that it should be cleaned.

The rule of thumb I’d use is only do as much as is needed to keep the grieving person(s) safe and healthy – that includes basic needs of nutrition and hygiene, really. The rest can wait.

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Library Diva June 28, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I think that if a widow or widower starts dating two months after the death of their spouse, it’s OK to be horrified, suspicious, or to feel whatever you want to feel about it. It’s not OK to give the person a hard time, unless you have very serious concerns. If the recently widowed seems to be entangled with a con artist, a drug addict, or someone else dangerously unsuitable, that’s one thing. If not, I say let well enough alone and keep your feelings to yourself. For all you know, the deceased was a rotten spouse, and the survivor is enjoying their new freedom.

As others have pointed out, too, in the case of a lengthy illness, the spouse may have already gotten somewhat of a jump on the grieving process. My grandmother had had dementia for about five years before she passed on. I remember being mostly relieved when I learned she’d died. I was glad that she was no longer suffering and could be with her husband and her parents. The time to mourn her loss had already come and gone.

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date AT a funeral? June 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm

My dad passed away after a long illness, and a strange man came to our door, an hour before other guests came for the funeral.
It was an old beau of mom’s.
They talked a while, and by the end of the MONTH, they were dating.
yes, they have been married a very long time now, but the five affected kids, all under 18 at the re-marriage (he was going thru a divorce) had a really rough time.
If he had waited…even a few weeks…maybe??…

he glommed onto a widow BEFORE the funeral.
blech.

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Baglady June 28, 2012 at 6:15 pm

I know people who do that “don’t ask, just help” thing, not just in time of death, but for births, illnesses and other life-disrupting events. I envy their ability to instinctively know just what to do — it’s a skill I don’t have. I’m afraid of ruffling feathers, stepping on toes or getting in the way.

In some families or communities, a point person springs up for this sort of thing. Someone close to the immediate family (sister-in-law, niece, best friend, someone from church). They ask the family what they would like done, and then assign the jobs to those people who want to help but don’t know what to do.

I can’t judge someone for dating “too soon,” especially if they’ve just lost a beloved spouse of many, many years. I think more often that not, it isn’t a case of “replacing” the deceased but simply craving companionship.

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Nannerdoman June 28, 2012 at 6:42 pm

When my father died in November 2002, my parents had been married for 55 years. Several well-meaning people found it necessary to warn my sister and me: “Your parents were so close–you have to be prepared for your mother to go soon.”

Gosh, Family Friend, thanks for sharing.

Turned out she lived another 4 years, dying in January 2006.

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MidoriBird June 28, 2012 at 8:12 pm

I’m one of those people who are unable to grieve for long, long periods of time, and it seems strange to others. Usually it is something unexpected that finally breaks the dam, and I never really know when. When my grandmother passed away, my beloved grandmother, the whole family pitched in to go through her things and divide them fairly, but, as in many cases, a few items came up missing. (Thankfully, not many. Nearly everyone is honest at least.)

I was cold inside and I felt absolutely nothing. I went through the motions but it isn’t unnoticed by others that I seem detached. It took nearly three months before I accidentally overheard my aunt say something where I thought she was upset that a letter she’d recieved maligned my beloved grandmother, and I blurted “WHO said something about grandma?” and she snapped it was none of my business.

It is true I reacted without thinking, but hearing a suggestion that anyone had written unfounded lies about my grandmother brought a wave of first indignation, then anger, and then the dam just burst. My mother made her way into my room and I told her what happened, and she had no qualms about going to my Aunt and telling her she’d misunderstood. My Aunt came to me and hugged me and apologized for getting angry….turns out she was also angry at at undiginfied, unfounded lie and had snapped. She didn’t understand until then either that what had happened broke the dam around my heart and I finally couldn’t hold my feelings back anymore. To this day the death of my grandmother will cause pain if I think about it too much, but any other memory I have of her are those I cherish.

My uncle’s death last year in a car accident had all his girlfriend’s family (he was a widower who took a long time to start dating again and he was getting older) zeroing in and taking everything of value he had, and causing all sorts of mayhem, legal trouble, and the like. His girlfriend had taken his comfortable retirement setting and bled him dry; he lost his house, his cars, the whole nine yards. I loathe her in private, but conceal my feelings. Once again this family member I was very close to and I never knew such private agony since my grandmother’s death, buried so deeply I couldn’t react to it. I was encaced in ice for a long time.

That same girlfriend was in the accident as well and in a coma for several weeks and was slow to heal. Last October when I was on my way home from work she came limping out of her house and saw me, and tottered in my direction. I was stunned when she just threw herself on me, sobbing and going on and on about how sorry she was, she hadn’t known for two months he’d even died, she was just getting up and around, her family’d abandoned her, my uncle’s funeral was totally paid for (A lie, she had nothing to do and nothing to contribute) and all her falseness rammed down my throat further and further as she went on and on. I could barely speak or answer.

I felt every single wound I had rip open as behind my eyes I relived that night when my brother called me frantically on the phone, asking where Dad was. It took me ages to politely extricate myself with that same facade as before (she always held the opinion that whatever the rest of my family seemed to be, I was sweet and naievely innocent of it all somehow) and as soon as I was out of sight, I cried the rest of the way home, and numbed back up until my mother called later on. When she asked me how everything was, I choked, and right there on the phone completely lost it. I told her everything.

By now my parents had been long since divorced, but she promptly called my father and told him, and he called me wanting answers. When I told him he was so infuriated he even asked into restraining orders. (This was his brother and the amount of funeral debt and betrayal by the girlfriend’s family left him with a seething fury.) Well, that can’t happen, but it took that long for the wounds to break, and I barely remember the week afterwards. It was like he’d just died, and only then was I feeling the raw force of all that pain. I think for a few days I snapped at everybody who came around me and yes, I regret it highly because that isn’t my usual nature. This man had been another father figure to me, not just some uncle. Since then those wounds have finally begun to heal but there is a deep pain if I think about it too much.

Everyone grieves differently. It makes me feel awful when others assume that a person who does not show open grief or crying at a funeral isn’t grieving or feeling pain. What do they know? They’re not in that person’s mind or heart.

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Piratelvr June 28, 2012 at 8:24 pm

One of my dear aunts passed away last May at the age of 54. My uncle loved her very much, and they’d been married since they were 18, but as she was sick for 5 years and had been mentally slipping in the last few months, he had already grieved for her before she was gone.

Well, I think about 4 months later, Uncle met a woman while on a cruise and they started dating. I was told by family members that some had reeled and were surprised, some disapproving like my cousins (uncle’s sons) and thought he should have dated around instead of jumping into another relationship but as an aunt (uncle’s sister) told me, he never was really a dating guy, just a relationship guy. Now they’re getting married in October. I haven’t met her, but from what I know of her, she’s very nice, and I figure no one knows what conversations my aunt and uncle might have had in private. Maybe she did give him her blessing to move on.

From the pictures I’ve seen of my uncle with his fiancee, they look very happy together. That’s all that really matters to me. I loved my aunt, but I do think my uncle deserves to be happy, and as he’s in his mid 50’s as well, he still has decades more of his life to live.

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Cat Whisperer June 28, 2012 at 10:30 pm

When my mom passed away, I waited on my dad to tell me when it was okay to go through her things and help him decide what he wanted to do with them.

My dad’s sister decided to deal with my mom’s belongings. She had my dad’s consent, don’t get me wrong, but she never told me or any of my siblings what she intended to do. She went in and threw away a lot of my mom’s things and kept things for herself. What she kept, what she threw out, what I would like to have had the chance to go through, I’ll never know.

When she told us what she’d done, there was a note of “gotcha!” to the way she told us. She never liked my mother and caused a lot of trouble in the family. And I know she felt like she’d scored some great big coup in scooping up my mom’s belongings and not letting my brothers and I go through them.

On the occasions of my brother’s death and my father’s death, she went out of her way to behave with spite and meanness. Unbelievable how petty and just plain nasty she can be.

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