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Things People Say at Funerals

It hasn’t even been two months since my dad’s funeral. Stuff surrounding those horribly difficult days is still fresh in my mind. So before my memory gets cloudy, I thought it might be interesting to write about things people say at funerals, or specifically, what people said to me at my dad’s funeral.

I am interested in hearing what’s been said to some of you too. My intention is not to make this into one of those ‘things not to say’ posts. Maybe one of those will come later. Rather, this is merely an observational sort of post. I’m just sharing some random things said and also my reaction.

One of the first things I noticed was no one seemed to want to say the word, died.

No one said, I’m sorry your dad died. Nearly everyone said, I’m sorry for your loss. Probably nine times out of ten, this is what people said.

I find this fascinating. The “d” word avoidance. Deserves a post of its own someday.

2019 update:  You might want to read, What If We Started Saying the “D” Words Out Loud More Often?”

After noticing my barely-holding-it-together demeanor while standing in the receiving line, one kind soul said, “It’s okay. You don’t have to speak. Just stand there. That is all you need to do.”

I wanted to give her an extra hug for saying that. No two extra hugs. At least.

Another equally kind remark, notably said by the spouse of who said the above kind words, was this, “It’s okay. Someone in your family has to be the crier.” (Yep, that would be me alright).

It felt wonderful to be given “permission” to go ahead and cry. In public. It’s interesting the effect tears have on people. This would make a good post topic someday too.

A strange sort of comment was, “Gosh, I don’t recognize you anymore. I still recognize your sisters, but not you.”

I fear this person really meant, wow, you look tough – like you’ve aged a gazillion years and your (older) sisters have not. Thank you, cancer.

I loved hearing from a few of my dad’s former students who showed up, and a couple were really former, like from his first class of 1958 or whenever it was, who said things like, your dad was such a great teacher. I always enjoyed his class and our chats in the grocery store too.

One neighbor said, “I am going to miss your dad. I still miss your mom. There were both such wonderful neighbors.”

What lovely things for her to say and for me to hear.

Someone else said, “Oh, you look just like your mom.”

Hmm… wasn’t sure how to take that one. But decided it would be a compliment.

“Our last visit was a treasure.”

What a beautiful sentiment. I loved hearing that.

“Your dad will be missed.”

Can’t hear that often enough, right?

“Well, this is the time and place to be weepy.”

Felt weird. Made me feel like, can’t I be weepy any other time or place?

A dear old friend from high school who I had not seen in years and years (my fault) said this:  “Oh Nancy, I just want to stand here and hug you and hold you.”

As you might suspect, more tears.

And then of course I heard, “Well, at least he didn’t suffer.”

Shit. He suffered plenty.

And how can anyone judge another person’s suffering anyway?

“It’s nice you have siblings to share your grief with.”

That felt comforting and made me realize yes, it must be hard when there isn’t someone else to share your pain with.

“It was wonderful your dad got to live independently in his own home for such a long time.”

Perfectly true and perfectly stated.

I also heard a similar sentiment not so perfectly stated, “At least your dad lived a long life.”

True, but not comforting to hear nonetheless. Those “at least” statements are damn annoying.

And then there was this one simple statement, “Your dad was a good man.”

Kinder words could not have been said.

Or truer ones.

Yes, the things people say at funerals…

Is there something said to you at a funeral (comforting or not comforting) that has always stuck with you?

Why do you think it’s so hard for people to know what to say at funerals?

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Things people say at funerals…

Beth

Wednesday 8th of February 2017

Hi Nancy, I'm one of those people who doesn't do well at other families funerals. I can come undone before I get there so I just don't go on the most part. I'm always afraid I'll just make things worse for the family. I think in general I for one just don't know what to say. I want to acknowledge the death in your family but I also know others that don't want anything said to them. My sister is like that. In my own family I'm completely different and have learned to literary shut my emotions off.

I can give you a bit of a funny on my own mom's funeral. She wanted a small graveside funeral of friends and to have her ashes blessed before going into the ground. My sister was supposed to bring those ashes. She informed my 15 min before the service when I asked where mom was that she just couldn't do it. Now my mom's ashes were being kept at my mom's house. I rushed up to get them so I was in time for the service and honestly I didn't know what to say when I arrived so out of my mouth came "ok everyone I've got mom". I had her ashes tucked under my arm. A complete ice breaker for those there and luckily it brought smiles and laughter which is what my mom would have wanted as she loved to laugh.

My sister still hadn't arrived and was now running late. On the levity side again a neighbor whispered in my ear "have you ever known them to be on time for anything" and yep he was right. Apparently she couldn't find the shoes she wanted to wear so was late along with her entire family other than my niece who came with me.

Having never been to a graveside funeral before ourselves we didn't know about the sprinkling of sand. Oops surprise. When asked if anyone wanted to do this we all kinda of looked at each other and froze. Again luckily a few friends of mom's knew what do to and led on for us. One of those friends looked at me and said are you going up and out of my mouth before I even thought about it was " I hadn't planned on it" so up I went with this wonderful lady behind me. She had had knee surgery so I waited for her and grabbed her elbow as she bent down. I was so afraid she was going to fall in the hole. She looked at me and laughed because she knew exactly what I was thinking and said as much.

My mom was a woman full of life and laughter and that day we celebrated the life with lost. There were definitely tears but lots of laughter as well. I didn't want anyone to be sad that day. I wanted them to remember her with a smile. In the days since I've cried a lot as I'm crying writing this but that day I just needed to shut everything off, get through the day and make sure that everything went right that I had the power to control. I knew my mom was watching and saying keep it together you're doing fine.

Nancy

Wednesday 8th of February 2017

Beth, Yes, the things people say at funerals...Thank you for sharing the story about your mom's service. You arriving with your mom's ashes and then saying, I've got mom, was quite the icebreaker indeed! I understand how you didn't want anyone to be sad, but rather to remember your mom with a smile. You holding it together that day was probably your coping mechanism to just get through it. I love your last sentence. Thank you for sharing. I'm very sorry for your loss.

Janet

Wednesday 19th of October 2016

Hi Nancy, I'm sorry to hear of your dad's death. It's obvious, from your writing, that you loved him. So I want to say to you that when you are sad, remember your dad died, knowing you loved him (and still do!). I hope that acknowledgement brings you some comfort. God bless you.

Nancy

Wednesday 19th of October 2016

Janet, Thank you for your kind words. Love always helps. Thanks again.

Sue

Sunday 9th of October 2016

This post bothered me in the sense that no one who goes to a funeral expects that their words or actions would be judged. They are there because they care, they took the time to show up, and may very well be uncomfortable and unsure of what to say. But the important thing is they were there. I hope I never comment on or criticize what someone who is trying to express care and kindness says to me.

Nancy

Monday 10th of October 2016

Sue, I'm sorry this post bothered you. My intent wasn't to judge. I was merely sharing some things said to me and how I felt about hearing them. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Honey Bee

Friday 7th of October 2016

When my husband died, nearly five years ago now, a friend of his from years back, who had travelled three hours to come to the funeral, handed me a large brown envelope. In the envelope were years of camp pictures taken at a church camp, where my husband had volunteered each summer before I knew him. What a thoughtful thing to do! Because those pictures must have been over thirty years old. In them I saw a younger version of my sweet man and I also saw his companions and the children he served. I will keep them and treasure them. Each memory of my husband that people share with me is a precious jewel. My husband did not parade his helpful deeds so it is beautiful to hear about them from others. I am always delighted when I meet someone who knew him. Sometimes they have a story to tell me.

My husband died of pancreatic cancer when he was only sixty-six years of age.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about death and funerals. It's something I'm thinking about because I have no family to do for me what I did for my beloved. I need to be thinking about Powers of Attorney and executors and making plans.

I appreciate your blog and the feeling of community I sense here.

Sending you hugs, Honey Bee

Nancy

Monday 10th of October 2016

Honey Bee, I am sorry about your husband. How sad. It must have meant so much to get those photos from your husband's friend. What a thoughtful gesture for him to hand deliver those priceless pictures, literally treasures for you to cherish. Thank you for reading, for your kind comments and for sharing about your husband.

Molly MacDonald

Wednesday 5th of October 2016

Five years ago, the father of my son's friend died (notice I use the D word) from cancer (of course), glioblastoma. I told my son I would meet him at the funeral home after work. When I arrived, he was sitting with some of his school age friends on two sofas separated by a coffee table. The body of the deceased was just to his left in the coffin and people were streaming by. The widow was standing greeting guests. Finding my son, I greeted his friends and pulled him away from the crowd, asking, "Did you express your condolences to Mrs. Michels?" to which he replied, "I didn't think I should bring it up." I about burst out laughing. Funerals are really hard. My husband walks in looking like he has seen a ghost. He appears lost and uncomfortrable---he does not know what to say either, even though his own mother died suddenly when he was 17. I am sorry for the loss of your father. Your were fortunate to have a "good one." Many others are not so blessed.

Nancy

Monday 10th of October 2016

Molly, Thank you for reading and sharing about some awkward funeral moments you and your family have experienced. Funerals are really hard. The topic of death makes everyone so uncomfortable. And you're right, I was (and still am) fortunate to have had such a great father. Thanks again for sharing.

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