This is a reminder. You don’t have to say or do anything to someone who is grieving, especially if what you say or do is likely to confuse or add more pain to their grief.
“I don’t like tie they put on him. That is not my favorite one.” Yes, that’s correct. I heard those words uttered by a woman after we viewed the dead body of a mutual friend. Maybe it would not have been a big deal had she said that in privacy. But the deceased man’s grieving wife and four adult children heard what she said. Their bewildered looks left no doubt about their confusion.
I attend funeral services more often than I used to because I am aging and do humanitarian work that is supported mainly by older people. I have had the privilege of having fellowship with some of the dying until their final breath. It is often harder to see the pain of emptiness experienced by the loved ones of the departed man or woman.
Those are the moments the loved ones need to be freed so that they can process their loss and come to terms with reality — their loved one is deceased and life will never be the same. Our presence, just being there and offering to assist, helps them know others share their loss.
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A dear friend was ill for several years. About five family friends would go visit him and his wife at home. When he died, one woman complained that she and her husband were not the first to be notified of his passing. Wait a minute. Is that important — being the first to know someone is dead? A woman has just lost her lifelong partner and has to be burdened with the task of figuring out whom to call first and let them know of the passing of her husband?
Another one complained that she had not been asked to bake a cake. When someone has lost a loved one, daily routines and some other matters become secondary. In addition to the emptiness one experiences, there are logistical matters: working with a funeral home, the date of burial or memorial ceremony, preparing eulogy, selecting a lot at a certain cemetery, and many other things.
When my sister died, making arrangements for her body to be airlifted to Kenya became a top priority. There are specifics provided by airlines, required certificates for the body to go through customs on the other side (yes, a dead body is considered and transported as cargo), and grieving parents whom I had to attempt to console. I was hurt when an insensitive friend made comments that were untrue and unreasonable.
One of the other aspects in which people can (and do) hurt the grieving is by making negative comments about how long they should grieve and how they should do certain things. My friend was visiting the gravesite of her husband several weeks after his passing and someone took an issue with that, advising my friend to get over it and move on.
Who determines the length of the grieving season? Is that not a personal journey that is largely dictated by the dynamics of his or her relationship with the deceased? Saying nothing in such moments is empowering for the grieving instead of saying something that can make them feel weak or guilty. Don’t even offer ideas, unless you have been asked, on what they should do with the personal belongings of the deceased.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.