Thursday, April 26, 2018

How to Be a Thoughtful Guest at a Funeral/Showing

**This blog post is part of a series on death after a long illness.  This was written while going through the experience.  Just as I shared the journey of losing my Grandma to dementia, I am sharing our journey to healing as well as any tips or lessons learned that helped us cope with the loss.  Your experience may be different.**

As part of the bereaved brood at Grandma's funeral, I can tell you I saw and heard some stuff.  It is hard enough going through it but having additional crapola added on top isn't cool.  So I gathered some of my best tips I wanted to pass on should you find yourself needing to paying your respects.

Silence your cell phone! -  Let me repeat this...SILENCE. YOUR. CELL. PHONE. PERIOD.  I shouldn't have to explain how immensely disrespectful this is if your cell goes off at a quiet moment or while you're comforting an upset family member.  There were a few people that almost got them rammed into an orifice for multiple offenses.  It might be a good idea to talk to the funeral home and ask that they put a note beside the guest book informing guests to silence or place their phones on vibrate before entering.  I would also consider asking them to make an announcement two minutes prior to the funeral service starting on the day of burial "the service is starting momentarily, we ask that out of respect for the family, you all place your cell phones on vibrate or silence for the remainder of the service."

Keep your condolences short and sincere - There is nothing more appreciated than someone paying their respects, it is so comforting during that time.  But try to remember the family has a lot of people to see and speak to during the viewing hours.  A couple of sentences is sufficient to the spouse or those closest to the deceased.  Feel free to look at any picture boards/books that are around.  Chances are, various close family members are hanging out there and you can give your condolences to them as well.  They are more than happy to share their favorite memories of the person whether they know you or not.  Obviously, you can stay longer if you get the feeling they need you or have asked you to stay.  When a friend came during a good chunk of the viewing where we didn't know many people, she was kind of our anchor and made it so we weren't just sitting there twiddling our thumbs.  Assess the situation and if someone comes up to pay their respects, take it as your cue to step back and if the person thanks you for coming then it's okay to leave.

Put yourself in their shoes- As an addendum to the above, please don't ask if they remember you or a specific event.  They can barely remember how to tie their shoes during this time of immense loss.  Don't put more pressure on them by making it about yourself.  It's not about you.  One example (and there were, unfortunately, multiples) I had one person I didn't recognize because I don't see her much but she made it about her.  I'm sorry if in my two hours sleep and just having had five people I don't know shoved in my face that I don't know your face that I haven't seen in 4 years.  (To be fair, her physical appearance has changed quite a bit too.)  I know most people aren't that way but you'd be surprised how many times I saw this.  (Or maybe you wouldn't be!  LOL)

Share a memory- You can't believe how comforting it is to hear stories from different perspectives of your loved one, even ones from family.  Just as Grandma cupped my face with her hands and told me I was her first grandbaby, she would do something similar with another cousin but put her hand on her chin and tell her she was pretty.  This cousin doesn't always have the highest self-esteem and it made me happy to know that Grandma wanted her to know she was pretty even if my cousin didn't always feel that way.  Many funeral homes also have memory cards for guests to fill out.  PLEASE, fill them out even if you didn't know the deceased.  You can say "I didn't know _______, but I'm a friend of ____ and they always had such wonderful memories to share of them so I wanted to pay my respects."  It is a joy to read them after the fact and can spark many wonderful conversations that help comfort the family.

Make sure you leave the first 2-3 rows of seats at the service for family-  Depending on how large the family in attendance is, make sure that you aren't in the first two rows for sure.  Some people like myself and the cousin that sang need to be on an end so we had easy access to get up.  Our family went three rows deep.  Just keep an eye out and move back if need be on your own because some people won't want to ask.  Also, if you see a row of seats behind the family empty just before the service starts, don't hesitate to move up.  The family doesn't need to be isolated either and a hand on the shoulder can mean a lot during tough moments.

Be empathetic but...- don't tell them you know how they feel and start talking about a story that you may think is similar.  We've all experienced loss but each person's experience with loss and how they handle that loss is different.  Rarely do two people grieve and that is totally okay.  While you may have had a similar situation, now is not the time to compare notes.  For example, after we were done watching Grandma be laid to rest, the funeral chick (maybe 23-27 years old) who was nice enough the rest of the time said her Grandma had dementia and she passed as well.  I politely said I was sorry to hear that.  Then she said "yeah, she got violent toward the end and was throwing things.  Did your Grandma get violent too?"  Stunned, I said, "no, we thankfully didn't have to deal with that."  Inappropriate!  If you have someone who went through the same disease you can say something like "our family has been touched by dementia too and while I know it's different for every family, I can empathize with what you must be going through.  I'm here if you ever need to talk to someone who has gone through something similar."  A funeral is not the time to swap war stories about what each respective family member went through.

Share your talents-  If you have a talent for putting together playlists or slideshows, offer to do that for the service.  When a co-worker's husband was in the final stages of leukemia, she asked if I would mind doing a slideshow or playlist for his service because she heard I was good at them.  I told her I would do both and to get me pics ASAP so I could have it ready when it was needed.  The funeral homes or professional places can start at $250 and go up to $750!!!  If you don't mind giving your time, you will give them an immense sense of relief and peace that they were able to memorialize their loved ones the way they wanted to and not be taken advantage of financially.  As the music played at his memorial, she told me many times how much comfort it brought her.  If your talent is baking, offer to bake cupcakes or requested items to take to a luncheon that may follow.  Or cook meals and freeze them.  Make them smaller servings so they can spread it out over time.  (Freezing pieces of lasagna instead of the whole lasagna if it's a spouse who is now alone and doesn't want to unthaw an entire lasagna/casserole, etc.)

Don't forget about them-  Grief extends far beyond after the loved one is buried.  Do not give well intentioned advice within a month or two on how they can move on.  (Therapy, support groups and the like are all immensely helpful if someone has been struggling for a few months but suggesting this within the first few weeks can make people feel like they are being judged on their grief process.  No one needs that in addition to what they are already going through.)  Some people need distractions, some choose to let the wave of emotions wash over them and need to be alone.  Some need to blog.  ;-)  If you check in on them and feel they're still having a hard time, offer to go pick up their groceries for them.  (Many stores have pick up programs where they can place their order and you can go pick it up.)  Tell them you don't even need to see them if they want to leave the door unlocked and you can put them away.  Send them a gift card to a favorite restaurant, especially if they have curbside pick up and tell them you know there are still times they may not want to cook, so enjoy a meal on you.  Or better yet a DoorDash gift card so they don't have to go out.  Ask them if they want to go to a movie.  Sometimes getting out but not having the pressure of conversation could be just what they need.  If it's summer, offer to mow their lawn so they don't have to or shovel snow in the winter.  So often, you feel the societal pressure to just move on and be "over it" and that leads to more depression and isolation because you feel like people don't understand or you're grieving "wrong."  (NO SUCH THING by the way!)  By letting them know your patience, support and love are still there even weeks to months later could make all the difference in their lives and helping them adjust to their new normal.

*Again these tips are based off of our recent experience

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