Thursday, May 10, 2018

How to Get Through the Funeral of a Loved One

**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.**

No one likes funerals or calling hours.  I have not lost many people in my immediate family for 14 years.  In 2001, I lost my favorite grandpa and in 2004 we lost my father-in-law.  You learn a lot when you are thrust into that situation especially if you've only attended calling hours to pay your respects to others.  We all process grief differently.  Some are quiet, others simply cannot take the public grieving process and forego it (which is fine by the way regardless of what some people try to force on your for appearance sake.)  Some make it their mission to comfort others to deflect their own pain,  some maintain high spirits telling stories and trying to make people laugh as a coping mechanism and others just get mean or irritated.  One isn't right or wrong and everyone needs to respect the individual process.  The viewing process is a hard one to navigate because you go into it thinking you don't have it in you to put on this brave face for a lot of people you may not know.  The thought of it all can be overwhelming.  Here are some things that helped me while I was in that limbo time between Grandma's death and the viewing/funeral.

Picking out and preparing your clothes-  I did this the day after she passed.  We had 3 full days in between and I didn't want to leave it to last minute because I just wanted something to check off the list.  Black has always been the traditional go to for funerals but more modern ways say a nice outfit in general is just as good.  I chose a long formal black maxi dress with a black and white flowy top over it and a black 3/4 sleeve jacket for the viewing.  For the funeral, I had long black linen pants, a black cardigan over a fuschia cowl neck top.  There was something about just the act of picking out the clothes that was oddly soothing to me.  I wanted to look my best for her.  My biggest tip?  Wear comfortable shoes!!!  All of us grandkids were lamenting over our aching feet only two hours into the first go round and still had the second one to get through.  I ended up hobbling into a store up the street, stripped off my shoes and went to their shoe department to thankfully find something I wouldn't have normally chosen but it had to be function over fashion and the next day my feet thanked me for it!  (My cousin and his girlfriend actually saw us checking out because she needed new shoes after that too!)  Also bring blister blockers, band aids and even a pair or two of cheap ball of foot insoles you can get at the dollar store.  You may be a God send to others!

Prepare meals ahead to freeze-  I wish I would've done this earlier in the week but the night before the showing, I made a big lasagna.  I used ground turkey, low sodium sauce, skim ricotta and whole wheat noodles with lighter cheese sparingly.  I baked it and put it in the fridge overnight.  Before we went to the showing, I popped it in my Hot Logic ( and it was hot and ready for us for dinner between showings.  It was relatively healthy but still the comfort food we craved.  I kept it in the Hot Logic in case we were hungry after and we were starving!  I had two big pieces left so I froze them and then broke it out a few days later to reheat after a workout when my brain was unable to compute the idea of making dinner.  As the Mr said, it was the gift that kept on giving.  While it was nice that people dropped off food for the family, none of it was healthy and this was just my way of making sure I didn't go off the rails more than I'd already given myself permission to.  So make a few meals if you're trying to stay on track because trust me, the post-funeral you will be SO glad you did!  This is where the Food Saver ( I've been raving about for years comes in real handy.   Those two items are true God sends in that situation especially.  It's also good to make some stuff to drop off to other grieving family members a few weeks after, you know, when everyone assumes you should be "getting back to normal" and stops checking in.  Only do this if you have it in you.  I find baking/cooking comforting but the first few days after the funeral, I forgot how to use to microwave.  Some days you are just a zombie and cannot deal.  These meals help.

Eulogy-  I have done the eulogy's for both of my maternal grandparents.  For his final birthday, I gave my grandpa a letter talking about all of my favorite memories with him and what he meant to me.  He loved it so much that he asked his wife to ask me if I would read that for his eulogy.  What an honor that someone felt something I wrote summed up his life so perfectly!  I tweaked it only slightly and read it in front of many people in a standing room only service (he was a public servant) and had people came up to me after saying how they'd never heard anything so beautiful and funny.  I knew I wanted to do the same for my grandma and had her eulogy written for four years before her passing and tweaked slightly as needed when she passed.  Please don't skip a eulogy for someone.  This became even more important after a friend of her husband did the service and completely screwed it up.  You get ONE SHOT to honor your loved one and if the minister screws it up, you make sure you have a copy of what you wanted read on you, even if that means you ask the funeral director to do it.  You never get that moment back and especially after a long fought illness, they deserve to be honored for their fight.   Even if you don't have the ability to keep it together while reading it, give it to the funeral director to read.  They can say "this is something written by X's spouse/ grandchild/ friend, etc"   It breaks my heart that my FIL didn't have a eulogy and that man was so amazing and deserved one.  We all do.  We are so much more than just what relation we are than the "enter three hobbies here" you get with an obituary.  Every life deserves a personalized remembrance because we did a lot during that dash on our headstone that separates our year of birth to the year of death.

Preparedness- You've gotta be ready for anything for this marathon of emotions.  You go in there an hour before calling hours to be with your loved one for the last few times and even if the funeral home has tissues and mints and that's usually about it other than maybe a coffee/tea bar.

I, however,  was a walking drug store.

Tissues, eyeglass cleaner, sewing kit with safety pins, cough drops and Dayquil in case someone was sick, floss, bandaids, bobby pins, gum. Gas-X and melatonin powder for the few people saying they were having sleeping issues to try the night after the funeral.  I added some Excedrin in there too.  I also bought a few boxes of protein bars and gave 2 each to the daughters to have on hand.  I watched my mother in law almost go down from low blood sugar because she refused to eat the morning of the showing and we had to ply her with hard candies until we could get her to a restaurant.  Don't do that please.  It just makes a bad situation worse for all involved.  The gum and tissues got the most use but I was glad I had it all on hand in case someone needed something.  Trust me, in that situation, emotions are high and the slightest thing can send someone over the edge.  Don't let it be a button that popped off or a blister forming.  You can save the day for someone else on the edge even if you don't personally need these things.

Don't forget to silence your phone-  You have no idea how annoying it was to have people calling my family members repeatedly until I had to give side eye.  Most people will know what you are doing that day but some people don't and others may be calling to check in on you.  It's disrespectful to keep your phone blaring.  Silence it before the calling hours and funeral.  There is literally nothing more important in that moment.  Catch up later.

Don't shy away from strangers-  Yes, it's weird that you have to stand there with a smile on your face while you're introduced to the 50th person you don't know.  But my grandpa had 1500 people over the course of the two calling hours (they ran over) because he was a public servant and the current ones stop by and honor the fallen.  My father in law had a couple hundred people, many from his former job where he was loved by all because of his ability to treat the janitor just as well as he treated a big wig.  We didn't know any of those people at all because they lived in another state but those strangers made sure we knew how he had impacted their lives and how much they respected him.  The same at grandpa's.  When I was reading the eulogy, I kept focusing on this girl I didn't know but she smiled as I'd look at her.  Afterward, I saw her and apologized if I weirded her out but I just felt comfortable looking at her.  She said that was fine because when I told the story about my first car buying experience with him, she laughed because she had the exact same experience almost to the tee!  So don't shy away from those strangers.  They have stories to tell about a side of your loved ones you didn't know.

Be prepared for rude questions/stupid situations you shouldn't have to deal with-  Nowhere in my Grandma's obituary did it say she passed from complications from dementia and I'm glad it didn't.  That disease didn't define who she was, it's what she happened to pass from.  But you will still have people who either weren't close to the person or didn't know ask you what the person passed from.  It is, of course, a natural curiosity to want to know how someone died but it is not appropriate to ask the family members who are grieving.  It's obviously up to you whether you choose to disclose that information if asked.  You can reply "they battled a long illness but we're here to celebrate their life, not focus on their death."  That should be enough to politely tell them all they need to know.  There's also this Golden Girls episode where Sophia thinks she's dying and she says "don't invite Aunt So and So, she'll try to make my death her moment."  It's true.  Some people think that the bereaved should remember them even if they only met them once 20 years ago and get a knot in their undies when they don't.  Everyone is going through enough to have to placate someone's inflated ego about themselves, if you witness this and feel the person needs an out, walk over and ask if they need a break, give them water or even saying "just checking on you."  This can usually be enough to disrupt the person and they may get the hint it's time to move on.  If that doesn't work and you don't care if you ever see the person again in their miserable life, just say "STFU" and be done with them.  Obviously, we have no personal experience to draw from on that example.  {Dripping with sarcasm}

Be there for each other-  Look, family trees all have their branches that can test you.  On showing and funeral day...drop it.  This is not the time for penis measuring about who has helped more or talking about each other behind their backs.  It's disrespectful and takes away from the reason you're there.  The common thing that bonds us as family is the love for that person we are there to mourn.  Hugging and comforting the offending family members doesn't mean there won't still be the same issues once all is said and done but it shows respect to the deceased that you can get over yourself for a few days.  I have never felt closer to some of my family members I don't see as much as when I was hugging them or their children.  I don't have to agree with how someone conducts their life to offer a shoulder to cry on and share memories or laughs to get us through.  You are all suffering.  Put your differences aside for the sake of everyone.  If you're lucky, maybe it could mean a better chapter in your family's story out of respect for the person you lost.

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