Love and Funerals
Funerals are an absolute waste of time, money, flowers and sentiment. They should be eliminated from our culture immediately. They serve no purpose whatsoever. Oscar Wilde said, “Death is so inconvenient.” Given the chance, he also would have said, “And funerals change inconvenience to absurdity.”
I have lost my father, mother, my favorite aunt, my mother in law, father in law, three brothers and a sister. Of just those seven, I delivered the eulogy for two. And those are just the deaths in my immediate family. I have lost seven clients in my psychotherapy practice that, collectively, I’d seen over thirty five years. I have given counsel to those who have had a spouse, child, parent, and friend die, helping them along the process of grief.
And I have concluded that the funeral is, at the very least, unnecessary and counterproductive.
People don’t even use the word “funeral” any more. The parade we call a funeral is now called “a celebration of life.” I’ve been to those, too. The difference is even more people are given the opportunity to drone on about how wonderful the dead person is. This can go on for hours. It is a truly painful and awkward spectacle of egos you’ll ever see. I’d rather be shot in the face with a nail gun at close range. It would hurt less.
If nothing else, attending a funeral it is a self serving exercise to 1) offer a public demonstration that we really, really, really care about the family of the dead guy (really, we do. Where’s the tissue?) and 2) well, actually, that’s about it. We show up, we might say a few words, we hug the bereaved and say, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “they’re in a better place,” get back in our cars and find the nearest place to eat. “Celebrations of Life” are the only celebrations that I know of where they don’t provide food.
I have even witnessed people act with such raging stupidity that they give the dead guy’s relatives their phone number and say, “if you need anything, just call me.” That’s not how it works. Your action of sympathy is an insult. If you really want to do something for the person that is grieving, then keep reading and pay attention.
First, if you know somebody’s that suffered a loss, you call them, not the other way around. People that are grieving don’t know their elbow from apple butter, let alone possessing the capacity to put together a cogent sentence. Coherent thought is an olympic event. Just call. A lot. Like every other day. For about a month. Yes, that often.
And don’t ask how they’re doing. You know how they’re doing, that’s why you’re calling. No, instead, you don’t ask how they’re doing, you ask what they’re doing. “Hey, you busy?” Then you tell them what they’re about to do: “Because we’re getting a cup of coffee. I miss you and want to make sure you’re OK.”
Then you listen. You shut your face and listen. You don’t share stories about how you were five and cried at your Aunt Tilley’s funeral. This isn’t about you sharing your anecdotes to let the person know you’ve been through the same situation. Everybody has. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’re present, you stay quiet, and find out if they’re getting rest, if they’ve been in contact with people regularly, if they’ve gotten their housework done, if they’ve been out at all, and how you can help them today and the rest of the week.
Because if you’re really into this whole “celebration of life” thing, know this: the lives you’re going to be celebrating will be the live’s of the people that remain, wrestling with feelings so unfamiliar, from grief so bewilderingly intense to immobilizing helplessness, that they honestly don’t know what to do. They barely trust their own feelings. Your job is not to tell them “you know how they feel.” Your presence is to make them feel a little more normal again. Through laughter, conversation, and picking stuff up off their floor, your active and engaged example of friendship makes the pain more tolerable, and helps them take another step into peace.
If you really want to celebrate a life, right after the funeral is over, show up to the life that is still here. Your presence, just with them, eases more pain than any presence you offer in the church, third row from the back, with a hundred other people.
Ease their pain. Call, keep calling, and help however you can. Start by learning to make a decent cup of coffee.
By entrusting us with your feelings, we help you take steps that you see necessary to begin and put forth the energy to make the needed change.
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