Funerals are minefields. That’s right, I said it. One wrong step and—wait for it—BOOM, there goes your favorite arm. They should be. Everyone is doing the best they can, trying to limp their way through a haze of grief and say goodbye to someone who has only been gone a few days, but it is a minefield. Pack up your field armor and take a deep breath—minefield.
The number of things that can stress out even the most socially confident person are baffling at a funeral. Get together a bunch of people—many of who don’t even know each other—and then try to tackle the soul sucking experience of saying goodbye to a loved one.
I’ve collected a few notes that make funerals especially daunting in the midst of your grief. These are the things that can trigger the explosion, derail the train, snowball out of control (pick whatever metaphor revs your engine.)
*The Ugly Cry.
If you loved the person, chances are you are concerned about the ugly cry. This is no sniff sniff, dab dab of the Kleenex, this is the Turn the faucet on waterworks. It is the This snot won’t stop running down my lip onslaught. Enter bright red cheeks, puffy eyes. Most significant about the ugly cry is that it came on without your permission and it won’t stop until it is GOSH DARN READY TO STOP.
*The Who Will Be There? Factor.
Not only are you trying to emotionally wrap your head around the fact that you will not see this person again, no more texts, no more banter, no more visits, you have to think of the Who else is going to show up that I might not be emotionally prepped to see factor. A funeral I went to yesterday involved this. I went with a friend of mine—let’s call her Cindy—and told her, “Person X may show up. I’m not sure. We haven’t talked in ages. Nothing bad, but if person X shows up and I say to you, “Hey Cindy, this is person X,” know that that is a CODE BLUE. (or red…whatever code means DO NOT LEAVE while I adjust.)
*The What Do I Say?
If words could cause paralysis, it would happen at a funeral. Talk about pressure. A person has just lost a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend and you have to come up with the words—the right words, nay, the perfect words—that both celebrate the person, offer compassion and support and are neither too depressing or too lighthearted. At the funeral I was at yesterday (parents who had lost their 23 year old daughter to cancer) I heard them saying over and over again, “Thank you so much for coming.” I bet they didn’t know what to say either.
*What The Departed Would Have Wanted torment. This is when you hear the dreaded phrases of
“She wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad.”
“She would want us to remember good things about her and not cry.”
Suddenly I’m annoyed. Now I have what is known in funeral circles as Guilt Mourning. I have to mourn the way the departed would have wanted. To be honest, I’m not even sure that the departed would have felt that way. But some person—trying to show how well they know her by issuing an edict of What she wanted—is now telling me that, if I feel like a big o’l hot mess, that I am not mourning correctly. That I have somehow let them down.
Guess what? I don’t buy it.
My friend—let’s call her Ruth—said yesterday to me, “When I die. I HOPE somebody is sad. I don’t want them to fall into a deep depression over me. I don’t want them to stop living their life. But YEAH, I want them to be sad I’m gone.”
Guess what Ruth? I can do that. No problem.
Because I honestly think I can celebrate the departed’s life while mourning my loss at the same time. The other night Cindy and I drank Kool-Aid (the departed’s drink of choice) while toasting her with tears in our eyes at the same time.
So what is a person to do when faced with a funeral?
Have a game plan and remember a couple of things.
1) Be prepared.
Have something you want to say to the loved one’s family before you go up to them. Pee first before the service—you’re likely to be anxious facing this and it will be hard to focus on your loved one with a full bladder. Have Kleenex and waterproof mascara.
2) Say goodbye how you need to, not how anyone else needs you to.
If that means going to the beach, going to the service, going shopping and getting some retail therapy or bawling on your couch, do it. Kool-Aid helps.
3) Running into people you haven’t seen in ages is sometimes a good thing.
I ran into an old friend yesterday and, even though we had grown apart, when we saw each other at the service, nodded and smiled, both of our eyes filled with tears. Connection is connection.
4) This will not be the only time you say goodbye to this person.
Goodbyes with the ones that are close to us happen a thousand times and they still hang around. You didn’t get to know the person in an hour and you aren’t going to let them go in an hour either.
5) Don’t be afraid of the Ugly Cry.
Think of it as validation that you loved this person, that they impacted you and that you will miss them. The more snot the better.
That’s the way they would want it.