As an Advance Planning Specialist, I’ve been helping families with Advance Planning for the past 17 years. I have worked at large and small family owned funeral homes, and corporately owned funeral homes and cemeteries. It has been interesting to say the least.
When you attend a visitation or a funeral the most nerve-racking part can be the angst over what to say to the bereaved family. If there is a line, you may have time to come up with something. If there isn’t a line, you are on the spot immediately. My advice is to have a few options already prepared before you arrive.
As an adult I have stood at the head of the casket for my husband and my father, receiving the well wishes from the well meaning. At my dad’s visitation strangers introduced themselves to me and told me stories about my dad that I had never heard before. That was awesome. At my husband’s funeral an Amish friend and his wife waited in line to speak to me. The wife very sweetly said: “We will miss Jeff, but you will miss him more.” Such a simple statement but it conveyed that he was a part of many lives. This couple was grieving too.
There is no shortage of advice available on what to say at a funeral. Whole books have been written to help with that. Personally, I am unable to remember something that I read and repeat it days later. For that reason I’m suggesting a strategy to help you know what to say.
I usually say: “I’m so sorry.” and then add something personal, like: “I loved your mom. She was so kind to me.” Recently I said: “I’m so sorry. I had such a crush on your dad when we were kids. Such a handsome man.” I would caution you to avoid long stories and to consider those behind you in line. Consider also that the person you are speaking to is most likely exhausted.
I share these next examples as: What Not To Say. At my dad’s visitation one woman used her time in front of me to complain about her troubled son, another lamented why they had so many alcoholics and drug addicts in their family. This stunned me since up until that moment every one had been kind and concerned about me. I ended up telling both of them “I’m so sorry to hear that.” At the end of my husband’s visitation, nearing 8:00 pm, a couple approached the casket. They told me they were the neighbors from down the road. I knew the house. WWJD was spray painted on their shed. The man, leaning on my husband’s casket asked me: “How was his walk with the Lord?” Initially stunned, but immediately ticked, through gritted teeth my response was: “His walk was just fine.” He then had the nerve to ask about mine. I responded: “My walk is fine too.” My children intervened before I made headlines: Grieving Widow Strangles Idiot.
So to recap: a short phrase that you are sorry for their loss, plus something personal will help you when it’s your turn. I would suggest a hug too, if you are the hugging type. I needed every hug I received at those two funerals. They still comfort me when I think of them today.
Feel free to contact me at (260) 456-0890 if you have questions about Advance Planning or need a speaker for your event. I’m here to help.
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