Friday, April 16, 2010

7 Things you Shouldn't say at a Funeral.

We all do it.

We go to a funeral home to pay our respects and we just don't know what to say.

So we say a lot of things we shouldn't.

Here are 7 things that are heard over and over again that probably shouldn't be said.


Number 1.
"He looks wonderful (or peaceful)"
This is often said at the funeral home when you are viewing the body. Most people say it, not because they actually think that, but because they are trying to be nice. Silence would be too awkward. Actually, standing in front of a casket feels awkward. But try not to fill the awkwardness with this comment.

Most of the bereaved that I have talked to, myself included, have heard this often and hate it, although they usually nod their head in agreement, never letting on how inappropriate it really is. But honestly, they are thinking, the person does not look wonderful.

They look dead.

Number 2.
"I am so sorry for your loss"
This is a canned, meaningless phrase that we all say. It is like a generic sympathy card. Try to avoid saying it.

Number 3.
"He is finally at peace"
Well, how do you know that. What makes you think they weren't quite peaceful while they were living. Even people that were in pain towards the end of life wanted to keep living. I know that people say this as a comfort to the bereaved. However, it really provides little comfort. Avoid saying this if possible. It is too presumptuous on your part.

Number 4.
"She is in a better place"
If I had a nickle for every time I heard this at my own mother's viewing, I would be rich.

No, she is not in a better place, even if it is heaven. She is dead. A better place is here with her family.

Let the family and loved ones decide where a better place is. Many are very religious and truly do feel this way. And that is fine. But many are not. So, let them decide if they think it is a better place or not.

Number 5.
"Let me know if there is anything that I can do"
This is another one of those canned, generic, meaningless things people say all of the time.

Do not say this. Say instead, "I will call you next week to see how you are doing. Is Tuesday morning okay?"

Then call.

Number 6
"How are you holding up"
This is said quite often. It is hard to answer. It is particularly hard to hear over and over again. Another variation is that people will say, "You look pretty good, are you doing okay?"

Of course they are not doing okay. Their loved one just died.

Unless it was a very rich Auntie whom you never liked but left you millions of dollars, you are most likely not okay. Most people will simply answer yes. But most would like to say, "No, I am certainly not okay. My dad, mom, child, husband, wife....just died. You are a putz for asking."

But they usually smile and thank you for coming instead.

Number 7
"I know exactly how you feel"
You don't.

I know, funerals are hard. We all feel bad and we really never think we say the right things. Many people even avoid going, for just that reason. They send cards or flowers instead.

Not a bad idea, actually.

But, if you do want to go and pay your respects and want some ideas about what to say, here is some advice.

Talk about what you fondly remember about the deceased. Sometimes people think that they shouldn't say these things because they may upset the bereaved. Quite the opposite is true. It is comforting to know how much the deceased meant to others. So, even funny stories are good.

When my own father died and people from his work came, they told funny stories about him at work. It was a side of my dad I did not know. It was comforting to hear how much he was admired. I really appreciated this. Most do.

If you knew the deceased well, say how much you are going to miss them. How sad you are. How sad you must know the bereaved are. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to show that you are sad. A death is a sad time, regardless of the age of the person who died. A loss is a loss. It is not the time to judge a loss. It is not the time to say, "Well, they had a good run." They are still someone's mom or dad, even if they are 90. It is hard to lose anyone, regardless of age. Be mindful of that.

If words fail you, give a hug or a squeeze to the bereaved. This is the perfect time to do that.

Sometimes, words are not necessary.

Some things are truly left better unsaid.


  1. Great post. Great advice. Thanks.

  2. Actually, when I lost my boyfriend seven months ago, I found "I'm so sorry" to be one of the most comforting things people said to me. Especially when said with the right intonation. One person I spoke to about a month after the funeral just stumbled over the words, "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry," over and over, because he couldn't think of anything else to say, and he genuinely felt bad for me. The irony was that he's a professor and normally one of the most articulate people you'll ever hope to meet.

    "How are you holding up?" is better than "Are you ok?" (which I got) If you asked me how I was doing, in those early days (heck, even now), you got an honest answer. Most people don't really want to hear how a bereaved person is doing, honestly (unfortunately). It makes them uncomfortable.

    Number 7 is the absolute worst.

    Hugs work best. Be physically present for the person. Listen to them. They are going to want to talk about their loved one. Listen to them. Let them talk. Let them cry. Be there for them. Reach out to them.

  3. Lori from San DiegoAugust 9, 2010 at 11:27 PM

    so damn true!

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