During the past week, I've discovered some things you should never do when faced with a grieving family. I'm going to share them with you. You think most of them would be common sense, but apparently, they aren't.
1. It's not about you.
There are people who seem to think that my grandmother's passing is all about them. I can't quite figure that one out. First of all, it's actually all about my grandmother. Secondly, the next in line would be the widow, not Aunt Betty's second husband's third child. My husband was standing beside the casket with my grandfather as friends passed through to offer their sympathies. He said that the first words out of one woman's mouth were, "Did you hear about Bill?" No condolences, no warm wishes, only thoughts about what was going on in her life. So, to refresh, it's not about you.
2. The line at calling hours does not signify the beginning of story hour.
Our family only scheduled viewing for one hour prior to the service. That was done on purpose because my grandfather couldn't handle any more than that. An estimated 700-800 people came through that line. It is not appropriate to stop and tell a ten-minute long story about the time you wore the same shoes as the deceased. My aunt said a friend from the past started a story like this: "I hope you don't take offense to this..." If you're concerned that your story may be offensive, don't tell it.
3. Don't stop by the family's home unannounced.
Two hours prior to the funeral, I was at the house alone to drop off food. Two people I hadn't seen in many years pulled up the driveway and began walking into the garage. "We can come in the side entrance because we're family," they said. Oh, really? I can't even recall your name so how close of family are you? "He's not home," I answered. "Oh no!" they exclaimed. Did they really think my grandfather wanted to sit down for a visit and hour and a half before he had to be at the church? This rule can also be tied in with Rule #1- it's not about you.
4. Do offer to help the family.
We had so many people cook, bake, and help our family in so many ways. It was greatly appreciated. With such a large church, we assigned a woman to organize who brought food and when. It was a fabulous idea because we weren't bombarded with too much at once. People dropped off their food at the church's fellowship hall when it was convenient for them. I picked it up and took it to the house when it was convenient for us. It worked out perfectly. Of course, there are always people who don't abide by the rules. For example, we had a huge (and I mean huge) bowl of banana pudding that was specially requested by my grandfather. He knows that one woman in the church makes it just how he likes it. The same day, a rule breaker dropped off another huge dish of banana pudding. We couldn't eat it or even fit it in the fridge. We asked people to go through this family friend for a reason. If possible, use disposable dishes. It makes things a lot easier on the family after the funeral is over.
If you want to be like everyone else, make a lasagna. That's what everyone does. If you want to do something special or different, think of that family's particular needs. Offer to pick up their kids from school. Offer to babysit during the service. Ask for a grocery list and purchase things they need. Ask a family friend what their favorite restaurant is and offer to pick up food from that place. Bring paper plates, plastic cups and silverware, napkins and toilet paper. Depending on the situation, offer to do some cleaning. Avoid saying, "Let me know if there's anything you need." They won't. Offer something specific, then follow through. The worst is when someone says that they're going to bring a meal and then never show up. I'm still waiting on two lasagnas from friends that never actually made it. See, there's more to funerals than frozen lasagna.
6. If at all possible, don't call.
The family is busier than you think. They're not sitting around, looking for something to do. They are planning services, picking out burial clothes, arranging photographs, writing the obituary, calling family, and so many other things. If you want to help, send a text message. They can answer it when they have time.
7. Obey "In lieu of flowers..." requests.
I've always viewed the last line of obituaries with slight skepticism. Often, the family will ask for donations to a local bank in lieu of flowers. People, this is because they need it! Thankfully, my grandfather has always been very good with money. He's not struggling and he had burial plots purchased years in advance. Even still, his out-of-pocket cost this week blew my mind! The commercials on television that say an average funeral costs $5000 is total bullcrap. Try multiplying that by five. When a family asks for donations, it's because they cannot afford the funeral. To quote my grandfather this week: "You can't afford to die." It's sad, but true.
8. Do send cards of sympathy.
It's nice to hear that people are thinking of you. But please, sign your full name. On a card that had no return address, it was simply signed, "Mr. & Mrs. Jones." Really? Let's try to work in some first names, guys.
9. At the funeral, look your best.
I understand that not everyone owns a suit. It today's age, people don't wear suits to church any more and rarely have the need to own one. If you don't have a suit, wear your best outfit. A cousin of ours (who own suits, I know for a fact) showed up in jeans and an untucked flannel shirt. His hair was a mess and his giant beard was unkempt. Perhaps he was trying to convey the message that he really didn't care. If so, he succeeded.
10. Don't make a scene.
The last thing the family wants is for you to throw yourself on them at the funeral and wail uncontrollably. It makes them uncomfortable and only adds to their grief. Wail on your own time. When presented with the immediate family member of the deceased, offer a short and tasteful condolence. Remember, less is more. If the person wants to talk, they'll send you signals. Maybe they want to remenisce about better days. If so, they'll start the stories. When in doubt, say, "I'm so sorry. Praying for you." That may be all they can handle.