The famous Dr. Joyce Brothers recently passed away, and her death caused me to ask myself, “How would Dr. Joyce Brothers conduct herself at a funeral?” She was, after all, one of the leaders in savvy speak.
Death is a part of life, but attending funerals can be tough even for the most gifted small talkers. Typically, there is an abundance of grief and emotion at a memorial service, making conversation more difficult but even more necessary. One of the worst things to do at a funeral or memorial service is to keep quiet. So whether it is the funeral of a business acquaintance, the services honoring a family friend, or even a celebration of life for the “mother of mass-media psychology” herself, remember these tips to avoid tongue tie:
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” – This is the standard sentence for good reason; the statement is simple, sincere, and empathetic.
“I don’t know what to say.” – It’s the truth, and it’s okay to say so.
“My thoughts are with you and your family and friends.” – Remember that the loss of another human being has a ripple effect, touching many lives. By saying this, you show you understand how far-reaching this person’s life was and continues to be.
“I will call you (date) to check in, if that’s okay with you.” – Say it, mean it and do it. Planning funerals and memorials is exhausting, time-consuming, and engulfing. But oftentimes, it’s the quiet days and weeks after a loved one has died that prove the most difficult for the family. Mark your calendar to reach out periodically.
“I feel so lucky to have known (name) – he was such a good friend/partner/bowler/chef/father.” – Sharing specific memories and stories is such a kind and generous gesture.
Do NOT say:
“How did he die?”
“Who found him?”
“Did he have a will?”
“You poor thing, you look awful.”
“How are you?”
“Where did you buy your dress?”
And the number one thing to never, ever, not in one million trillion years to say at a funeral is:
“I know how you feel.” You don’t, you won’t, you can’t. Death affects each of us in a different way and while your experience with the death of a loved one may have been – may still be – devastating, the “I know how you feel” statement should not be in your repertoire.
Finally, don’t forget that the smallest niceties can make such a difference. Send a card, make a call, schedule a visit or bring by a meal. Bottom line, remember to be a friend and the right words will come when you need them most. I am guessing Dr. Brother’s would approve.