Monday, March 13, 2023

In Grief: Saying The Wrong Thing at A Funeral

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.  ~ Benjamin Franklin 

A reader writes: I don't know why I'm so unable to say the right thing at the right time but for some reason I just seem to put my foot into my mouth and make so many ridiculous comments. I decided to go to a funeral of a person I was acquainted with through a church activity group. She died last Sunday and her funeral was yesterday. All I could do was think about my mom and I was crying for the loss of my mom more so than I was crying for the loss of this friend. I felt sadness for her family and could see they were going through the same things that I did when my mom died three months ago.

The thing that I'm so embarrassed about and just want to kick myself in the face for is when I went into the viewing room the woman's husband was there. He just looked so lost and I asked him if he was her husband. He said yes. Then I looked at the woman in her casket and said, "Oh she looks so beautiful, well as good as a person in her condition can." I couldn't believe that I said that. The man looked at me like, "What?????" and at that moment I just felt so incredibly stupid and out of place. I couldn't seem to get any of the words out that made any sense and because I was crying for the loss of my own mom, I felt that I should leave and go home. I got all the way home and just sat and cried and then took some deep breaths and decided to go back in time to be there for the service itself. 

Like my mom's funeral, there were only a few people other than this woman's family that showed up. I went to the funeral to support the family because I knew how bad I felt that so few people outside my own family showed up at my mom's funeral and I wanted to be there for these people. But it made me so sad seeing how so few people showed up. Then my stupid mouth and saying the stupid thing I did. 

I don't know if this is a trend that no one shows up for funerals unless they are related or very close friends or what. My mom had so many friends (Or so we all thought) but so few showed up because it was mother's day weekend and no one could take out the time to show support of our family for our loss. My mom would write 500-600 Christmas cards every year until she wasn't able and so many people said how much they loved her and looked forward to those cards, while she was alive then only a hand full of people other than family came to her funeral. That really hurt. I believe that spirits of the dead are at their funerals and I kept thinking how sad my mom was that so few people came to say goodbye. I wanted this woman to know that I cared about her and didn't want to be one of those people who didn't want to take out the little bit if time for a funeral because I was "too busy". 

However, it just got me hyperventilating when I saw the hearse outside the church when I pulled up. I had to compose myself before going in. I think it was too soon to attend another funeral after my mom's. I don't know. With my inability to say anything that didn't make me look like an idiot and feeling so "out of place" I wonder if going was the right thing to do. :'( 

My response: My dear, I hope with all my heart that you will find a way to forgive yourself for being human. Clearly your heart was in the right place and your intentions were admirable and pure. In the end, that is all that matters. I think it was extremely thoughtful, kind and noble of you to pay your respects by attending this person's funeral, especially considering how close you are to your mother's death, as this could be (and turned out to be) a major trigger for you ~ a painful reminder of your own personal loss.

As for the comment you made to this woman's husband, please consider the circumstances and recognize the state of mind that you were in at the time. If you find that down the road you feel unable to let this go, then consider writing a note to the husband explaining how you felt about the statement you made to him at the funeral, and offer an apology. Since you both are bound by the common experience of loss and grief, I have a feeling that he will understand.  

Afterword: It is very possible that he won't remember what I said. I can't remember anything anyone said during the time of my mom's death and viewing over her body. I remember most of those who were there but not what anyone said except for the statement "I'm sorry for your loss". Everything else is a blur. I just feel so stupid. However, I will be doing my best to continue to going to people's funerals. I think though that I will say nothing but my condolences. I will never forget this, but I am going to try to not let it bother me so bad as its doing now. I am just feeling pretty stupid at this point. Maybe sometime I will be able to just look back and chalk it up to what you said, that I am still grieving for my mom. I wonder if I will ever stop grieving over her death.

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