The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. ~Seneca, Roman philosopher
The dreary gray days of winter always seem to bring a flood of deaths.
Obituaries crowd the pages of our daily newspaper. Local funeral homes bulge with mourners paying their respects to the dying and doing what they can to comfort the left-behind family. Endless processions snake their way through town en route to one of the cemeteries.
None of us wants to think about dying, but let’s be realistic. We don’t get out of here alive. And before we go, chances are we’ll have to attend a wake or two. So what’s proper to say at a visitation to those who are grieving … and what’s not?
Please don’t say:
- “She looks just like she’s sleeping.” How do you know that? And even if you do, is a visitation the place for you to announce it?
- “He’s in a better place.” Not necessarily. None of us knows where anyone else will spend eternity.
- “She looks so natural.” Seriously? Since when is death a natural state? And since when can any mortician apply makeup and style hair like the deceased did, especially when they’re trying to cover the pallor of death?
- “He had a good life.” Maybe, maybe not. That’s not for any of us to say.
- “She doesn’t have to suffer anymore.” True, but we don’t get to choose the miseries life hands to us or our loved ones.
- “You’re so pretty. You’ll find a new husband.” Yikes! The deceased isn’t even buried, and well-meaning friends are already planning a wedding?
- “Yackety, yackety, yackety…” There are others in that receiving line, so give them, too, a chance to pay their respects.
- “I know how you feel.” Even if you’ve suffered a loss of your own, you don’t know how another feels. Remember, this isn’t about you.
On the other hand, do:
- Dress nicely. No jeans or athletic wear, no cleavage or mile-high skirts, nothing ostentatious. (See Guideline #7 above!)
- When going through the receiving line, sincerely clasp hands (or hug) family members; introduce yourself to those you don’t know.
- Offer a short explanation of how you knew the deceased or a touching memory.
- Tell the family you’re sorry for their loss. Assure them their loved one was special and inspired/helped/encouraged many people.
- Keep your voice down. You might not have seen someone in years, but it’s rude to shriek, guffaw, and make a spectacle of yourself.
- Sign the guest book.
- If you can’t attend the visitation, consider sending a condolence card, flowers, food, or a memorial contribution to the family’s designated charity.
- Leave your cell phone in the car.
Okay, it’s your turn. What haven’t I covered that needs to be included here?