What I’ve Learnt About Funerals:
Below are some things I’ve found from my experience of dealing with the funeral of my Mum.
- You will end up supporting everybody else instead of the other way around:
For many people who attend the funeral, it will be the first time they’ve seen you since the loss of your loved one and it will be the time when they really come to terms with the fact that your loved one is gone. They will have heard the news, but will not fully have comprehended it until they arrive for the funeral.
They will feel so sorry for you when they see you and will approach you in tears. You will find yourself patting them on the back and assuring them it will be okay.
- You will be exhausted, overwhelmed and in a daze on the day:
Funerals happen relatively quickly considering how much there is to organise. In the few days leading up to the funeral you will be extremely busy. You will have people calling and texting and visiting, dropping off food and offering their assistance. You will have appointments with the funeral home and paperwork to deal with. You will have to make choices about which flowers you prefer, what the hymn sheets will look like, which coffin you want etc etc. You will have been so busy that on the day of the funeral you will sit there in an exhausted and overwhelmed stupor.
- You won’t take in or remember much at all:
Being in your exhausted state, you will go through the motions of receiving endless hugs and condolences, but will not remember who hugged you and what was said. You will see endless faces but will be too tired and emotionally drained to take it all in.
You probably won’t even take in or remember what was said in the funeral service. For this reason, I encourage others to organise with the funeral directors for the service to be videoed. It is also something that you can share with family members who haven’t been able to attend the funeral, or even people who become close to you in later years who you would have liked to be there. This is something I did for my Mum’s funeral. I have only watched the video once years later with my husband, but it was so special to me to be able to listen to the nice things that were said and fully appreciate them. It was also special to be able to share this with my husband who never met my mother but who has heard so much about her.
- You may find that you don’t cry:
By the time the funeral comes around, you will have cried your eyes out and may not have any tears left. You will feel the expectation that you should cry, but you will be in such a daze that you may find you do not actually cry. You may even find yourself feeling a little numb. I found it really difficult watching them lower the coffin into the earth. My heart was breaking, but I only shed one tear because I was so cried out. Also, it’s a very strange experience knowing that all eyes are on you, it’s hard not to feel dazed and perhaps even like an observer rather than yourself.
- It is likely that the funeral will not provide the closure you thought it would:
We tend to think that the funeral provides closure, and it does – for all your friends and distant relatives. For you though, the funeral is more like the eye of the tornado. Up until now, you will have cried a lot, but you will also have been too busy dealing with the rush of incoming calls, visitors, and the mountain of things to organise for it to all sink in properly. On the day you will not be in the frame of mind to receive closure, you will be just going through the motions while feeling like curling up in a corner away from everyone and everything. It is only after the funeral that the reality really starts to sink in and the tornado hits you on the inside rather than on the outside.
- People will stand around and stare at you and you will really appreciate a smile:
Everyone who attends the funeral is there for your loved one and you. They all want to see how you’re coping and can’t help but stare at you. While you’ll never be alone on the day, there will be some who are afraid of approaching you because they don’t know what to say. Those people will probably end up standing around staring at you with a blank expression.
People tend not to smile at funerals. After all, what is there to smile about? However, to be met with a blank or miserable face whenever you make eye contact is a little off-putting; it makes you feel like a bit of an alien or science experiment gone wrong. There’s something about a smile that lifts us up and it’s no different at funerals. Greet me with a friendly face and make me feel like a normal person; give me a smile, even a sad smile, but give me something to show me that I’m still normal, that everything is going to be okay. If you can’t manage a smile, at least give me a nod.
It is a serious and a sad day, but someone sharing a happy memory that you can both smile about is such a blessing. Of course, you expect people not to be all rainbows and butterflies, but a smile and a happy memory can go a long way and is much better than being gawked at.
- You will appreciate any sense of normalcy on the day:
You will find that it is very draining having to reassure crying friends and distant relatives and having serious deep discussions all day. You will appreciate that friend who treats you as you. I remember on the day of my mum’s funeral, amid the endless wave of hugs, I had a friend who came up and jokingly said, ‘I guess I’ll give you a hug’. While it is nice to know people care, I really appreciated that brief break from all the sorrow around me. Later, I met up with that same friend again who said ‘I guess you can have another hug’. This made me laugh and, although I felt guilty for laughing, it was a welcome relief to be able to be myself. It was a moment that I remember and it really helped my spirits.
- On the day, you will feel like getting away from everybody, but months later you will look at the guest book and feel thankful for every person who attended:
In your exhausted state, you won’t be able to fully appreciate everyone who has come for the funeral of your loved one. You just won’t be able to speak to them all, you won’t remember them all and you won’t be in the frame of mind to thank them properly.
However, their attendance will mean the world to you when you finally do get around to looking at that guest book and you will take comfort knowing that your loved one touched the lives of so many. Every person who was there is a testament to what a wonderful, special person your loved one really was.
- After the funeral everyone else will go back to their normal lives and things will be quiet and even lonely:
When they first hear about your loss, your friends will all want to contact you and tell you how sorry they are. The death will be fresh in their minds and everyone will want to help. After the funeral though, everyone tends to go back to their normal lives and this can be a long lonely time where you really feel the loss.
One piece of advice I would have for those who have friends going through loss is to give some time in the weeks and months after the funeral to remembering the deceased and offering a shoulder to cry on. Don’t leave them alone to deal with it, it means the world to them to know you’re still thinking of them and their loved one. Even years later, they will really appreciate you sharing a little story and spending time reminiscing.