Someone died, say something for crying out loud! 

I’ve never been good with words. That’s sort of a weird thing for a writer to admit, huh? Well, to clarify, I’ve never been good with spoken words. Maybe that’s why I gravitated to writing. See, in books and t.v. and movies the characters almost always said the right thing. And even if they didn’t initially say the right thing they eventually learned or saw the error of their ways and made things all better. I don’t know if I had so little faith in myself to say the right thing or so little faith in other people that they would show me grace if I couldn’t or didn’t (not particularly flattering for me, I realize) but my typical m.o. was to remain silent in situations that make me uncomfortable. And folks, that’s gotta change in a lotta situations and the big one is saying something at a funeral.

For me the biggest, baddest, most make-me-squirm subject out there is the death of a friend or family member or worse, the friend or family member of a friend or family member. Several years ago my uncle, Dr. Science (not a real doctor or scientist although he has a B.S) sort of kicked this bucket over in my head when he said he’d given up trying to say the right thing to someone who was suffering because someone they knew had passed away. I think he said he had resolved to just go with, “Sorry for your loss.” That sounded like a good go-to for me so I went with that for a few years. However, after a while that didn’t seem like enough. To be fair to Dr. Science this is a clear statement. It expresses care and in all these situations I was truly sorry for my friend or family member’s loss but I wanted to do more. I don’t know if it’s my bleeding-heartedness or that I’m some sort of over analytical overachiever but I wanted to do something else to alleviate their pain. But what? And was that even possible?

I’ve lost a few people in my life. Like most of us, a lot of thoughts and feelings ran through me. I struggled to make sense of it all. I tried to figure out what my life would look like without them in it. In some instances I dealt with some regret about something I never did with them or said to them. Finally, in some weird way what I think I looked for was an affirmation, a shared fondness for the person I knew. I realize that’s a lot of stuff so I’ll try to unpack it.

First off, I don’t understand why someone I love, someone who is my friend and who means so much to me has to die. ‘Why them?’ ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why now?’ are the dominant “whys” in my head and personally I’ve never had someone say anything that answered those questions. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone who may have offered kind words to me. And please don’t get me wrong. Making the effort to soothe someone’s pain is one of the most caring gestures we can make. Unfortunately I don’t think this is a nut you can crack and certainly not in a 2-3 minute comment at the funeral. So if, IF, I try and venture down that path it has to be later, probably much later and beer might be involved.

Second, what is my life going to be like now that this person isn’t in it? At the point of loss this is an unanswerable question. I haven’t obviously experienced life without them so how can I know? At this time all I can see is the hole their death leaves in my family, my group of friends and my psyche. And I don’t have a clue how I’m going to fill it. I think our minds crave consistency and normalcy and this void quite honestly just jacks them up beyond belief. The only solace I’ve felt from others’ comments at a time like this is the relay of their memories of the departed to me. Some story, some small anecdote about another person’s experience with the person who’s gone now, makes me feel that I’m not alone in my loss. In some way it tells me that they will always have fond memories of them too. And if they remember then I’m led to remember. And perhaps in the process I can know that they’re not completely wiped out of my mind or my life because their physical presence is gone. Perhaps I can take some comfort in that. Perhaps.

The last one of these, regret, is hands-down the gnarliest beast of the bunch. I’ve seen people reduced to piles of goo because they didn’t reconcile, they never took that trip or did that thing with the dead person that they always said they would. They feel like they failed in the relationship and now, it’s too late. Honestly sometimes these folks are just unconsoleable. Nothing you can say is going to magically make them feel better and what are you going to say? “Oh, Bob never wanted to go to the Tetons, he hated the mountains!” “Bob never held a grudge against anyone or about anything.” (As if you know either of these things) Nope, at best these attempts ring hollow and at worst they’ll hack the person off and have them thinking ‘How the hell do you know?’ About your only hope is to help the grieving recall the good times they had with Bob. For example: “You and Bob played softball for a lot of years, didn’t you? I know he loved to play.” Or, “You knew Bob since the second grade, right? I’ll bet you had some great times over the years.” Sometimes what we need is someone to remind us of the good times we shared with Bob. We need another person to get our focus off the undone and onto the done. We’re looking for something to feel good about because let’s face it, death’s kind of a downer.

I don’t mean to make light of it or deny the grieving their pain. Death sucks. There’s only one guy I know of for sure that ever beat it and if he comes back….well let’s just say my inability to say the right thing at a funeral will seem like a pretty small deal. So what do we do? Folks I wish I knew. All I do know is that I’m going to quit remaining silent in these situations. I’m going to express the best way I can how sorry I am that someone is sad, plainly and simply. I may not do it well but I will make the attempt. I’m not going to try and explain why this happened. There’s no way I can begin to do that. But if my friend wants to go all meaning-of-life with me over an adult beverage later I’ll do my philosophical/analytical best to help them unwrap this subject. My guess is it will be a good thing I don’t drink (see this “quitting” about that). Perhaps I can share my memories of the departed and let those struggling with loss know that their loved one will always be a part of the things that make me, me. I don’t know that my words will have the power to remove their regret but maybe I can remind them of all the good things and get their mind off the bad. One thing’s for sure though, my words won’t be confined to those fleeting moments at the service.

Nope, if my resolution is to stop clamming up about this subject and help my friend I’m going to need to express my care, my memories and my longing for the deceased a month from now, a season from now and years from now on some random Tuesday when the loss rears up and kicks my ass. Because I’ve been there, I know. That’s what it does to you. If I say something to my friend at those times, without being requested to do so it won’t matter what I say. What will matter is they will know (I hope) that I’m in this with them. And that’s the most important piece of all.

I hope you got something out of this and maybe it made you think. Death is just a bitch of a subject and why I’ve avoided saying anything for so long. If you have any advice on doing this whole “talking to people at a funeral” thing I’m all ears. 

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