The Thoughtless Things People Say at Funerals (1)
By: Beth McHugh 2010
Whether it is the death of a parent, a sibling, a spouse or a child, when the deceased is close to you, the pain is immense. Despite the obvious nature of this statement, many people fail to be able to adequately console the bereaved. In fact they make the situation much worse by saying the most tactless, thoughtless and sometimes just plain stupid things to people who are grieving.
One of the most obvious cases is when the deceased is a newborn. Most deaths are occasions for sadness and mourning and the death of a baby is one of life’s hardest events to deal with. Yet, seemingly intelligent people say the silliest things at these times, the most common being: “You’ll have another one.”
The grieving parents don’t want another baby, they want that particular baby that is presently lying in its coffin. To say such a platitude is really just causing the grieving parents to experience more pain and alienation. Not only is their baby dead, but nobody seems to be able to grasp the level of their distress.
The same goes for the death of an elderly parent. This event usually results in such comments as: “She had a long life” or one particular comment well know to English, New Zealand and Australian readers in particular: “He had a good innings”, a reference to a cricketing term.
Yes, the elderly parent may have lived a long life but making these types of comments just ignores the fact that age is not a factor in mourning. One woman I know was told that her dead 95 year old mother had “had a good innings”. The bereaved daughter replied” “Yes, but she was still my mother”. And the death of a mother or a father is a once in a lifetime event and should not be minimized or trivialized merely because of a person’s age.
The same goes for people who have died of painful diseases. One of the most common platitudes for this scenario is “It’s a blessed release”. Yes, it is. For the deceased. But for the ones left behind there are mixed feelings. Yes, their parent is not in pain anymore, but the simple fact remains that they have lost their parent, he or she is never to return plus their last months or years were blighted by intractable pain.
It’s so easy to learn one or two heartfelt comments, such as “I’m so sorry about your baby” or “I’m so sorry about your father, you will miss him” that are simple, yet bring both comfort and a feeling that others understand. So why do people avoid the easy comment and say thoughtless things?
We’ll look at that in our next article on conversations about death.