People look to funeral directors to know what to say
As professionals in a field where sensitivity is everything, Funeral Directors constantly strive to say just the right thing at the right moment. We work hard to be culturally, spiritually and socially aware of how a simple statement can be misconstrued during times of extreme emotional duress.
We are often asked to advise the deceased’s family members, friends and acquaintances as to what is best to say. We all do our best, but there are times when even the most sincere and genuinely concerned of us, in our own discomfort, can say the wrong thing. People who have recently lost someone provide a few examples.
Many mean well but their words can be cruel
Sarah’s younger daughter was stillborn. In the midst of her heartache, someone said to her, “Well, perhaps this is a good thing because your older child is disabled, and this one might have been as well.” Statements like these make your mouth drop open in astonishment. What have you heard others say that was meant to be kind but instead came across as cruel? You may recognize scenarios like these.
When Becky and Carrie lost their babies late in their pregnancies, several people mistakenly thought they were offering comfort with, “Well, it wasn’t a real baby yet, anyway.” Likewise, Cherrie and Sondra experienced the loss of their babies. They were told, “You can always have another one.”
When her father died, Norma’s aunt and cousins showed up for visitation at the funeral home. When they seemed to be ignoring her and her grief, she approached her aunt, who observed that, “He was my brother before he was your father, so I miss him more than you.” Perhaps, but certainly not words of mutual comfort.
Some try to offer spiritual comfort
Religious or spiritual comfort is another common way people attempt to help, but the bereaved report many times that what is said isn’t comforting at all and is actually hurtful.
Valerie’s father passed after a particularly harsh battle with cancer. During visitation at the funeral home, she was told, “He didn’t suffer nearly as much as Jesus Christ did for your sins.” Several others told her, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” This is a common statement, and many people use it, but people like Valerie and Roger (who lost his son) found this response harsh and cold.
The worst and the best response
Perhaps the worst response of all, according to those who answered the question, “What don’t you say to grieving people?” was to ignore or avoid their loss and say nothing. Sharon said her neighbors, coworkers and friends completely avoided her because they didn’t know what to say. “People should realize that saying nothing is so much worse.”
As funeral directors, we are often asked, “What do I say?” As we help guide those who ask for our help in these delicate matters, one thing to remember is overwhelmingly, those who have lost someone report, “I’m sorry for your loss,” is the very best response. That’s why, at Directors’ Choice, when we become aware that the person on the call is bereaved, we let them know that we are sorry for their loss. As we end the call, we again let them know how sorry we are for their loss. These words aren’t spoken as a rote formula, but in acknowledgement that the person on the phone has lost someone and these are the kindest words of comfort we can offer.