10 Things Not to Say at a Funeral and Why
When someone dies we are immediately concerned with finding the right thing to say to their friends and family at the funeral. But thought should also be given to what should not be said. Funerals are emotional occasions, and most attendees are not in their normal state of mind. Emotions are running high, people are dazed and confused, and many are outright nervous wrecks. It’s no wonder that it can be very easy to unintentionally say the wrong thing. Here are ten things you shouldn’t say at a funeral, and why they shouldn’t be said.
- How are you doing? Even if you have never experienced the death of a close friend or family member, you should have enough imagination to realize that the bereaved is not doing so well. They have just suffered a devastating loss, and the emotional pain, fear of the future, and utter chaos of their life at the moment is no doubt completely overwhelming. Asking this question of someone who has lost a dear one to death is insensitive, and it can be what breaks what little composure they may have managed to show so far. If this is all you can think of saying, better to just remain silent and give the person a heartfelt hug.
- I know what you're going through. You might believe that you do know what a bereaved person is going through. You may have experienced the death of a loved one yourself, even in similar circumstances, or from a similar illness, but you'll never convince the person you're addressing of this. Their relationship with their loved one was unique, and you couldn't possibly know how or what they are feeling.
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- What you need to do is… This is probably the most unwelcome thing you could say to a grieving person. Even though well intentioned, this is not the time to dole out uninvited advice on how to handle their emotions. Everyone is different, and people like to handle grief in their own way, it's a very personal experience. If you sincerely want to help a person to deal with their loss, wait until a few weeks after the funeral, then call on them to find out how they are making out and rather than ask directly, discern if they need any help and take the desired action. If you need assistance with how to approach the matter, speak with a grief counsellor yourself.
- Was he saved? It is best to avoid statements with any sort of religious connotations. Asking this of a bereaved person is like sticking a knife into a fresh, deep wound. Such a question makes it seem like their loved one has been judged and condemned, especially if they were not a Christian themselves. Though your beliefs may be true, others may not share them, and may even take offense. If you yourself are a Christian, better to say a quiet prayer for the deceased than to unintentionally inflict guilt and shame on their surviving family and friends.
- Make jokes about death. Although you may be trying to lighten the atmosphere, making jokes about death at a funeral is not appropriate at all. I have heard remarks at funerals such as "kind of dead in here isn't it?", and similar insensitive attempts at humour. All they do is make everyone uncomfortable, especially with you.
- Anything disparaging about the deceased. It's quite possible the deceased was not the nicest or most popular person. Keep in mind though, that the funeral is a way for their family and friends to say goodbye to them. They are most likely well aware of any character flaws the deceased would have had, but he or she was their loved one. It would be in good taste to respect their feelings and to keep any snide comments to yourself.
- He or she is in a better place. Saying this is definitely one of the most common mistakes people make at funerals. Though the intention is to imply that their suffering is over and the deceased has moved on to paradise, family and friends rather feel that the best place the deceased could be is with them, enjoying life, especially those who may not be religious.
- Did he leave you any money? Hopefully I don't have to go into much detail about why this shouldn't be asked. It's nobody's business, and a funeral is definitely not the place to discuss it if it were. In fact, financial matters of any sort should not be brought up at a funeral
- It was God's will. All this will accomplish is to get people to further question the existence and character of God, or further alienate them from him.
- Is there anything I can do? Can you bring my loved one back to life? Avoid this most insensitive and disparaging remark. There are lots of things you can do, but don't make someone who has just lost a person dear to them to think what it might be. They are exhausted and confused enough as it is. If you want to do something to help, follow Nike's advice and just do it.