What to Say to Mourners

Over the years I’ve been to way  too many funerals. I’ve walked into wakes and into houses where the family and friends are sitting. I’ve felt awkward and not known what to say. How do you say anything that could possibly comfort someone who has lost a mother, a father, a husband, a wife, a grandmother, a grandfather, a son or a daughter? I can’t possibly know how they feel and I can’t possibly say anything that won’t be stupid.

Here’s what I’ve learned being on the receiving end.

You help the minute you walk through the door or pick up the phone.

So many people walk out of our door saying “I’m sorry but I don’t know what to say”.

It doesn’t matter what you say. You help by showing us you cared enough to come and feel awkward and inadequate. You help just by being here. (Although I could do without being asked “how are you” or “are you ok” – there is an angry response welling in my chest that I would rather not have burst out inappropriately).

Thank you to those who came to our house (except for the lady from Channel 19 news who came twice). Thank you to all who called. Thank you to all who read and commented on this blog.

But you know – not everyone can come or call or respond. Some are so moved by sadness that they just can’t or won’t. Thank you too. Thank you for feeling so deeply that you can’t come over and that you can’t call and that you can’t respond. I know you are there and you shouldn’t have to do something that is so awful and uncomfortable for you.

There’s a lot of “you have to’s” tied up with mourning. People will say “you have to see the body” or “you have to go to the house” or “you have to go to the funeral”.

You don’t. And you don’t have to apologize later that you didn’t or couldn’t.

We are grateful for those who have been able to express what they are feeling, for those who can’t, and for those who won’t.

For me, the hugs are the hardest and the best. You don’t need to say anything.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 6:33 am  Comments (21)  

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21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That you can share your experience with the world is beyond selfless…

    Deepest condolences from a stranger.

  2. A while back I happen to watching Lifetime – on the show was a psychic whose name I don’t know. He did a reading for a couple who had lost a little girl. In the beginning he had the couple swear on the tape they never had met him before. He had an odd way in that when he went into state, he would scribble on the pad. There was one thing that struck about this – at one point while communicating with the girl he tells the dad that she says that she hears him when he speaks to her alone – at which point the dad bursts out crying because he talks to her when he is in his car alone – even the mom didn’t know – he never mentioned to anyone. I have a good BS radar and never ever believed this type of thing until I saw this – this didn’t seem like a John Edwards type thing as he was very detailed in his reading. Maybe, just maybe it’s true.

    I wish you strength.

  3. “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.” — Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    Today, she couldn’t have been more wrong.

  4. I don’t know you, but I was moved by your story on Kathy Sierra’s blog and had to come over. As someone who has recently lost a family member, I really appreciate you “coming clean” and making clear for grievers/friends what’s appropriate. I wish I’d said the same to people who didn’t know what to say to me.

    Your story about Kim and your children are beautiful. I remember this blog more by the memories than by loss. Thank you.

  5. My deepest condolences,

    I wanted to share a little Jewish prayer….!

    Mi shebeirach avoteinu,
    M’kor hab’racha l’imoteinu

    May the source of strength, Who blessed the ones before us
    Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing

    Mi shebeirach imoteinu,
    M’kor hab’racha l’avoteinu

    Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leima:
    The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
    and let us say: Amen

  6. […] and there at conferences. Count me in for a hug, Dan. [12:14] | [people] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | You can subscribe to an RSS feed of the comments for thisblog: […]

  7. I found your site via Tim Bray’s. My deepest condolensces to you and your family. And thank you for sharing this with us. I hope it helps you as much as it moved me.

  8. Daniel –

    The Internet is in overdrive delivering all the virtual hugs from your friends. Just close your eyes and you will feel our collective arms around you, Kim and Maggie 24 x 7.

    Helen

  9. Thank you for sharing this, and for sharing Elena. I lost a dear uncle last year, and I chose the following quote for his eulogy. Maybe it can speak to you as well:

    For what is it to die,
    But to stand in the sun and melt into the wind?
    And when the Earth has claimed our limbs,
    Then we shall truly dance.
    –Kahlil Gibran

  10. “You help by showing us you cared enough to come and feel awkward and inadequate. ”

    I do feel awkward and inadequate. I am humbled by your strength. I can’t imagine the depth of your grief. I am so very sorry.

  11. Thanks Daniel, for giving us the courage to deal with our own personal losses, God forbid, if they should happen. My heart goes out to your family, and my thoughts are with you as you deal with this tragedy. Accept a hug from a stranger.

  12. Daniel,

    I am deeply moved to hear of this tremendous loss; for you and your family. Thank you for creating this opportunity for me to join in this massive outpouring of support. I hope both the writing, and the reading, will bring you comfort and peace.

    Best wishes in the challenging days ahead.

    John

  13. A bit of Dylan Thomas (on the death of his father) and a hug:

    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    http://webpages.charter.net/classicpoetry/dtdonotgogentle.htm

  14. Dear Dan & Kim,

    We feel we have so much to say but struggling to find a way to best say them. Fleeting thoughts come in and out. We felt your angst at the funeral home earlier and want you to know we care and want to help in any way we can. We are so sorry…

    With Love,

    Bill & Corinne

  15. Dan,

    I read about your story on Kathy Sierra’s blog. I didn’t know what to write in response because TBH I think grief’s a very personal & private thing. I just wanted to say you are absolutely right about the “have to’s” – you do what works for you. My wife and I lost a baby, our first, a few years ago, and whilst I think losing an unborn baby can in no way compare with losing a child one has nurtured and brought up, watched while she took her first steps, brought to her first day at school and so on, we were devastated at the time. We numbly went along with what everybody said we “had to” do, and ended up making ourselves suffer even more for it. You guys take care of yourselves & each other, and do what you feel you need to do, not what anyone else says.

  16. In First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul asks: O death, where is thy victory?

    As I read about Elena and the love and joy she brought to you, I asked the same question and realized that death does indeed have no victory because love and joy are eternal.

  17. I can’t put into word how much my heart aches for your family. I can hardly see what I’m typing for the tears in my eyes.

    I’m terribly sad that our daughters will not have the chance to meet and be friends. From your descriptions I have no doubt that they would have found each other eventually.

    Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers everytime I look at my children but most especially my daughter. You and Elena have made a difference in how I see my children. Thank you.

  18. I wanted to let you know that your daughter’s life and her death have reached very far. My goddaughter is in Ms. Chung’s class. She called and asked for prayers for your family after Elena’s death.

    Last night during our Ash Wednesday services, my soon to be seven year old daughter stood up and asked our church to pray for you. While we never met Elena, we heard lots of stories about her.

    God Bless You!
    Aunt Dana

  19. First, I want to say I am sorry for your loss. A friend of mine knows you but I am a stranger…but none the less I feel your loss terribly.

    But the real point of my commenting was that you have your thoughts on “what to say to mourners” is so perfect. Perfect in its understanding. Perfect in that it’s made me understand something about myself.

  20. my cousin just lost his mom at age 14 and and im 15 we are best friends and im the only one he comes to and breaks down. all i can do is hold him and tell him that im here and its ok to dry and i would do anything to take his pain away and i love him.but the most i can do is be there with him and let him cry. but some things he sais just hit me hard and later when im not with him i cry for him its not so much about my loss is im sad for him and the family. but mostly for him because he lost his mom and there is nothing i can say to take all the pain away.he has had a hard life and now he has to go through this. all i want to do is say the right thing do the right thing. but i dont know what that is. thank you for letting me leave this comment it means alot to get this all out. i hope this helps someone.find peace.

  21. my cousin just lost his mom at age 14 and and im 15 we are best friends and im the only one he comes to and breaks down. all i can do is hold him and tell him that im here and its ok to cry and i would do anything to take his pain away and i love him.but the most i can do is be there with him and let him cry. but some things he sais just hit me hard and later when im not with him i cry for him its not so much about my loss is im sad for him and the family. but mostly for him because he lost his mom and there is nothing i can say to take all the pain away.he has had a hard life and now he has to go through this. all i want to do is say the right thing do the right thing. but i dont know what that is. thank you for letting me leave this comment it means alot to get this all out. i hope this helps someone. find peace.


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