No matter how sensitive we think we are, our compassion and empathy will be tested at a wake or funeral. Not only are we having to deal with our own feelings of loss, but we will also be forced to attempt to understand the complex feelings of another. When sentiments of loss and anguish run high, indelible imprints are made in memory, and how we handle these delicate situations can create for us either a blessing or a curse.
Invariably, as we grow older, the number of attended funerals and wakes will increase, as those we took a lifetime to know and love will die. Some of these funerals will hold great importance for you, and as a perceptive and caring person, it must be given the proper study and preparation. This understanding is important in the face of unreasoned emotions, and both our words and actions might be weighed, probably never forgotten, and in some rare instances, never forgiven. Take your time, walk softly, and be careful.
The following are several considerations learned mostly by my errors...
Keep your words short, concise, and loving. Listen. and as you listen, you may find an opportunity to assist, but wait for the proper moment to ask... Be honest with your feelings, but weigh your words with what emotion you gauge from each and every person.
Try never to use a cliché, and if you are having trouble thinking of something to say, it is better to say nothing. What is needed is sometimes a simple one. Reach out to hold their hands, looking meaningfully into their eyes... Saying too little is better than too much, and listen. They have a lot that needs to be said, and that may be your primary reason to be there...
Surely it is debatable, but most problems come in the solutions you may offer under duress, or an unwarranted insight you may offer by opinion. In that receiving line, little or nothing we could possibly say would make a major difference in the face of that profound loss, in most all cases. The greatest strength and caring comes from mutual pain and mutual empathy, and so the most productive is to lean on each other for support. Remember, and this is most important, ...you do not have to be the strong one. Standing there, being there, is enough, and will be remembered positively.
Invariably, many types of people will be present, and each will grieve in a different way. Some will laugh and even tell jokes, and this will sometime grate on those who are somber. Some use laughter to purge the pain of loss, and others with tears, and this is not readily understood by either. If you find yourself with a person who becomes too loud, even in a distance, I suggest you separate from them as soon as possible, but this may not always be necessary. The pain of loss fills a person with unfamiliar feelings, unexplored ways of thinking, and we should all try to forgive shortcomings at such an significant moment. Remember too, the power of a hug.
There are times you may be asked to recite the primary or central eulogy, or be one of several tributes. It may be best to find out who is planning to speak, and if you determine that your words will not have as much weight as the rest, you may attempt to be the first one up to the podium. Leave the closest to the deceased to be last, in most cases. But you must judge that, as the most profound eulogy should be last... At any rate, have the entire speech written out, or at least properly outlined boldly, so that you will not lose your place through tears. Read you thoughts many times, and you will be more able to articulate them.
Try not to expand into spur-of-the-moment, or unfamiliar territory, as you will have the dangerous possibility of saying something you may regret. Stick to your script. And also, have someone else read it too. They may give you a greater insight, as my wife did for me.
Though there are no set rules on content, one important aspect to consider is to talk as much as possible about the person and their relationship to others, and not make it all about you. Keep your thoughts uncomplicated and light, and never make a negative reference unless it is countered with some very powerful justification. Remember that you cannot touch the heart of everyone there, but a maximum positive response will come when they collectively perceive your words to be honest, human, and sincere. Usually, only at the very end should one mention oneself. And remember, it is okay to cry. It is okay to take a moment to compose yourself. In those moments of seemingly uncomfortable silence, your loving audience will reach for your next words with empathetic expectations. Your strength to continue will come when you look into their faces.
The following was originally written by me to be tucked away in my diary for some future generation, but after it was read by my wife she thought it would make a fine eulogy. I had labored to find the proper words for weeks, finally flowing to paper when I envisioned this pain of loss from my family's eyes, and not my own. To express simple memories, even elements collected from old photographs, I endeavored to weave them all together like a tapestry... I thought of the possibility that I could read it, but stumbled every time I tried, blinded by tears and a restricted voice... Maddy read it for me with far more eloquence and grace, and I was so proud of her determined strength in the face of her great loss.
Why does the end of the day fill us with such concern? As the light fades, before even the locusts start to sing, we stop our revelry and wish we had more time to play. There is a silence that comes into our hearts, as even the air grows quiet, and the golden bees that hummed in playground clover disappear like magic in the gloom. You even stopped swinging as the city around you grew quiet in the fading light. But there, on the corner, was a familiar silhouette that glowed in her light summer dress under the street lamp, ...and suddenly your world was not as dark. "Madeline!, Patricia!, Darrel!, Cloanne!, Craig! Time for supper!"...and you all ran like the wind into her open arms.
You walked with her down the familiar sidewalk, over a lawn already wet with dew, past the yellow rosebush that your dad had planted so very long ago, up the steps to the porch and through the front door. It was warm, lit by a golden glow, and the smells of her cooking filled you.
After supper, she made you do your homework, told you to take a bath, and prepared you for another day. In the morning you put on the clothes that she had washed, clothes that hung to dry on a silver line in your back yard, taken from a wicker hamper she carried you in as a child. And in the morning, as you dressed for school, they smelled like sunshine, fresh air, and her love for you. It was a time when she and Clovis laughed, and loved too, remember?
You can't recall one singular time, nothing of note anyway, where she wasn't there. She was one of the first, after you of course, to hold your children, and their children too. She could see beyond the swollen cheeks and wrinkles on those tiny faces, to distinguish your features there, and of course, her own as well. She looked into their eyes as she held them, and told you the color they would turn, as her own eyes sparkled with tears, don't you remember?
And she was there to help you up from all of the many falls you have taken, and your pain was her own pain as she bandaged both your scrapes and your bruised self-esteem, even if it seems a blur. And her voice was gentile, guiding, and you listened... and from her you learned that life was not always fair.
She stood by you from a distance too, and all through your life. Taught you grace and goodness, and gave you the push you needed at the very moment you needed it, because she knew you, every inch from top to bottom, inside and out. You, each of you alone, were her favorite in every way, special, and unique, and her greatest of all blessings in this life. And when you gave her grand children, and great grand children, you filled her heart with love and a light that could not be denied. She glowed, and it was you who lit the flame that burned so brightly in her breast.
As time would have it, you grew into adults, finally realizing that she had given you many cherished gifts that at first went unnoticed. And as you took responsibility for your own life, you realized that deep inside, you had learned, somehow, to dance through life, and to laugh, even at yourself, and to sing your songs like there are no tomorrows. She taught you, and all of us who knew her, that with time, the rain would stop, and the clouds we thought would never part, did indeed dissolve into sunshine, just as your hearts were lifted to hear her voice in the twilight, as far back as your very first memory.
This was also in the eulogy, but was not recited by Madeline, as it was from my perspective.
I have known Dollsie since I was 18. I first saw her laughing from across the room, at the wedding of my neighbor Barbara, and my friend's brother's friend, Craig. And from what seems now, so very long ago, while standing next to my best friend Kenny Kuntz, I saw the love of my life for the very first time. Madeline was just 14. And as time moved past, and love enveloped me, I fell in love with her mother too. Dollsie has not once, in all of the years I have known her, ever given me anything but kindness, a gentile kindness, a knowing kindness that only a mother can give, and I'm going to miss her every day of my life. She became my mother too. God bless your heart Dollsie. I love you.