Last week my friend supported a dear friend whose father died. The dad had Alzheimer’s disease and had been failing for some time. But his condition had quickly worsened and he died unexpectedly.
My friend attended the funeral and funeral reception and since the family is Jewish, she helped organize and attended the Shiva. She was quite surprised by some of the behavior and questions that hurt both her friend and her bereaved mother.
The bereaved family had informally gathered to greet some of the funeral attendees as they left the funeral service. Several people stopped to question the bereaved spouse and said, “Tell me what happened.” The bereaved spouse was upset by the question and speechless. Did they really expect her to have a heart to heart conversation upon leaving her husband’s funeral and on the way to the burial site? Apparently individuals were eager to hear the details as this was a question that was asked to the bereaved spouse and family members over and over at the reception and Shiva.
It’s understandable that friends, neighbors, more distant family members, and community members may be shocked when a death is unexpected. But is it really appropriate to question the bereaved at a time when they too are shocked and in the midst of participating in funeral and burial rituals? Is it so important for people attending a funeral to know right away the specifics of the deceased’s demise?
Not too long ago a neighbor shared similar stories with me. She too felt bombarded with inappropriate questions and comments as she left her husband’s funeral service. Several of the attending neighbors were divorced. Two statements stuck with her – and me. One neighbor said, “I was devastated after my divorce so I know just how you feel.” Another said, “Now you can go line dancing with us.” This neighbor belonged to a group of divorced women who went line dancing each week. Apparently she thought this inclusion would cheer up my neighbor as she was burying her husband.
It can be difficult during shocking and sad times to be quick on your feet and say the right thing. That’s why it is so important to think before you speak. I doubt that anyone deliberately means to hurt the bereaved so that’s why it’s usually best to play it safe and stick to expressing your condolences. Depending on your personal relationship, save the questions for another time and another place, or maybe not at all. First and foremost, respect the right of the bereaved to grieve and share only what they’d like to share.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.
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