A how-to of sorts

I'm going to approach an interesting topic today. A topic that probably isn't blogged about often. I want to talk about funeral, wake, memorial service, or shivah etiquette.

For some reason I'm drawn to the grieving. I'm not entirely sure why or what compels me, but when I see someone grieving, my auto-pilot turns on and I run to them. Some of you may remember my ill-fated return flight from California last year. You can read about it here. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I jumped out of my seat and ran to that woman. A complete stranger. I wrapped my arms around her as if she was my own family. Doing anything I could to make things a little better for her, even if it was only for a minute.
She wasn't the first grieving widow I sat with while they watched their husband die. I've done it several times in the SICU at Rush. Being thrust together in that tiny waiting room creates instant friendships. Nobody outside those walls understands what it's like to sit there day after day. Not knowing from one moment to the next what's going to happen to their loved one.
There was one woman in particular, Sheila. I met her and her wonderful daughter during Scott's first extended Rush stay in 2007. They were there with me for almost a month. One day good, the next day...
I was sitting in Scott's SICU room, he was having one of his few good days. I heard an announcement paging the float nurse and supervisor to room 511. God, how I hate room 511. I knew Sheila's husband was in there. It was early, I hadn't seen Sheila yet that day. I put my book away, told Scott I was stepping out and literally walked right into Sheila as she rushed in. The charge nurse came to her and told her that her husband had passed.
Without thinking, I wrapped my arms around Sheila. I pulled her down to the chair the nurses gathered for her. We sat holding hands, with my arm around her shoulder staring at the closed door of room 511.
We sat, waiting for them to clean up her husband. We sat and waited for the arrival of her daughter. We sat. I asked Sheila how they met. Sheila got the softest little smirk on her face and said "he was my first husbands best friend. The best man in my first wedding." We laughed for a moment about the taboo-ness of their meeting.
I looked around, there were other people that could be doing what I was doing. Nurses, clergy, people with actually training but, I couldn't give up my Sheila. I had to stay there until her daughter arrived (or she told me to leave). I don't know why, but I felt compelled.
I want to help those that are hurting. I want to be their voice when they can't speak for themselves. So here goes.

I've noticed that there seems to be some misconceptions and or ignorance as it relates to handling yourself properly at a service to memorialize ones death. I thought I would come here and break the taboo. Give everyone a few tips, tricks and basic pieces of etiquette.

Every service is different and requires a different level of finesse. A wake for a 95year old man that lived a long, healthy, fulfilling life is different from that of a 23 year old fallen soldier. And both of those are drastically different from that of service for a child.
I am not pretending to be the all knowing, all being, etiquette police. I know what I know and that's about it. I'm just sharing what I've learned.

Let's start with some basics.
Turn off your cell phone. Or if it must be on, silence it. For the love of God, please do not answer it and or return messages while in the room with other mourners. Go outside if it's that important.

Dress appropriately. It doesn't need to be a 3 piece suit, it doesn't need to be black but please no sweatpants, yoga pants and or filthy attire. If you have to come from work and you happen to work in the mud, plan ahead and bring a clean pair of jeans and clean shoes or boots. It's just a sign of respect for both the deceased and the grieving.

Use caution when bringing kids. Unless you're immediate family it might be best to leave the kids at home. Keeping a shrieking toddler out after his bedtime or delaying nap is not enjoyable for anyone. Having a pre-teen slumped on a funeral home couch with his ipod jamming and the Nintendo game rolling just doesn't work. Leave the tween in the car (assuming it's safe). Find a sitter for the littles or take turns with your spouse staying outside. It will be a better time for everyone.

Hold off on that cologne or perfume. The family members of the deceased are going to be hugged by just about everyone. Leaving your scent behind on their clothing is just rude. Heaven forbid someone has allergies and your Channel No5 makes them sneeze, cough or itch. UGH! Hold off on the spray for just one day. It wont hurt. Don't forget that deodorant though. Nobody wants a hug from someone with nasty body odor.

Speaking of hugs. Not every person that is grieving wants a hug. Someone people, in fact, find the hugging really hard to handle. Try to asses the persons wants or needs before going in for a big squishy hug. See if they reach for you, let them decide. When in doubt go in for a quick hug just barely touching the other person. Keep it quick. If they want more, they'll hang on to you.

Here is my last and probably best piece of advice.
Come prepared. Walk in the door with your favorite story or memory of the deceased. Be ready to share it. The long pause after the "I'm so sorry for your loss. He/she was a great person." is torture for those who have heard that sentence a 100 times already. Share your condolences and then share your story or memory. They will appreciate the story (especially if it's funny). Do NOT be afraid to be funny, but do make sure your not crass if you're speaking with your 80 year old aunt. Aunt Myrtle doesn't want to hear how her dearly departed husband told you your first dirty joke.
If you can't think of a story, or didn't know the departed well enough, come with a question. Ask the family, for their favorite memory. Their favorite family vacation. Anything, really. Just try to be specific in your question. They will be elated with being able to share something nice about the departed and with not having to come up with a topic yet again.

So there you have it. My how-to guide on being a good attendee to a celebration of life.

I would love to hear others bits of wisdom or advice. Or maybe you have a horror story to tell.

Again, these are just guidelines. Use your best judgements. Above all just be respectful.

I've stepped off my soapbox now. I will now return you to my regular ramblings of everyday life here at the WWW.

Nicole  – (February 10, 2011 at 5:33 PM)  

I'm finding more and more reasons why I'm so drawn to you. I hugged a random woman at work one day when she came in to print pictures of her father who had recently passed. Walked right up to her and said, I'm sorry but I just have to hug you, and held her for a minute. I can't do anything to alleviate the grief but I can hug and console and pray and cry along with you.

Nicole  – (February 10, 2011 at 5:34 PM)  

^^all that to say that we're a lot alike. After I read it again I thought it sounded strange so I had to edit/add.

Post a Comment