Knowing what to say to the grieving family at a funeral can be tricky. Sometimes it can be one of the most difficult parts of attending a funeral. There are many things that the grieving want to hear, like, “I’m sorry for your loss,” and “is there anything I can do to help?” Those are constructive comments and/or questions that really do make a grieving person feel a bit better, if only for a moment. However, there are many other thoughts, feelings, and observations that are commonly expressed by those attending a funeral that would be better left unsaid. These are just a few of the things you should not say at a funeral.
1. He Looks Better Now
No one ever looks “great” or “beautiful” or “wonderful” when they’re dead. So don’t tell the dead person’s loved one how fabulous, at peace, well-rested, young, etc. they look. It’s almost like saying the person looks so much better dead than they did alive (especially if they suffered for a long time, like with a long illness, before their death). We all know how the dead person really looks – dead – so don’t try to pretend otherwise.
2. You Look Terrible!
OK, you’ve just told me how “great” the dead guy in the coffin looks, and now you’re telling me I look terrible? Thanks a lot! How do you expect me to look – I’ve just lost someone who was very important to me whom I loved very much! So you don’t need to tell me how awful I look. My hair’s a mess, my makeup is running, I’ve been crying for days so I know I don’t look good. That’s really the last thing on my mind right now, I could care less about my appearance. Keep your opinions to yourself!
3. How Are You Fixed Financially?
Are you going to be able to make it by yourself? Do you think you’ll be able to stay in you house? Do you think you’ll have to go back to work? Did he/she have life insurance? These questions are just downright rude. You don’t ask about someone’s financial status at a dinner party, do you? So don’t bring up something so gauche at a funeral. Just because someone died, that’s not a license to ask stupid, prying, and nonsensical questions.
4. I Told Him Smoking Would Be The Death Of Him
Monday-morning quarterbacking isn’t going to bring the dead back, is it? Of course, you told the deceased that smoking/drinking/eating unhealthily would kill him – most likely anyone who cared about him did – but obviously, he didn’t listen, because look where he is. This is just too apparent to have to remind people not to say it, but unfortunately, this admonishment needs to be made.
5. Are You Taking Any Medication?
Why, all of a sudden, do people who attend funerals become pill-pushers? Are they working with the pharmaceutical companies to try to garner them even more business? If the grieving person needs medication, he or she will obtain it, probably through someone closer to them than you who will suggest the need for medication at a much more appropriate time than at the funeral of the person for whom they’re grieving! This is another matter that’s a bit too personal to bring up casually at a funeral.
6. It Was His Time, Or His Number Was Up
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Sure, this is something you might hear the preacher say at a funeral or read in the little prayer card they hand out to honor the dead, but it’s not something you need to hear from people passing through the grieving/receiving line. And that whole thing about someone’s number being up – if you’re not a big believer in fate, you’re not going to appreciate someone saying that, either. Keep these kinds of comments to yourself.
7. He/She Is In A Better Place Now
Not everyone believes in life after death, so this isn’t necessarily a good thing to say at a funeral, even if you have the best of intentions. You really don’t know where the dead person’s soul is resting for eternity, and platitudes such as this one truly do not make the grieving feel any better. Saying this might just remind one who’s grieving how much he misses his lost loved one, and how much he wishes he could be with her for eternity… setting off a suicidal depression, leading to another funeral…. it could be an endless, vicious cycle….
8. Life Goes On
This is self-evident. Of course, we all know life goes on. That’s hardly a comfort to someone who’s grieving, however. They most likely would rather life didn’t go on right now, without their loved one to share it with. (see “he’s in a better place” for more on this!) We don’t need a Beatles’ song to be quoted to us at a funeral, and please, don’t sing it.
9. You Know He’s Going To Hell
Don’t laugh – I know someone to whom this was said at a funeral! The person’s father had committed suicide, and everyone was being very cautious in what they said to the grieving family, trying to sidestep what had happened and why we were all there. Then some bonehead opened his mouth about suicide being against the will of God and actually told the grieving family member “you know, your father is going to hell.” Luckily I didn’t hear this being said at the funeral or I would have caused a scene and slapped that person’s face (or worse). Not everyone shares your religious views, so keep them private, especially at a funeral.
10. I Know Just How You Feel
Even if you have lost a loved one and been through the funeral and the grieving process, you really can never know exactly how another person experiences this loss. This is another platitude, reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s famous expression , “I feel your pain,” that really doesn’t make anyone, except the person saying it, feel any better. Empathy does not equal sympathy, and what the grieving person needs right now is your sympathy.