During the holidays, one of the most difficult events that can happen is when someone passes away. What do you say to or do for the family without adding to the holiday dark cloud?
1. Strictly avoid a holiday “tie in.” In other words, don’t link the death with the holiday by saying something like, “It is awful that it happened right before (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Years, Valentines, birthdays, etc.).” Put yourself in their shoes. Every time you hear the tie-in, it deepens the sorrow and is a set-up for future years.
2. Avoid “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “You have my condolences.” Instead, tell them how special the deceased was, how they will miss him and how you will be around; tell them how special they are for all they did for the deceased. Be sincere and creative. Take the time to think about it before you arrive.
3. Follow through. When you make a promise, big or small, keep that promise no matter what. You can reschedule the promise or event but do not forget or ignore it. A broken promise will be remembered (not fondly) forever.
4. Offer help. Most grieving people are not in a frame of mind to tell you what help they need. If you really want to help, BE SPECIFIC! Take a few minutes before you call or visit to make a list of things you can and will to do for them.
5. Watch body language. When paying condolences to the family, pay close attention to their body language. If their eyes look weary, blank or have a downward glance, it could be a sign that they are: a) exhausted, b) tired of conversation, c) emotionally distraught or d) in overload. If you had planned to tell a hilariously funny story about the deceased, later might be a better time. A simple statement of encouragement, love, peace or a gentle nod of your head might evoke a warm smile of appreciation.
6. Follow up. Two weeks after the funeral, call or drop by to see your friend. Mark your calendar so it will not slip your mind. After about two weeks, the visits of friends and guest naturally fade as people fall back into their personal routines. If you are unable to visit personally: make a phone call, send a snail mail, a card or note with a personal thought to let them know you have not forgotten them. You will brighten their day and yours, too.
7. Get permission. Critically important! Do not send out an announcement to groups such as business contacts, garden clubs, community organizations, email lists, etc. unless you have had your written announcement authorized by a primary family member! One slip on the keyboard can give the wrong date or time of a funeral, names misspelled and other simple or significant errors.
8. Give appreciation. Some of the most treasured condolences are those which are written. It could be a personal handwritten note, an email or a sympathy card with a personal note added. Make the correspondence honor the grieving person for a beautiful difference they made in the deceased’s life or a valiant effort they made under difficult circumstances. Also cherished are tributes and heartwarming stories about the deceased.
9. Today is for them. Remember that today is only for giving comfort to the grieving. Naturally, some visitors want to share their stories of similar experiences. Remember, today is all about the family and their grief, not your experiences, not your family nor your family news. You can share your personal stories at another time.
10. Caring for your own needs. If you are unsure of the funeral rites or feel ill at ease with anything at all, choose an aisle seat at the back of the room and close to an exit. Just knowing you have the ability to leave will put you more at ease.
For more information on funeral etiquette go to Amazon.com and order: Funeral Etiquette…the quick and easy reference guide by Kay Lewis.