I Have Attended More Than 50 Wakes, Funerals, and Celebrations of Life

Fair to say, I have dealt with a lot of loss in my life.

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

First Published in Thrive Global

Of those 50 wakes, funerals, and celebrations of life, more than 35 of those deceased I knew personally. Dealing with so much loss, has made me be able to appreciate life at a very deep level. The people who are close to me, I make sure to tell them how I feel. It might be in a physical note, a random text, or a giant hug. All those ways mean more to me than reading my love for them at their eulogy.

Dealing with your grief

  • Understand your grief may show up unannounced long after the actual death.

I was exceptionally close to my maternal grandparents. My deepest grief came a year after Gram died and 3 years after Grandpa died. There were additional contributing factors that lead me to have an epic meltdown of grief. As awful as it was, I still allowed myself the space to grieve and to cry. It took a few weeks to start to feel joyful again.

  • Give yourself permission to feel your grief, trying to hold it in never works.

I was lucky enough to know one of my great grandmothers, a step-great Grandfather, and another great Grandfather. My great Grandfather and great Grandmother (no relation to the other) died the same year. My unresolved grief for them played a part in the onset of my anorexia as young teen.

  • Accept each time your grief will be different.

No matter how many funerals I have attended, my reaction is never the same. Sometimes going to the funeral is enough for me, other times I need more time to heal. It is important you honor your own process and time frame.

  • Allow yourself time to adjust to your new reality.

“I want to things to return to normal.”

The “normal” you had before they died, will never return. However, your new normal is what you choose to make of it. There are still days in which I am sad and I allow those feelings of sadness to occur. By honoring those days of sadness, I am also able to honor and appreciate the days which are filled with joy and happiness. And those days of happiness massively outnumber the days of sadness.

  • You may miss them more on certain days.

St. Patrick’s Day is when I miss my Grandpa the most. We always celebrated our Irish heritage and quite often went to the parade in St. Paul. My Grandpa was the classiest leprechaun there ever was.

My Grandfather and I, during one of our St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
  • You may seek the favorite foods/drinks of the deceased.

I am huge tea drinker, and only occasionally drink coffee. However, my Grandmother drank a lot of coffee. After she died, I craved coffee. And instead of fighting my sudden cravings for coffee, I allowed myself the comfort of having her favorite beverage. I drank gallons of coffee for the first few months after her death. Then I slowly went back to only having coffee occasionally.

How you can support someone who is grieving

  • Acknowledge the death.

When you ignore the death it can be hard on the person who grieving. If you don’t know what to say, here are a couple of good statements. “I am sorry for your loss” or “I am sorry to hear of (name of deceased) passing.”

  • Allow people to have their feelings, including their anger.

There are some common stages of grief. They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Some people will pass through all of them, others may only pass through a few. Remember it is their process. Trying to make someone who is grieving “cheer up” will probably cause issues between you and them. Offer your support, but don’t expect them to smile because you want them to, or because you are uncomfortable with their sadness. Also, even if you think you know what stage of grief they might be in, it is usually beneficial to keep your opinion to yourself, unless they specifically ask.

  • Send a card in the mail a few months after the death.

By sending a physical card in the mail you are showing you still care, but you are not expecting them to respond. If you send an email or text there is a pressure to respond. The type of card will depend on how well you know the person. If you don’t know them very well a simple card saying “ Hi, I am thinking about you.” can be meaningful.

  • Asking what you can do to help, doesn’t always help.

I will admit I have been guilty of saying this. But people who are grieving may not have the energy to come up with an answer for you.

Instead of “What can I help you with?” Or “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” Try:

Ask someone who is closer to the person grieving about what you could provide for the family.

For example: If someone’s parent passes away, ask a close friend of the person on how you could help. They might know of something that would be helpful instead of asking the person who just lost their parent.

A few weeks after the funeral drop off a meal for them. If you need to ask them about the meal give them choices instead of leaving it open ended.

For example:

“I am going to make a meal for you. Would your family prefer a chicken dish or a pasta dish?”

“I am going to pick up take out for you. Do you want pizza or burgers”?

They might tell you, you don’t have to or they aren’t hungry. At that point, it becomes how well you know the person if you still get them a meal or not. But ask again after some more time has passed. It allows them to know you are thinking about them, and this time they might say “yes”.

Give them gift cards to a restaurant you know they like.

If you know what they like at the coffee shop, get it and surprise them.

When you drop off anything, let them lead. They may feel social or they may not. Be prepared to either leave as soon as you drop something off or stay if they ask.

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Work with Me

Pretending your grief is nonexistent, doesn’t make it go away.

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No one is guaranteed a tomorrow, make each day count.

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