I know people mean well when they ask these questions at a funeral. I know it’s a weird combination of genuine concern, not knowing what to say but needing to express care somehow, that ends up in a cocktail of awkwardness and discomfort for everyone. But really, it’s harder being on the other side of the question, the receiving end. The grieving party is still socially conditioned to be more sensitive to the person asking the question than to their own emotions, so you just swallow your bubbling cocktail of grief-anger-resentment-helplessness and respond mechanically, trying not to break.
So I dealt with the pain of managing visitors as I do with everything in life – with a salty sense of dark humour. I wrote down the most frequently asked questions and made notes of what my mind said but my mouth didn’t. I’ve generalized most of the questions and answers so it serves as a Funeral FAQ for all. Hope it gives some insight into what to/not to say and do when approaching a grieving party as snarky as me.
S/he died. Did you miss the memo?
I meant, how did s/he die?
Why are you asking me? What do you hope to get out of this question? Stop making us relive the horror of what happened over and over again just for your information. There’s heaps of people around at the wake, ask them before you ask the immediate family.
Was it sudden?
Does it matter? No, of course not. It hurts all the same. So stop making us place some arbitrary value on the timing of it.
Are you ok?
Are you serious? Of course not. Only people who have been with us through the pain of ups and downs and final loss can ask this because they’re asking on the spectrum of how we have been as they’ve stood by us every day.
Were you there when he passed?
Oh my f–
Really?? I mean, what if I wasn’t? What if I’m now dealing with the unbearable sorrow of not being able to hold his hand as his heart beat its last? Or if I was there and I felt his life ebb away from him, away from me, and I couldn’t let go of the last time I’d have his hand in mine.
Well, were you there when he passed? No? Cool, didn’t think so. Thanks for coming to see his corpse and not him.
Was he in any pain at all?
I’m not sure, would you like to ask my fist?
Oh she’s dandy, it’s not every day you get to lose a lifelong partner so she’s celebrating that milestone by throwing this wake.
You know you’ll need to be strong for your mum, right?
Oh! Gosh you’re right, that didn’t occur to me. All this time I thought pixies would take care of her. But thanks for flagging this: swallowing my own emotional needs to take care of others is definitely the healthy way to go.
*hug*/My sincerest condolences. Is there anything I can do to help?
Thank you. Yes. Ask this question genuinely and if called upon, fulfil the request. It means the world when unexpected people offer support and mean it.
So did the funeral directors do everything or did you have to do anything? I need to prepare too, sadly.
… I’m out.