Between my side of the family and Mark’s, we’ve had 14 deaths of friends and family in the last two years. Given that many of my peers are getting to the age when our grandparents are passing, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned about wakes and funerals in the process.
1) It is ok to laugh at a wake.
This first one took me by complete surprise. I was kneeling next to a casket saying a silent prayer when I heard a group of people behind me burst into laughter. I was mortified and slightly disgusted. Here I am paying my respects next to the casket and these people had the nerve to carry on like children. A few seconds later, several other people began to laugh as well.
After I finished praying, I joined one of the groups and learned that they were reminiscing about the good times they had with the deceased, and it suddenly felt very appropriate. This is definitely how I would want people to remember me at my funeral. It may not fly at a funeral for a more tragic circumstance (like a child or car accident) but in this event, it was right. Shame on me for passing judgement so quickly.
2) The best response to the question, “how are you?” is…
I saw people I hadn’t seen in years at some of the funerals, and every interaction started the same way. “How are you?” My gut response to that question is usually, “Good, how are you?” But replying “good” (no matter how true it may be) at a funeral, will elicit some odd looks. I could feel some of the people judging me, thinking, “so and so just died, how can you say you are good?!” My new response for funerals starts with “ok.” It lets people know you are doing fine, without making them think you are a heartless toad.
3) You don’t have to wear all black.
I blame this misconception on movies. Yes, people usually wear darker colors and a hot pink top might not be a poor choice, but 100% black is not mandatory attire. Also, I’ve never seen a distraught widow wear one of those cute little hats with a veil.
4) No matter how “important” you were, the world goes on without you.
Your loved ones will continue to work and go to school and pay their bills on time. Call me ignorant, but I was shocked to see some of my loved ones go on about their lives so quickly. I always imagined myself curling up in a little ball and hiding out for years when people close to me died. Watching other people handle it so gracefully has given me great strength.
5) One of the most important things I’ve learned from funerals: There’s no time like the present.
Yes, the loss has been agonizing at times, but I’m grateful because nothing has pushed me to examine my own life more thoroughly than attending these difficult events. Maybe it’s morbid, but I often run through the statement: If [insert person important to you here] died tomorrow, I would tell him/her [X] today. Fill in the blanks each morning and then go tell them. Not later. Now. The peace that comes from knowing everyone you love knows that you love them, or everyone you owe an apology to knows that you’re sorry, is priceless.