When my mother passed away a few years ago, our home was flooded with people eager to extend condolences and support. I would never doubt the good intentions of my friends and relatives but at the same time, there is no denying the lack of social education around how to communicate with a mourning family and people going around just winging it. This is advice based on my experience, I hope you take it.
1. Don’t investigate about the death too much: “Was her face damaged in the accident?” or “How much had the cancer spread?” are not OK questions to ask at a funeral. A beloved has passed away, mourn with the family- don’t make them relive the pain by asking what went wrong.
2. Let people grieve as they want to: Don’t force people who aren’t crying to cry, and don’t tell crying people to stop crying. It’s weird to have people tell you how to feel and forcing you to cry when you don’t want to. Grief is a process, don’t interrupt.
3. It’s fine to feel sorry for the family, just don’t vocalize it so much: I’ve seen this happen way too often and it breaks my heart: People tell children who’ve lost their parents that “you don’t comprehend how big your loss is” and “It’s so horrible that you’ve lose your mum, there’s no replacement”. I’ll speak on behalf on the motherless, we are all already very well aware how mums are not replaceable and our loss is lasting, so please stop saying it.
4. Not everyone needs to mourn violently: It’s really important that you remember that you’re there to support the close friends and family as they lament, distant relatives breaking down over the dead body while the immediate family calms them is not OK. We all deal with death differently and if it’s something you know overwhelms you, take caution.
5. Don’t expect/ask for food refreshment: I really don’t want to elaborate on this. Even if you’re a relative, don’t ask people if they want tea, or insist that they don’t leave without eating- it’s really deplorable.
6. Do you feel guilty for not being around? This isn’t the time to express that: You’ll have time to excuse yourself later, don’t overwhelm the deceased’s family and friends with justifications for why you didn’t reach out earlier. It is not their prime concern at this time.
7. Find out how you can help: Ask the relatives if arrangements have been made and if there is anything that needs to be taken care of: ensuring that a grave has been located for the deceased, informing the next of kin’s workplaces/institutes, telling distant relatives about the demise, making sure the family’s meals are present- are all small things you can and should help with. It’s also much better than nervously chattering with equally nervous people.
The first wave of support after a loved one passes away lasts around 6-weeks (1 and a half month), try to follow up on how the family is doing then. Offer them sincere support and find out if/how you can help. Most importantly, be mindful about what you say and how you act- people are fragile, be careful to not break them when they’re at their weakest.
Written by Maryam Tajalli