I went to a funeral this morning for my girlfriend’s best friend from High School’s little brother. He was 23. I feel like I am oddly and not so oddly able to be completely present and supportive in the ways I know how, at a funeral. This was really a viewing. Way different but closely related to a funeral…
A viewing is a way for us to see that this person is no longer with us and to be able to say our goodbyes. I think as Americans, we’re not taught very much about death until it happens, and then we aren’t really sure how to handle it. The emotions that come with losing someone close to you are among the strangest, most foreign feelings you’ll ever feel in your life.
I was present for both my dad’s New Jersey memorial service as his body was sent to Florida (in Jewish tradition, you must bury the body as quickly as possible), followed by his viewing and then right after, the funeral. My mom had a viewing, too (although she wanted to be buried in PA next to her parents in a Catholic cemetery). And all the while I know that everyone was going to walk up to me and be thinking “I have no idea what to say…”
If you’re going to a family member, a friend’s viewing or funeral (this is different than a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, or extremely close relative, that’s a WHOLE ‘NOTHER BUNCH OF POSTS), here’s a few things to know:
Go with support. Bring a loved one or a friend if you can. Having emotional support is key to being able to process what is going to happen and what happened. Bring someone who’s open to talking about death. Someone you feel close with.
Everyone is going to feel something different. There are going to be mixed emotions you will probably be aware of as soon as you walk in.
Have a backup plan. If you need to step away from it all, have a back up plan set up. Go to the car, go to the little rooms they have in the funeral home, go outside, get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, or ask someone to come with you to any or all of those things.
What do you say to the rest of the living family? You will probably see people you know and who may be in various places of grief/coping. Just be true and honest and if you don’t know what to say, say things like “I’m so sorry for your loss”, “I love you and I’m here for you” or just “I’m here for you”. There’s nothing you can really say to take away their pain BUT there ARE things to say that are supportive. Just the fact that you showed up is going to mean the world to them.
You may see people crying or you may cry yourself. Bring tissues. Funeral homes always have tissues somewhere, but don’t be afraid to feel. If you don’t want to be around other people, step away using one of the “back up methods” above.
Take a half-day or a whole day off from work. Be able to give yourself some time to breathe and re-coop. Facing these kind of situations where there’s a lot of emotion involved can be heavy and you want to give yourself the space to do that.
It’s okay to talk about the “weird stuff”. Like, the fact that someone’s not there anymore. There’s a person who was alive and is now dead… and there they are, right in front of you. These are just a few of the things that may be strange, new, or just plain WHOA — I never thought of that before. Ask questions with people who are open to it – your support. How do they do this. What happens when this happens. These are all things we don’t want to talk about but if we want to gain a better understanding of how to handle situations like death in a more mature way and be more prepared in life, these things are good to know and practice.
Have an UP afterwards. After the viewing, we went to eat food at a special diner we’d always wanted to go to. We got to talk about what happened, and some of the other things that came up. Later today, I’m going to a friends house (it just worked out that way). Plan something that’s going to lift your spirits later.
Maybe it brings up conversations about your own death? Talk about it. This is an opening and an opportunity to discuss what if. The truth is, we’re all here to live our lives but eventually, we won’t be here anymore… what do we want to do in our lives? And when we are done living, how do we want that handled for us? Were do we want to be buried? or do we want to be cremated? All scary things to talk about but all good questions.
I was lucky enough to be able to have conversations like this with my mom at the end. She knew she was dying, and we talked about what kind of things she wanted to be laid out in, what shirt and pants she wanted to wear, what memorial home she wanted to be in. Very hard stuff. But if you have the opportunity to talk about it, please do. It’s hard but you will thank yourself later, I promise.
Some people don’t get the opportunity to speak with people about their wishes because they die suddenly or it’s just such a hard topic to talk about they don’t get to do that. You may, however, want to tell your loved ones IF I DIE… this is what I want to happen.
I decided today, for right now, if I die (I’m hoping a very, very, very long time from now because I want to be an OLD WOMAN!) I’d like a viewing and then to be cremated. I’d like my ashes spread at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival: Night Stage mother oak tree & the triangle fire, a little in NJ (central NJ somewhere, maybe where I lived or grew up?), a little in Portland, OR and if you can get there, a little on the bike ramp at Centraal Station in Amsterdam. I would also like my ashes spread around a park bench created, that has my name on it, when I lived and a good quote. Maybe FOLLOW YOUR BLISS or something like that. I’d like people to be able to visit me, without having to go to a grave yard. They can sit, relax and have good memories.