In my role as a certified funeral celebrant and grief educator, I am often in the unique position of walking with families through the process of planning a funeral, memorial or celebration of life service. Sometimes my role is to collaborate with ministers. Other times, the family and I work together to consider what would be the most honoring and comforting things to share during a service about their loved one.
Family members come to the process with the fresh brokenness of their loss – and often think that they would like to speak but will be unable to make it through. And yet, as a grief observer, I’ve discovered that there is an amazing grace surrounding family members who choose to tell their own story.
First, I’ve noticed that those attending the funeral give the speaker tender grace for their courage to speak at this difficult time. Listeners are patiently quiet if tears or stumbling words or even no words are part of the process. Moments pass…and I often feel as if waves of love are coming forward from the seats to the one who is standing before them.
I’ve seen siblings who want to speak come forward together – holding hands or wrapping one another in arms so that each can have his or her say. Bolstering one another they are able to get through the moment of stage fright to the story – the very literal heart of what they wish to say about their parent.
I’ve noticed too, that those listening really want to hear from the family members more than anything else. They’ve come to the memorial service out of love for the one who died or love for the ones who remain. They are there with hearts full to overflowing with the shared loss of everyone in the room. They are there to hear about this person from the perspective of their friend’s adult child or grandchildren. Mostly those in attendance are listening out of love and without judgement for those who courageously share a thought or two. (This applies to family members and to the life-long friends or cousins or colleagues who choose to speak too.)
At the same time, the emotions of family members at the time of a funeral or memorial service may simply be too raw or complicated or painful. And, in that case, it can feel like there are simply no words they could possibly squeak out to honor their loved one’s life.
And that is okay.
Choosing not to speak in these tender moments is just as honorable as speaking. For some, choosing not to speak is a choice to be fully present to the words offered by others; a funeral celebrant or minister, a family member, a friend. Grieving the death of a loved one takes many forms. For each griever the experience is very personal – and it all begins with listening to your own heart and choosing what’s right for you at the time of the funeral service.