We posted recently about remembering loved ones at weddings and we got a great comment asking us to post about funerals. The comment went like this: how ’bout a post about how to cope with a funeral? Every time I go to a funeral I feel guilty because I feel like I’m really grieving for my loved ones rather than the one whose funeral I’m attending.
Let’s start by saying, great suggestion for a post! We have probably all been there, but there is a good chance we haven’t talked about it because it feels, well . . . weird. How do you say, oh no, these aren’t tears for the person whose funeral this is, these are tears for my husband who died 7 years ago, or for my grandmother who died last year? Chances are you don’t say it. Instead you silently felt just a wee bit guilty that your emotions were not exclusively for the person who died.
The scene goes a little something like this: you go to the funeral of your friend’s grandmother (who you met twice, maybe) and suddenly you are a blubbering mess. It isn’t the loss of this nice lady you barely knew that has started the waterworks, but rather the memories of your own grandmother’s death, or the death of a friend, or any number of other losses. You now are left feeling 1) emotions you weren’t expecting 2) guilt that you are sad for the wrong reasons 3) confused because you didn’t see this coming and you can’t get it under control. You are rapidly becoming that crazy girl/guy that no one in the family recognizes who can’t stop crying. Don’t worry, we've all been that crazy girl/guy.
Any death that we encounter has a tendency to bring up our past losses. Triggers are real and a funeral is an oh-so-common trigger. What is a trigger? A trigger is anything in our environment that brings up the pain of our loss. It can be a sight, smell, taste, or sound that brings up a certain feeling or emotion for us. Triggers can come up out of no where and hit us like a ton of bricks. Funerals are a common trigger, but they are far from the only trigger. Triggers can be songs, places, foods, people, and just about any other think you can imagine (like the socks at Target that caused me to have a meltdown in the sock aisle). Needless to say, a funeral may be filled with sites, sounds, and smells that all remind you of the loss of your loved one.
So how do you cope when funerals bring up old losses?
1) Remember that this experience is TOTALLY normal. You may be feeling guilty that you are the only one shedding tears for someone other than the person who just died, but you’re not. I promise. We all bring our past losses with us to a funeral, so chances are those around you are also feeling a combination of pain for the person who died, as well as others they have lost.
2) Be prepared. It can be even harder to cope with emotions when we are caught totally off guard by them. Getting to know your grief triggers in general can be helpful. If you know it isn't uncommon that funerals bring up old losses, you can be better prepared to handle the emotions when they come up.
3) Reflect on your grief in advance. If you know you are going to a funeral, take some time to think about your loved one in advance. The night before do some journaling or general reflection. Rather than being overwhelmed by emotions that you may not have felt for a while during the funeral, this can help to give you time with those feelings before the funeral.
4) Plan your escape route. Seriously. The surge of emotions in the situation may be too much for you to handle. If you are worried about attending the funeral for fear of the emotions that may come up, give yourself permission to leave when you need to. Sit near the back. Don’t carpool with someone who may not be ready to leave when you are. Take breaks if you need them. Read Eleanor’s post on being an introvert at a funeral, for some inspiration.
5) Accept your grief. If you are feeling guilty that you are grieving your loved on, instead of the person who died, let it go. It is absolutely okay to acknowledge the people you love and miss. Funerals are about grieving together. As much as we are together grieving the person who has just died, we are all collectively bringing our previous losses with us. Allow yourself to feel the emotions.
6) Say your own goodbye. If you feel like your past losses interfered with your ability to say goodbye to the person who just died, plan another ritual to say goodbye later. This goodbye could be whatever you want, from private time reflecting to visiting the cemetery later. There is no rule that says a funeral is the only time, or the best time, to say goodbye!
There is another discussion that is just too long to include here on preparing for the funeral of someone who you were very close to, so we will save that for another day. For now, we would love to hear how funerals have impacted you as a griever and how you’ve coped, so leave a comment!
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We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: