What can you say to someone who has experienced a death close to them? You may do your best to console them with well worn phrases such as, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
You may choose to liken their experience to something from your own past… “I know how you feel. When I lost my mom…”
Or you may even take the spiritual path to grief relief and exclaim, “They’re in a better place.”
Whatever your method of giving condolence, you may want to consider what is going through the mind of the mourning before digging up a clichéd and possibly offensive message.
As a funeral director, I have heard many exchanges between well wishers and grieving families. Often these are in cramped quarters, like the front pew of a church or in a large crowd of people at a funeral home. The anxiety death creates makes it awkward for the consoler as they scramble for words of support.
When it comes to grief, nothing can be said to take away the pain or sadness that is felt. Your sympathy can be of comfort but hollow words may be met with blank stares and listless replies. Condolences are not meant to take away someone’s suffering but are an attempt to bring a respectful measure of solace to them during a time of need.
Funeral professionals are caught in a double whammy as we are often strangers to the bereaved who may also see us as the embodiment of their crisis. We walk the tightrope of a family’s perception between heartless moneygrubbers and blubbering buffoons.
When a director’s first interaction with a family begins with, “I’m sorry for your loss. How many death certificates do you need?”, they may be starting off down a sliiiiightly disingenuous path.
Families want to know that you care but they may not instantly believe your reverent sentiments. Building a relationship of trust starts with your first interactions with people. Get to know those you serve from the moment you speak with them on the phone or in person.
I begin every conference by apologizing to the family for having to meet with me (the apologetic funeral director is my other blog), but I quickly ensure them that I am there to help. I assert that, “My job is not as a salesperson (so glad I’m no longer in retail), but to be an educator in a field most do not wish to study.” Being communicative and transparent with people tends to ease any defensiveness or mistrust they may harbor.
By simply refocusing your attempt to console towards an attempt to break through may result in a moment of peace for that family. I urge you to weigh each word before you say it and make sure each one is said with the goal of helping that person in their time of need.
Written by: Matthew Morian
Matt is a licensed funeral director & embalmer in the State of Texas and is a founding member of Millennial Directors. He is also a contributor to Texas Director Magazine.