Just back from a funeral. I was there to support a friend; I never even met the deceased. Since the last few funerals I’ve attended have required an intense emotional involvement — my own grandmother, a friend’s wife and dear friend — this one allowed me to see the communications rather removed from the impact. It struck me that there is very little said in a funeral that is not scripted. Most of what was said was quoted scripture, quoted family members, or prepared remarks (clearly read, word for word). And we’ve probably heard it all before, yet when it’s us sitting on the front row or carrying the casket, somehow the words are exactly what we need to hear. As word of a recent friend’s loss spread through the ranks of a circle of friends I belong to, the comment “I don’t know what to say” was uttered by virtually everyone. And we all convinced ourselves that what we said wasn’t important, it was the fact that we were there, supporting our friend, and we would do anything to continue that support. However, when I caught up with this dear friend later, he shared with me some of the thoughtless things people had said to him in the receiving line at the funeral home, and I changed my tune a little. What is said is important. But in this context, it’s probably what is not said that is key. If there is little/no meat in a eulogy, no one will really care. “I’m sorry” is never the wrong tack to take. But if there’s one careless remark or slightly off-color remark (had a friend relate his attempt at presentation humor during a eulogy along the lines of “surveys rank the fear of public speaking as the #1 fear, ahead of death… ______ would rather be where she is than than up hear speaking” went over like a lead balloon), then people will remember it forever. That’s why ministers at funerals are careful, and why they stay so close to the script.
The more serious your message, the more prepared it (and you) should be.