Sunday, 13 August 2017

Funeral Etiquette

-Brian Mendonça

When one hears that someone has died, it is often difficult to calibrate your response to the event. How effusive must one be? How distanced and stoical is one required to be?

Here are some pointers.

1.     Stay with the subject. When you go to visit talk about the deceased and celebrate the person’s life. This will comfort the family. Often condolence visits end up as social occasions to catch up on the latest gossip.

2.     Call. If the family or the deceased is known to you take the trouble to call. It is difficult, but if sincere it is an immense source of strength. You can inspire by the sound of your voice and the words you choose. It is so much better than a WhatsApp message.

3.     Listen actively. People who are grieving are seldom coherent. Listen and try to make sense. Then try to join the dots offering comforting phrases like ‘I am very sorry.’

4.     Dress appropriately. In Goa the dress code for a Catholic funeral is uncompromising. Black or white, or a combination of these is a must. This goes for gents as well as ladies. Minis or thigh-high tight skirts, be they in black or white, are unbecoming. Anyway the dead can’t see you.

5.     Be brief. Having come on a condolence visit, be watchful for your small talk viz. ‘Was s/he ailing?’ ‘He loved visiting new places’ or ‘When is the month’s mind Mass.’ Some bores are so full of themselves that they inflict themselves on the family which is already devastated by their loss. To top it all they overstay and wait to be offered something to be eat and polish off their plates. 

6.     Visit the dead when they are living. Rather than weeping copiously when it makes no difference, make the effort to visit people when they are approaching death. Offer to take turns to sit besides the ailing person.

7.     Pray. Sometimes prayer is all we have. Saying the rosary, singing hymns, reading the Mass readings aloud with the psalms can be a constant source of comfort.

8.     Make a collage. If you have the time, try to piece together the life of the person. Support it with photos, incidents, shared jokes, fun times. Display it on family occasions.

9.     Start a WhatsApp group for the family. Share condolences messages received individually on the group. It will surprise you how differently a loved one is perceived by others.

10.Don’t chat in the cemetery. When the body is taken for burial it is unseemly to discuss job prospects or tax issues. Particularly while waiting to condole with the family the never-ending queues are forbidding. Proceed in silence recalling memories of the dead.

11. Jokes are out of place. Jokes are in bad taste. You may touch a raw nerve, as everyone is on edge.

12. Hard copy is the best. Condolence cards are a rarity these days. But in their austere design and often lofty thoughts they keep us clued in to the hereafter.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender on Sunday, 6 August 2017

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