When I was younger, I had no idea how to treat death or communicate feelings of death to someone. In a receiving line (I was a Catholic in a former life) at a wake, I would shake the grieving hand, avoid eye contact, mumble the word sorry and look for someone as unhappy as I was to be there. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized what needs to be said and how.
Here, friends is that wisdom. Again: As part of the legacy I want to pass on, I pass these words on to you, my dear reader.
Be Sincere With Your Words.
This is possibly the greatest thing you can do. If, you’re at a wake for a co-worker, and don’t know the grieving party, be quick and sincere. Something akin to “Hi, I’m Peter and I worked with your brother Jimmy at GloboCorp Ltd.; he is a great man, and I’ll miss him daily. I’m sorry for your loss.” The key is speaking to how the brother is not was. Because likely, the grieving has not yet processed the loss. They’ve likely not even fathomed that this man who sits in ash in an urn ten feet from him is gone forever. Don’t force them to process right now.
Likewise, if you were closer to the deceased, be thoughtful and kind. If it’s an uncle, hug your aunt. “Oh, Aunt Denise. I’m so sorry about Uncle Jimmy. He spoke to me about cleaning out your gutters a few months ago. Did he? Oh, well call me. I’ll do it for you. Anytime.” Of course, you can substitute anything you’d like for the above. The point is, and especially when someone’s been married into the family, they may feel alienated. Talking to them about something the person who passed would do will check off a worry on their mind. Because they’re going to worry about who will change the oil or mow the lawn.
Just make sure if you offer, you do it.
Shut Up and Listen.
Walk the room at the wake. Talk to people you don’t know. Get a feel for the person who passed. Laugh at the corny jokes. Shake hands and kiss babies. And, quite seriously: pass out a business card or two. Tell people “I was Jimmy’s friend. I’m so happy to hear stories about him. I’m really going to miss him even more.” People will remember you for being kind and thoughtful and helping to share their grief. And by helping introduce good stories about your pal Jimmy, you’re taking their mind off of the here and now, you’re taking them back to a happier time when Jimmy put the kids in his convertible, filled the backseat with inner tubes and rode down the street with a gaggle of screaming, laughing kids.
If invited, share your stories about Jimmy, but don’t force. Be polite and kind and share your best Jimmy story.
Go to the Wake. No, Seriously. Go.
Related to the above, what people want most is to see that Jimmy was loved. That Jimmy had people in his life that they didn’t know. Even if you’re there for five minutes, even if you’re there because there’s a diner you’ve heard about and the wake just happened to be on the way. You’ll be bummed out that Jimmy’s gone — Jimmy’s wife and kids are crushed. To see an unfamiliar face have such love for Jimmy to offer her condolences will help.
So, seriously: Go. Even if you have to fire up Yelp! to find something in the area, go. You’ll feel better.
Send a Card or Flowers
If a co-worker lost a significant family member, send a card as a team or, pool some cash together and buy flowers. Sign the card simply — “Thinking of you and your family — Your Team at GloboCorp Ltd. and your co-worker will be forever thankful that in his moment of need, you’d thought of him, even if you couldn’t be there. Even if there was nothing close to the wake on Yelp! to go out and see.
This is truly the time where it’s the thought that counts so be thoughtful. If a card isn’t your style, send a goodie basket of treats — popcorn, candies, something your co-worker liked. Something to make them look forward to what will be their new normalcy.
What About Online?
My go to phrase is some form of “My sincerest condolences for your loss. I’ll have you in my thoughts and prayers and if you need anything, please let me know. “
Simple, clear and honest. No one wants to lose anyone, much less lose someone important to them. My words online, if I am in a position to only offer condolences online are succinct and honest and fit my personality. Likewise, no one wants to read “OMG IM SO SORRY U LOST SUM1 DEAR 2U. PLS CALL ME IF U NEED 2 CUZ I LUV U.”
I would unfriend/block/ignore/put out a contract hit on such an individual.
What if it was your Jimmy?
For those of you who aren’t interspersed into my personal life (all two of you) I am much closer to having a single parent than I was yesterday. My father is currently in hospice, the words anaplastic astrocytoma becoming much more a part of my daily lexicon than I’d ever imagined it could be. This is my first, first-hand experience with death, despite losing my grandparents within the last four years. The reality of real, true personal grief is reverberating inside of me with an echo that cannot be denied, as though I were too close to a ringing bell.
Soon, half of what is me, half of the source of my DNA will pass away. And how am I going to handle it? I would imagine that at a wake that I will force many a smile through raw, red-rimmed eyes, shake hands, kiss babies and say “Thank you” quite often. I imagine I will need a tremendous amount of grace, to listen to the reverie and stories about my father, and share many of my own. I’ll need to honor him and his memory by writing words about him, through raw emotion and truth.
I’ll leave you now with what I said about my grandfather who passed away last April. The words are no less true today than they were in April, and nor will they ever be. They are timeless and true and honest and emotional and raw. As any grief should be.
My world lost its very first Superhero today. He was the fastest draw in the west, the strongest grip in the world. He could calm a rabble with the slightest glance, incite a riot with the flicker of a finger across a ticklish belly. His chili was amazing and his Grandpa cookies kept in a cookie jar only he dared open lest the magical elves stolen from his arch enemy, Santa Claus be released.
He saved lives, charged into burning buildings and could fix anything. He trained hundreds of men to follow his footprints, serving the community and his fellow man. Despite his age and his body failing him, his fire burned bright flickering behind his tired eyes, waiting to be reunited with the love of his life, Celeste, my grandmother. This morning, he took his last breath here amongst us, and his first breath with her by his side in all eternity. Every time I see the W on the Winton Place, I will think of you.