Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lessons From A Funeral

We had the memorial service Saturday, May 25, 2013 for my ex-husband who passed away unexpectedly of a stomach aneurysm. Ah, the things we discover about ourselves and others at a time like this. In the following lessons, please keep in mind I am referring to the death of an ex-spouse, someone you've had children with, which has a whole different set of dynamics.

·         Death is inevitable. Well, duh, you say! An old truth hit home to me: we almost never know when death will happen. Live your life as if each day may be your last. Throughout your life, be kind and treat others as you want to be treated. It’s better to err on the side of mercy and grace than anger and spitefulness.
·         We all leave a legacy. What do you want people to remember about you?  What will others say about you when you’re gone? A eulogy will be read -- make it the best it can be.

·         Carefully choose your mate and stay married for life. I am very, very happily remarried, but the truth remains – divorce adds a whole set of dynamics in family situations, and so much of it is not pleasant. Uncomfortable and awkward doesn’t come close to describing how everyone feels in a room where both ex-spouses are present, even if one spouse is deceased. Your choice of a marriage partner impacts family, friends and the children your union produces. When you say “I do,” trust me, doing includes many things.

·         Never assume you know how you will feel or act, or even what your attitude will be. Emotions erupted in me that I thought I'd dealt with. At times like this, it’s better to keep some feelings to yourself. Let God be the healer. It's what He does best.

·         Death and funerals bring out the best and worst in people. Of course most of us already know this, but it bears repeating. Don’t be surprised when tempers flare, feelings are hurt, and someone’s behavior embarrasses others. It happens. Hope for the best, prepare for the worse, and cover everything with prayer.

·         Don’t judge others. Don’t assume you know and understand how someone feels. You have no idea -- the unbiased, to-the-core truth -- about someone’s relationship with the deceased. Unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, which you haven’t, be careful about judging or criticizing their emotions or actions during a time like this.

·         The simplest expressions of sympathy are the best. A hug, and “I’m sorry” or “I’m praying for you” or “I love you” is so much better than saying the wrong thing. This wasn’t my loss, it was my children’s and grandchildren’s. My loss happened years ago with the death of the marriage. Most people mean well with their words, so keep that in mind. Expressions come from people who genuinely love and care, so appreciate the sentiment behind it.

·         Be gracious! To everyone, be gracious! Within divorce and remarriage, you’ll be confronted with current spouses, mutual friends, and former in-laws. Be gracious at all times. Some issues may need to be talked about and addressed, but do it with it with kindness. If someone is venting or vomiting their poison on you, walk away.

·         Be considerate of current spouses. The majority of people at the memorial were people that knew me and my kids, and most didn’t really know Jerry – they were there in support of my children. I’m grateful Gladys, Jerry’s wife, was treated with kindness and respect. She’s a genuinely nice woman. However, my husband, Jeff, found it extremely difficult to sit through the service, especially the slide show that had many pictures of me with Jerry when our children were younger. If Jeff had his preferences, he wouldn’t have gone. He went out of love and support for me. Jeff and I know there was no way around a slide show with me in it, and would never have requested anything to the contrary. If you are faced with similar circumstances, be understanding. The memorial service isn’t about you.

·         I’ll repeat: It isn’t about you! It’s to remember and honor the deceased, and show love and support for the family. Everyone expresses their grief and emotions differently. We understand that. But it takes away from the purpose of a memorial service when a person dramatizes their grief to make themselves the star of the show. It’s childish and rude. Sob as loudly as you want or need to, no one will fault you for that. But it’s usually obvious when you are behaving in a way that discredits your grief. Behavior like that only adds to the grief of family and friends.

·         Lastly, I’m just stating a fact and not a lesson I learned. The week between Jerry’s passing and the memorial service was extremely stressful for me. Although Jeff and I had discussed several times what we would do when our ex’s passed, with the agreement that we would be there for our children, I discovered I really didn’t want to be there. I just did not want to. I did not want my family to be distracted by my presence – again, one of the difficulties of divorce. Since mutual friends and my brother planned to attend and expected to see me,  I felt I needed to be there.

I was given the opportunity to say something to Jerry, via phone held to his ear, as he was dying. Caught off guard, my mind reeled for a split second, then I managed to choke out, “Thank you for giving me five beautiful children, and I’ll see you in heaven.” We're convinced Jerry made his peace with God.

In the previous statements, I am not saying these things happened in this particular circumstance. It's my observation from now, and times of loss for others. To my husband, Jeff, you are my hero in how you handled the whole situation. I thank God every day for you.


  1. Wonderfully put, Leola. Everyone should read this. I'm sharing it on Facebook and Twitter. Your insight will help many, I'm sure.

  2. Thanks Jan. You always encourage me.

  3. Wow.......that's all I can say.........this is really awesome and I feel a much needed topic, especially with the situations like this when divorce is involved. I don't think people ever really think about it.
    I hope I'm not any of those negative things you mentioned (you know me, feel guilty even if I'm not the one who did anything).
    I'm going to share this too. I think it will be very helpful for people.

  4. Tammy, you were there, so you know it wasn't you! :)