Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Salon: Funerals and deaths in books

Handy hints I learned just this past week for dealing with funerals or memorial services:

1. If you are going to be an emotional wreck like me, you should have more than one tissue. Not because you'll cry that much (you will) but because wiping your running nose and your leaking eyes with the same one is just gross. Realizing during the service that you've just smeared snot into your eyes will not strike you as funny and help to stop the weeping and rudely loud snuffling. In fact, it might make you cry harder because you are now sad *and* disgusting.

2. Trying to cater a memorial service from four hours away is not the best of ideas, especially when lemon bars are one of the requested items. Cookies will break en route and the Tupperware they are in is guaranteed to slide off the seat, landing on the already oozing lemon bars, denting them and making them stick to the plastic wrap or tin foil with which you've covered them. Good thing no one expects pretty looking food from me.

3. Don't look to the left or right as you walk into the sanctuary after the rest of the people have already been seated. If you didn't like being the center of attention as the bride (I didn't), you definitely won't like being the center of attention as the splotchy, red-faced, nose and eyes leaking, inside of the cheek biting family member of the deceased. Looking left or right will land your gaze on a sympathetic face and you'll have a harder time holding it together than you already are. So eyes forward. Chanting "walk, walk, walk" under your breath should also help distract you.

4. Let your mind wander during the entire thing. Examine the wood grain in the pews. Focus on the stained glass above the altar. Continually try to pass tissues to your weeping children. Remember that you haven't silenced your phone and do so now, slowly. Take the time to mark all of the hymns in the hymnal. But don't, I repeat, don't listen to any of the words unless you want to be wracked with paroxysms of grief. You already know the general gist of the whole thing anyway.

5. Leave your purse at home. You look like an idiot walking down the aisle with it. Unless, of course, digging in it during the service is a welcome distraction. Then suck up the idiocy and keep it with you.

6. When you live four hours away and you know that you aren't leaving your home until the morning of the service, don't, and I really mean don't, put on your Spanx until you've arrived. Riding in a car in Spanx is interminable if you just have to go downtown. When you have to go two states away and then sit through a memorial service, stand at the reception afterwards, and sit at the dinner following that, you will feel like you are being sliced in half slowly using dental floss. And the indents in your flesh may never come out. Note that this constant discomfort doesn't help distract you either. You're crying and you're in pain. Not ideal.

7. And finally, don't feel guilty after the service when you can't remember the names of people offering their condolences to you. Chances are they don't have a clue who you are either or they'll guess wrong and call you by your sister's name. Don't correct them, just smile (if you can, weep if you can't) and nod and escape to the kid table as soon as possible on the assumption that they might need supervision (they don't) and that they'll be having more fun than the rest of you (they are).

As you might guess, I had to endure my grandmother's memorial service this past week. I'm not good at funerals. I could make a good living as a mourner if anyone needs loud weeping and wailing. I don't have enough good clothes to do the rending of garments thing but it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility. Seriously, I am a mess. Oddly enough, having faced a death in my own family, many of the books I've read recently have also had deaths in them. I had to work hard to find books on my shelves that didn't in recent weeks. It's almost like the universe has been conspiring to help me grieve as much as possible. Gee, thanks. Not.

The House of Memories by Monica McInerney, Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall, Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen, Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley, The First True Lie by Marina Mander, Two Sisters by Mary Hogan and The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating by Carole Radziwill. All of them have deaths as major plot points in them, reminding me over and over again of my own loss even when they have no resemblance whatsoever. And so the book I deliberately chose to read next was The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier. No death in that one. But since it is about SAT testing and I have a junior and a sophomore in high school, it has caused me some major anxiety. Grief or anxiety, anxiety or grief. Can't really say which I'd rather face but I think I need something that will wind me up not at all next. Any suggestions?


  1. I really want to read that SAT book too. I'm sorry your grandmother's funeral sounds like it wasn't a comfort but hopefully all the caring people there are a comfort in retrospect, knowing she was so valued and loved.

  2. I'm sorry about your Grandmother. I really enjoyed this post. Even though it's based on a sad sad thing that you went through, it's very funny. I believe laughter is the best medicine and try to see humor in everything.

  3. I avoided funerals for the longest time because I am such a wreck at them. As I've gotten older, however, more and more of them are happening; I've developed a little distance and that is good. So sorry about the loss of your grandmother. I still miss mine and she has been gone since 1991.

  4. Sorry for your loss. My mother-in-law passed away about three weeks ago so I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. Good advice, by the way :) Hope you can settle into a book that takes you away and is completely enjoyable.

  5. So sorry to hear of your loss. My husband's paternal grandmother passed last year about this time. I actually knew her better than I was able to get to know any of my own grandparents, so it hit me harder than I expected.

    I checked my GoodReads for a book suggestion for you. Most of the books on my shelves there are mystery-thrillers...probably not what you want to be reading right now. One you might like is: Packing Light: Thought on Living Life With Less Baggage.

  6. Sadly, I was laughing through #1 because I can completely relate to that one. With too many funerals the last few years, you would think that I would have learned, but still forget to bring adequate amount of tissue, and I'm a big ol' sloppy mess.

    There really are no words that I can say to ease your pain, so just know that I am sending you lots of virtual hugs. {HUGS}


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