Been to any good funerals or memorial services lately? Seems as if the best ones give comfort to the living by doing a good job of remembering the dearly departed. The worst ones? Where the people speaking clearly did not know the person about whom they were speaking very well. (Or at all.)
So if you're helping to plan a funeral or memorial service and you're thinking about who should be speaking, a few things to remember:
It's about the deceased, not about you! Spare us your resume, your I've-known-Penny-longer-than-anybody-in-this room, anything that doesn't speak directly to why this person was so loved (or respected, etc) and why she will be missed.
Shorter really IS sweeter. Trust.
Paint a realistic verbal portrait. If your friend was perpetually late for everything, if she always insisted that whoever dropped by stay for dinner, use those characteristics to weave into your anecdote. If she was famous for using a certain phrase, use it—if it's appropriate.
Laughter really IS the best medicine. If you can tell a fondly funny anecdote, it's a relief to be able to laugh at the gathering.
If you think you can't possibly speak without being overcome, beg off, and let someone who can hold together better do it. You should be comforting the family, not the other way around.
So here's my example for a fictitious departed who was always well put together, but sometimes at the expense of the clock:
"When I first met Penny and we started being friends, we had a ritual shopping afternoon on the first of every month. Often we didn't buy anything other than lunch, but we both liked wandering through the stores looking at stuff we couldn't afford. You probably know Penny loved a good bargain, and was never vain about telling how much she paid for something you complimented her on: "Girl, Target!" She was always beautifully put together, but sometimes that took time. A LOT of time. When she married Jacob, she was about 45 minutes late to her own wedding because she had to be perfect. Well as you can see today—she's still perfect. And today she was on time! Penny, I'm going to miss our Saturday afternoons, but I expect you're up there right now, scoping bargains. Love you…"
And Remember: How you dress depends on where the service is being held. For many, being well-dressed at a final farewell is a sign of respect. (We said well put-together, not flashy. Save the gold heels and the sparkly stuff for another occasion—unless it's requested.) Other ceremonies put the emphasis on joy, and request that you dress accordingly. Never hurts to ask someone who knows.
Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).
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is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).