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Death is the biggest universal truth, and yet, there is never a right time to let go of a loved one. The trauma can take years to heal, and the void is almost never filled. Grief is personal, and very relative. It takes a whole lot of ‘one day at a time’ efforts to trudge across a journey that now remains only in memories. Carrying the fragile past into the arms of the future is a heavy burden the present has to carry. And no matter how strong you say you are, it is never easy. Nor is it any better when you are consoling someone who has had a loved one pass on. Yes, dealing with death is difficult and Funeral Etiquette is an innate skill lost on many.

So what is appropriate funeral etiquette?

Society has defined etiquette for various occasions, somehow silence and helplessness always surrounds death. We are often greeted with ‘what can I say to take this pain away?’  The answer is nothing, for no words can redeem the loss. ‘I understand what you feel’ is worst of the lot, for you surely don’t, even if you have been through it yourself. Remember there is no compensation. Heartfelt sympathy can be best expressed with an ‘I’m sorry…..’ and leave it at that.

Your presence may be required, but don’t make it felt. Chances are that the family going through an emotional turmoil won’t have a count of who made it to the funeral. But they would, someday, be grateful to those who chose to stay and help out in little ways possible.  We have to understand that they would probably be in a time warp, and not be in control of their routine life. So, do not offer lip service, just do it if you know it would help. ‘Would you like me to bring lunch?’ is much better than, ‘call me if you need something.’ Getting the food or co-ordinating with neighbours to ensure their needs are met is even better. You don’t need to conquer their lifestyle, but just ensure it moves on another day.

Death also involves a lot of legal formalities like the death certificate and the announcements, as well as religious rituals involving the burial service, cremation and condolences. Take over, if you are really close, or help to the extent you can without being in the way.

Respect their mourning. Just because they are not crying out loud does not mean they don’t hurt. Everyone has their personal parameters. Do not use a social yardstick to gauge them. This is not the time to be wearing those smug judgmental sneakers.

Be kind at the burial. Do not indulge in gossip or mindless conversations involving the deceased. Not only is it uncalled for, but is insensitive as well. Whatever the circumstances of death, the occasion is sombre. You’d like to keep your dressing in check with subdued hues. Black and white are the most accepted colours for such occasions.

When you go for a condolence visit, respect their privacy. Call on their convenient time. Listen more than you talk, for they might just need to be heard. Do not stay for long hours, for they need to recuperate. Every caller for them would be a repetition of how and why it happened. Don’t probe to get details. Express your sympathy and words of support. Share memories, if you have any, to help them retain the better part of their loved one’s life. Don’t be a walking-talking catastrophe they need to deal with post your visit.

Other little things to note. Keep your phone on silent, lest it burst into the latest chart buster that is your present ringer tone. Know that your nourishment needs are not the prerogative of the deceased’s family.  Don’t visit under the obligation of marking your presence on the social circuit. If you don’t know what to do, stay at home and pray.

Lastly, know and understand you can’t fix this, but what you can do is hold their hand. Be empathetic. The heart knows sorrow and will know what to do and say. As much as you shouldn’t be in their shoes, do unto them what you’d like done unto you. Chances are you won’t go wrong.

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