Don't skip the funeral

Melissa Hart

Whoever created the idea of a visitation for a funeral and the luncheon afterwards is a genius.For years I have never liked going to funeral visitations. They were awkward, you have no idea what to say and anything you do say seems to fall short of your desire to comfort a grieving family. My way out is to attend the funeral. You are seen but not heard. You don’t have to try to have any magic words, just be there for the family and sign the guest book.After celebrating my mom’s life with friends and family, my entire outlook has changed. As I looked out at the church full of people I was so blessed by their attendance. The farmers, the school folks, mom’s church friends and our childhood friends, they all showed up to celebrate our mom. It was like a friends and family reunion that provided a chance to reconnect, but also soothed our aching soul after the loss of a mom who was everyone’s mom.Members of the church youth group that my parents lead in 1969 showed up, the faithful church choir members filed in and the retired teachers who she supported through the years handed out hugs to us. It was absolutely beautiful.We saw weathered faces of retired farmers from the community and laughed with former 4-H members about our days at the county fair. The hugs from the church ladies were indescribable and the support from more recent friends who drove a long distance to be with our family continues to encourage my heart today.The visiting was nonstop as we continued over lunch at VanGilder Farms when they generously opened up their big white barn for an afternoon of sharing, food and fellowship.People shared memories I had forgotten, stories I had never heard and I felt a special kind of love that only comes from decades of a farm community that lived life together.For those of you who struggle like me on what to do for a grieving family, these are my recommendations for you:• Show up. Even when you don’t want to or if you don’t feel like your presence matters, show up. Just seeing your face in the crowd will offer comfort to the family.• Sign the guest book. After looking through two full guest books after my brother’s death in 1980, I was so blessed by reading some of those names. People I hadn’t thought about in years and those I never would have imagined coming were all in those books and it was a joy and comfort to see their names listed.• Share. When you think you have nothing to say, share a memory about the lost loved one. It is such a sweet thing to hear how others were touched or to laugh about a funny story. This is one of the best parts of attending a luncheon after the service. Go, eat, fellowship and tell your stories.Funerals are a beautiful way to honor a loved one, share the burden of grief and prepare you for the journey of living without that special person. When my brother passed, my 15-year-old self refused to attend the visitation. I couldn’t face all those crying people. Little did I know the comfort I also refused that would have eased my broken and bewildered heart.Don’t skip the funeral.Melissa is a farmwife, mom and freelance writer residing on a dairy farm in southern Michigan. She is available for speaking engagements by contacting her at Visit her weblog at