Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Looking Back on the Last Few Days

Last Friday, my wife's father unexpectedly died. This has been quite a shock to everyone, to put it mildly. We did not have a traditional funeral, but instead celebrated Eucharist to honor his life and ministry. Knowing this would happen some day, Ken had planned his own service. He chose the readings, the prayers, the hymns and designated people for each role in the liturgy. His wish list created quite a geographic footprint. Only one person declined the honor, and it was because he recently had knee surgery and was unable to travel. The attendance was remarkable, a real tribute to Ken.
People are kind and thoughtful at times like this, and it reminds you that your friends are out there, even if you don't see them as much as you once did. Based on this ongoing experience, as well as others I have had along these lines, here are some random observations:

1) Prayer helps. It gives hope and comfort to those praying. Those for whom prayers are offered benefit greatly, even though they may not realize it at the moment.

2) A little take-out fried chicken goes a long, long way. In the first hours of the day following a death, Southerners have a tendency to heap fried chicken upon the family. Please call before you bring KFC or Church's or Popeye's or your momma's chicken. Chances are three or four people already beat you to the extra crispy finish line. The family is immensely grateful, but feels guilty about throwing out two-day-old fried chicken.

3) Food is excellent. Seek out the family spokesperson and find out specifically what is needed. Friends, family or chuch members probably have already arranged meals a couple of days out. So, bring a casserole or something that can be frozen for a week or so. In our case, snack mix and pick-up fruit went fast. Desserts are still sitting around.

4) If you ask for specifics about how you can help or what you can bring, be prepared to respond to any reasonable request. Two of the best offerings the family received over the last few days were specifically requested: cases of soft drinks and sacks of paper goods (bathroom tissue, napkins, paper towels, paper plates).

5) In keeping with the theme: don't assume you know what the family wants or needs. Ask. We had some extremely nice, well-intended people insisting we needed wine, etc. Well, we really didn't. We had no intention whatsoever of throwing a cocktail party. It might be your culture, but it's not necessarily someone else's. We are grateful, though. The same kind, generous "wine people" have been immensely supportive and helpful in many other ways.

6) Allow young people to deal with things as they choose. I am still affected by my relatives forcing me to view deceased loved ones when I was young. I prefered then and I prefer now to remember people as they lived, not as they lay in repose. In this particular case, there were a couple of teenagers who needed to get away from the crowds, be with friends, and-or just sleep a lot. Please do not force kids to grieve your way. They will find their own way.

7) Phone calls and visits are welcome, encouraged and appreciated. This will be especially true after a little time passes. If you call to express your condolences and the person you called for isn't made available to you, please respect that. There are bad moments. Without fail, someone takes it personally when they're asked to leave a message or come back later. This always floors me.

8) Gift certificates are great. My mother-in-law got a generous one from a local grocery/ restaurant. She was thrilled. She can redeem it when she needs an outing or to pick up something to bring home. That won't get thrown out.

9) I think most people say they don't want flowers because it seems superfluous. I have to tell you, we are happy some people didn't hear or chose to ignore our "no flowers" request. The venues in which we chose to greet visitors would have been stark without the flowers we got. Live plants may be better. We received several,and many of them will make it into my father-in-law's back yard as a living tribute to his memory.

10) The price of putting an obituary in the newspaper is obscene. I know they have to make money, but I thought it used to be a kind of community service. Maybe it was when the paper was locally owned. Don't let that price tag catch you off-guard. Prepare for it.

11) Don't be afraid to ask what happened. Telling the story is part of the healing process. The death of a loved one is a profound experience, and in my experience people are eager to talk about it as long as you're willing to listen. They appreciate your interest, as long as it's sincere. If it's not, they'll know.

12) Be a real friend and don't forget about the grieving family. The hard part comes when all the activities, which are largely confined to a few days after the death, come to a halt.

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1 comment:

Tim Fletcher said...

Darrell,

I don't know what to say... first, obviously, I am so sorry for Claire, Christopher, Maddy and you. Inadequate words I'm sure, but still---to just find out this news while linking to your blog has left me with such sadness for your family. I believe I met Ken one time---but honestly, through Claire, I've known him for nearly fourteen years. If our children are indeed a mirror of our souls, then Ken was surely one of the kindest, sweetest and gentle of God's children.

While I'm afraid this offer has come too late and therefore rings hollow---please don't hesitate to ask us for anything that can assist you all during this painful time and please pass along our deepest sympathies to Claire and the kids.

I love you guys...

The Fletcher Family