Funerals Are for the Living

Funeral card

Though my 83-year-old neighbor was a gregarious man, his funeral was sparsely attended. Maybe several dozen people were there – and many of those were family.

They sat in the first three rows. The next 10 or so rows were empty. I sat in the back, along with some of my neighbor’s elderly friends. I was one of only two nonfamily members there under the age of 70.

Young people don’t go to funerals. Middle-aged people rarely go either. I’m thinking that even old people don’t go any more.

And that’s wrong. Funerals aren’t for the dead. They’re for the living.


For the Family of the Deceased

Some people say they don’t go to funerals because the dead don’t know we’re there, or death is uncomfortable, or everybody handles grief in his or her own way.

They may be right. But that’s not the point. A funeral is a long-held human ritual that not only memorializes the dead but also brings comfort to the living.

Our presence at a funeral is a sign of support and consolation for the family. Here we as an extended human family grieve together. We confirm that the deceased family member mattered, made a difference, was valued and loved.

Like it or not, an empty church or a partially filled funeral home sends a bleak message about how little the deceased meant to us or how little the friendship of the family matters to us.

Attending a funeral – even if we do nothing but sit there –

  • Validates a mourning family’s sorrow
  • Acknowledges the value of the life of the deceased
  • Confirms that the friendship is important enough to us that we’ll take an hour of our day to grieve with friends or family
  • Conveys the metaphysical message that we’re willing to shoulder the burden of grief – that we are united as a human family and share in the sorrow of the passing of one of our own


For Ourselves

Going to funerals is beneficial for our own souls, too.

When a friend or family member dies, we’re faced not only with his or her absence, but also with the awareness of our own mortality.

At a funeral service, we can literally stare death in the face when we view a body in a coffin. Any way you look at it, we face the reality of death.

For most of us, that’s difficult. Dealing with death and dying are indeed uncomfortable. They bring about emotions we don’t want surfacing. But funerals are the right place to deal with these emotions.

The crying, the heartache, the overwhelming grief that come with acknowledging the temporariness of human existence are necessary emotions to experience on occasion. They’re cathartic. They help us avoid the detachment from one another that accompanies 21st-century life and instead serve to unite us and help us relate to each other in a shared bond of bereavement.

Funerals also offer us the opportunity to reflect on our own lives and the imprint we’ve made in this world ~

  • What will be said at our own funerals?
  • Have our own lives had meaning and purpose?
  • Are we creating good memories for our families, friends, and co-workers?
  • Are we reconciled with family, friends, and co-workers?
  • Have we left a legacy of good?

Funerals remind us to effect the change in our own lives that we need to make while we still can.


For Our Families

When mentors, teachers, or other adults who’ve invested their time in the lives of my children have died, I’ve taken my children to their funerals. Almost always, my kids are the only nonfamily children at the memorial services.

I’ve received a lot of criticism for taking my kids to funerals. People think it’s weird. Or inappropriate – “Funerals aren’t the place for children.”

Dead wrong.

The visitation, the hearse, the eulogies, the pallbearers, the burial service – all of these can be points of departure for necessary discussions with elderly parents, teens, or kids regarding the meaning of life ~

  • What is the purpose of life?
  • Why are we here?
  • What does it mean to live?
  • What does it mean to die?
  • Why do we die?
  • Is death forever?

If we haven’t thought about these things, we should. When we reflect and meditate, examine and discuss questions about life and death, we may find answers that enrich and enhance our lives and the lives of our families.


Next time you hear of the passing of a family member, friend, or co-worker, don’t pass up the opportunity to go the funeral. It can make a difference in a life.


Being a Good Father Takes Time

Boating - Version 2

Being a good father is really simple. It doesn’t take a lot of money. Nor does it take a lot of practice.

But it does take time.

The time a dad spends with his kids is far more valuable than most anything he could buy them.

Kids are wiser than we think – especially teens. They know when they’re being bought. When I taught middle school, I saw a wealth of kids whose parents spent a fortune on them – but scarcely any time. That came across clearly in their insolent behavior.

The good thing about being a good dad is that it doesn’t cost money. In fact, money can be an obstacle to good parenting. It can get in the way. Work – electronics – stuff – can take the place of enjoying your kids’ company.

What kids really want is your time. They want to sit with you on a dock or at the table or under the stars. They want to play board games or go camping or repair the car with you – or whatever. What they want is you around.

What they really want is to know that they’re important to you. That they matter. That they’re worth your time.

Give them your time. It will be the best investment you ever make.

The Art of the Thank-You Note

The thank-you note is as archaic as black-and-white televisions and vacuuming with your pearls on.

Yet we all know that receiving a thoughtful, hand-written note of gratitude in the mail is far more rewarding than receiving a text or an email. And it’s way sure better than not having a gift acknowledged at all.IMG_0646

In the past several months, I’ve received invitations to weddings, birthdays, and graduations – all of which I hand-picked gifts for. And, here we are, months later, with no acknowledgment of time or money spent on the gift-giving. Now it’s true that the joy is in the giving; yet there still is some social obligation in the recipient’s expressing some sort of gratitude for the gift.

In light of that, I offer you some tips on writing the Proper Thank-You Note.

Why Write a Thank-You Note

Writing thank-you notes is the most personal, warmest way to express appreciation for a gift or a kind act. It is a sign of good manners and gratitude.

A well-written thank-you note is often treasured by the recipient; regrettably, in most cases, your failure to send a note most surely is remembered.

Thank-you notes should be sent to thank someone for:

  • Giving you a gift

o   Birthday gift

o   Congratulatory gift

o   Flowers

o   Donation

  • Having you as a guest

o   In their home overnight

o   At a party in their home

o   Throwing a party or event for you

  • For any special favor

o   Driving you long distances

o   Preparing a special meal for you

o   Visiting you when you’re ill

If you are unsure as to whether a thank-you note is called for, send one anyway. A well-written note of appreciation is always appreciated.

How to Write a Proper Thank-You Note

Each thank-you note that you write should be personalized to the recipient. Your goal is to make the recipient feel good about having given you the gift or done you the favor. You want them to see that you find value in the gift-giving.

Just the same, there are some general guidelines about writing thank-you notes:

  • Send your thank-you note no sooner than 3 days and no later than 2 weeks after receiving the gift or attending the event. However, if longer time has passed, don’t apologize for the tardiness of the note in your note. Just write it.
  • Write neatly. An illegible note defeats your own purpose. Take your time and use your best script.
  • Use a black ballpoint, gel or fountain pen. Do not use blue, green, pink or sparkly inks. Don’t dot your i‘s with hearts.
  • Avoid using cards with the preprinted words “Thank you” on the front. Be more creative.
  • Don’t use “teenspeak.” For example, don’t write: “Thank you for letting me crash at your house.” It is more correct to write: “Thank you for allowing to stay the night in your lovely home.”
  • Absolutely do not be tacky in your thank-you note. Don’t say you already have one, or you didn’t like it, or you returned it, or you didn’t have a good time, or you got sick. Your goal is to compliment the gift-giver or host, not make him or her feel lousy for spending money or time on you.

Even though each note should be personalized, there is a general format to follow. Your thank-you note should be hand written, brief, and consist of these four parts: 

  1. The greeting – Begin with the word Dear

Dear Aunt Mary,

  1. An appreciation of the item, event, or favor

Thank you for the beautiful silver charm bracelet for my birthday.

  1. An explanation of how useful it will be or how much you like it (even if you don’t), including a specific, personalized detail

I love the charms on the bracelet. They’re perfect for me, especially the dolphin and the seashell, as I plan on studying marine biology next year when I go to college. Also, the bracelet matches perfectly with the bridesmaids gowns my sister has chosen for us to wear in her wedding. 

  1. A recap of your gratitude and a suggestion of a future meeting as a sign off 

Again, thank you very much for the lovely bracelet. I hope to see you again soon, perhaps at my sister’s wedding, where you will see me wearing my new bracelet.

With appreciation,

Megan Smith

Sending prompt, gracious thank-you notes reflects well upon you and your family,

and it creates goodwill within your community.