10 Things Not to Say at a Funeral


Pastor Mark Jeske shares what to say and what not to say to the bereaved at a funeral.

One of the sorrows and joys of my chosen line of work is that I attend a lot of funerals, in many of which I conduct the service. In general I like funeral directors. They are trained to be nice to people, and I adore people who are nice to me. But as a tribe they have some terrible habits. Unless I specifically instruct them beforehand, they want to leave the casket open during the funeral. What a terrible idea! People, especially the close family, should spend whatever time they need before the service in the viewing area. Once the service begins, it’s time to pay attention to God’s Word. I also strongly prefer that the “final” viewing take place before the service.

Funeral home folks seem to like the attention it gives them to invite people up “to take your last look” or “say your final farewells.” I hate it when they do that. When a Christian has passed, that is not our last look, and we are not saying our final farewells. We are saying, “See you later.” “TTYS” (Talk To You Soon).

Ask any widow and she will tell you that the following comments bring no comfort:

1. I know how you feel. No you don’t. You have no idea what I’m going through right now.
2. I guess it was his time. I didn’t want it to be his time.
3. Be strong. Don’t cry. If I don’t let out this grief sometime somewhere, I’m going to explode.
4. If a lengthy illness: You must be glad his suffering is over. I wanted his suffering over by being cured, not dead.
5. If a brief illness: At least he went fast. That just makes even bigger the bomb dropped on my life.
6. Oh, well, none of us lives forever. That philosophy may have worked for the Roman Stoics, but it doesn’t work for me.
7. We must not question God’s ways. Oh yeah? I’m questioning him right now.
8. He looks so natural. No he doesn’t. He looks like a wax dummy of someone I used to know.
9. If it is a woman who died: God needed another rose for his garden and picked her. There were plenty of other flowers. Why her?
10. If there’s anything I can do for you, just call. Right now I am numb and overwhelmed with the number of decisions I need to make and I should pick up the phone to talk to someone else? What are you going to do, bring my dead husband back? When I am crying at 3:00 A.M. do you really want to come over?

Cracking a joke to lighten the mood is not a particularly good idea either. Just show up and be there. Listen. Come the day before and help organize the display of pictures and personal items. Make a point to come back a week later and listen some more. Don’t ask the bereaved to call if they need a meal. Just prepare one and take it over. Send some flowers, not on the day (there will probably be plenty) but a month later.

Here are five suggestions of better things to say at the funeral:

1. My heart hurts for you right now.
2. I am praying for you right now.
3. I can’t wait to see him again. Jesus’ resurrection makes us immortal.
4. She meant a great deal to me and was a huge blessing in my life. Let me tell you what I really appreciated about her.
5. I love you.


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