notes to myself...how to make a condolence visit, and how NOT to....
Do visit a bereaved person as soon as you can…but do call before you visit, if you can. Find out if the person is willing, and able, to take the visit. If not, postpone the visit after saying that your thoughts are with hem.
Please make your visit brief. Yes, you may be visiting the bereaved person after a long gap, of months, or even years. But at this time, your visit MUST be short. Trying to catch up on lost time, and touching base, is NOT a good idea now. The person is probably grappling with a lot of logistical details as well as emotional trauma, and is just not able to handle a prolonged social visit.
Explanations about why you could not come and meet the deceased earlier serve NO purpose whatsoever but to expiate your own possible guilt. And it becomes ridiculous if you start explaining health issues. You are visiting now, and your affection for the deceased (or your sense of duty) has brought you there. So that’s enough. This is true even if it is a phone call you are making. Lengthy explanations of why you cannot make it in person are not needed.
Even if you meet up with other friends and acquaintances in the deceased’s home, don’t start conversations… keep the visit brief.
Do not visit during mealtimes or in the afternoon unless absolutely unavoidable. This might be the only rest the bereaved family is getting after several sleepless nights.
Try not to bring babies and children along in the hope that they will “cheer them up”. And if the baby is napping, do not sit through the baby’s nap..it’s convenient for you, but certainly not for the bereaved family.
Talking about cheerful subjects is OK, but only up to a point. Beyond that, it gets too difficult for the bereaved to bear, or relate to.
Do NOT talk about other people who have just died. It’s SUCH an insensitive and ridiculous thing to do.
Do not unload your present problems even if the bereaved family asks. This is not the time to share your woes.
Once again…keep your visit brief and crisp. Not saying anything is sometimes better than words.
Fantastic words we heard recently:
“What saree are you going to buy for the 13th day ceremony? Will your sister in law buy it for you?” (Don’t I get to give HER something as well?)
“R…that was not the name of the girlfriend your husband was going around with when I knew him…” (I am NOT joking)
“You should not have been sitting in Thattekkad. What is the need to go and watch some birds when your brother is dying?” (Yeah, right, he told me he is sinking and I carried on to Thattekkad. Or…I must sit at home everyday, waiting for one of my relatives to die.)
“When your father and mother were such pious people, how can you have a memorial/shanthi homam/havan on the 5th day, and worse, call us for lunch during the ‘tainted’ ten days?” (They were all good people, but my brother is…was…different from my parents.)
“They never had any children?…so bad!” (wow, how does one answer that!)
“I wanted to come and visit many times but I have been having this uterus problem (said with a wealth of exCRUciating…and long-winded… detail about said organ.)” (You and your you-terus…go home, lady, I just CAN’T take your medical history in now.)
“Oh! V and K are also here! Oh, good to see you after a long time…did you know that E’s daughter got married? They were asking about you…” (go HOME!)
“The body goes so cold immediately after death…did you find it hard to arrange it in the refrigerated casket?” (YEUGHHHH….)
“No, no, you carry on with dinner, we had an early dinner and came, we will just be here…” (that is exactly what we don’t want…)
Thank goodness, there were more of the affectionate hugs, the thoughtful, well-chosen words, the presence when needed, the practical help given at the right time, the support that we could never have done without….