The Orange County Register
Yes, death is always with us, but the older we get, the more we seem to grapple with its presence.
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And death is never a welcome topic in our society.
Now, a Web site, www.legacy.com, offers visitors an opportunity to counsel with leading educators, authors, grief counselors and psychologists on topics related to grief and loss.
Go to www.legacy.com/NS/connect to ask tough questions and receive answers.
One of the regular contributors is Florence Isaacs, author of “My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes and Conversations, Plus a Guide to Eulogies.”
Q. Why do we have such difficulty talking to someone who has lost a loved one?
A. Death used to be a routine part of life. People died at home and so it was not such a mysterious, frightening thing.
Q. Why is it necessary to have counseling on how to offer condolences?
A. Death affects people differently.
Most people would have difficulty losing a child. Children are not supposed to die before you.
And you can't make assumptions. Some people don't have wonderful relationships with their parents. They may be quite angry at the person who died. Unless you know a person well, you should avoid remarks like,
“You must have done so much for her when she was ill.” Maybe they didn't.
Q. What's the best approach?
A. First of all, there's no reason to say a whole lot. Just try to be yourself and say what you are really feeling and thinking.
Leading up to my writing the book, an acquaintance lost an 18-year-old daughter. I wrote her to say, “How horrible. I can't imagine what you are going through.” I wrote that and I realized it was a very powerful note.
It was what I was really feeling. Most times people are very afraid to express their feelings, but that can be the best thing to do because you are validating what happened.
Q. When I lost my adult son, I was overwhelmed by the letters and cards I received from readers. There was comfort and a sense of shared grief.
A. His was an unexpected death and people wonder, “How can this happen!” Death of someone 95 is a lot different than a 14-year-old, for example.
Q. But there are deaths we have to deal with because of people we know or work with.
A. Death of a co-worker requires you to acknowledge your feelings to the survivors, but make it short and sweet and listen to people instead of telling them what you think they should be feeling.
Q. We rarely see people weeping in public at funerals anymore. In fact, funerals are being replaced with “celebrations of life.”
A. “Celebrations” are more common than they used to be. Cremations — especially on both coasts — are on the rise. There are many more memorial services and not so many burials.
Q. I was asked to give a eulogy once. It was not easy.
A. I assume you knew the person well. You want to be honest and talk about the person's attributes and strengths and so on and why the person is important to you. Whatever your relationship, add some foibles, some humor. Paint a picture of who the person was and make it as honest as possible. You can never go wrong talking about memories of a person.
But the fact is people have a hard time doing a eulogy. They are afraid of offending or looking silly.
Talk it over with us at legacy.com.
(Jane Glenn Haas writes for The Orange County (Calif.) Register. E-mail her at jghaascox.net)
© 2008, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. AMX-2008-08-29T08:15:00-04:00