My husband and I have a longstanding difference of opinion that will not be resolved in both of our lifetimes. The disagreement relates to how we want to be “funeralized” when we die. Necessarily, the first to go will lose the ability to police his or her own funeral arrangements.

Bottom line, my mate thinks that funerals, wakes, and visitations should be completely somber affairs with audible wailing, boxes of tissues, and mournful missing of the deceased. No broad grins allowed, only muted, heartfelt smiles as you speak with the bereaved about the departed. I, on the other hand, embrace the Southern concept of celebrating the dead with food and drink as stories of the deceased are shared through tears mixed with laughter and sorrow.

My mother-in-law’s passing was my first experience of losing a family member as an adult. Several years later, I lost my own mother. Mind you, these times were very difficult, but the outpouring of support and sympathy from people far and wide eased the pain. Importantly, the experiences of how my family and I were cared for shaped how I respond when I hear the news that someone is grieving the loss of a family member. So now, I strive to pay forward the expressions of sympathy that helped me deal with my sorrow.

Comfort food: Sharing food is a wonderful way to show support, care, and love. Within hours of word getting out about Nana’s death, food was arriving at the door. Homemade casseroles, warm cakes directly from the oven, and store-bought, ready-to-eat favorites were dropped off. Friends nourished and nurtured the whole family in our time of need. Tip: If you are coordinating a meal for the bereaved family, first inquire about allergies and dislikes. Also find out the best day and time for delivery and whether they would like help serving food to the family.

Sympathy notes: Receiving notes from people who knew and loved my mother-in-law and my mom was very meaningful. Not only did the writings offer comfort, they affirmed that memories of lost loved ones were shared by others, providing a sense of community, even with people I had never met. Also, receiving notes from friends who never knew my mom was immensely touching and supportive. Tip: Write the note, whether or not you knew the person who died. If you have a specific memory of the deceased, share it. 

Say something: Death and talking about loss make us uncomfortable, but recognizing the death of a loved one is simply kind. I can remember how hard it was getting back to normal after Mom died. Having her death acknowledged was immensely helpful, long after her funeral. Tip: All you have to say is, “I heard about your loss, and I am sorry.” If the bereaved wants to say more, just listen.

There are more ways to express sympathy and be present for someone who is grieving, such as memorial gifts, flowers delivered to the bereaved, even minding the house during the funeral service. Death is something we will all experience; choosing to support one another through difficult times is what makes us human.

I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.