Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Funerals don't usually bring out the best in people. Surprising, right? But when you're the one "hosting" the funeral or it's for "your" person (meaning you'll be the one getting the most sympathy at this shindig), your frame of mind is going to be different than the average attendee.
If you're like me, the thought of dealing with a lot of people on what's already a really shitty day can inspire frustration, anxiety, and yes, even anger. And, if you're really like me, you like to channel these feelings into humor - albeit dark and twisty humor. Being able to turn things around in your own head is key to get through tough experiences.
That's why I've put together the ultimate list of the kinds of people you will find at a funeral. Now that I think about it, these people show up to any sort of loss, but because funerals are inherently social gatherings, it's easier to see when they're all together. Pay attention next time you get your invite and see how many you can spot!
1. The Breakthrough
These are the people who want to be ‘the one’ you confide in — who gets the inside scoop. The Breakthrough seeks to be seen as the confidant and close enough to the death/griever to feel superior and self-important. In many cases, this person tends to want to be the one others go to for information in the (very likely) event that you just don't have time to give everyone the attention (and tea) that they're looking for.
2. The Boomeranger
This is the person who has been out of the picture in any meaningful way for a long ass time. They come out of nowhere and often seek out the person closest to the death to share their feelings and try to feel relevant again. Think your mom's friend from when you were ten and you haven't seen since, or perhaps her next door neighbor. The death sparks their need to be relevant and, if it’s for someone around the deceased's same age, they come around to reassure themselves that the situation won’t happen to them. This person's first question is always "how did they die?" Attending the funeral reignites their own feelings of mortality and sometimes even guilt for no longer being part of that person’s life.
3. The Platituder
This person is the one I actually love/hate the most. In fact, the Platituder is the person I expected so much at my mom's funeral that Mary and I made up a bingo game in preparation for it (winner got the leftover champs, woot woot!). The Platituder is the person at the funeral who drops all the trite death platitudes everywhere in an ignorant attempt to be sympathetic. Perhaps they're actually forthright in this, but these are the people who basically have no idea what to say so they say the same. boring. shit. that's been said for decades. They're basically the bath products of funerals - you know, what you give someone when you don't know them well but you feel you need to bring something. Here are some death platitudes you'll hear him/her (let's get real, it's usually a her) say: "She's with the angels now," or "He's in a better place," or "At least he's not suffering anymore." FYI, Funeral Bingo Game to come...
4. The Lookie-Loo
The Lookie-Loo comes in a couple different forms, some innocuous and some a little more self-serving. I'll break both down here, with examples from my mom's wake, which was held at her house. The innocent Lookie-Loos wandered around the house before talking to me and then after the small talk of death/funeral, decided it would be the right time to talk about photos of the family in random corners of the house. You know, the ones where you had the terrible perm and braces from middle school or the exceptionally-dated dance portraits your mom still insists on having out for public viewing. These LLs generally didn't know many people and were looking to fill the time. But what it actually said was "hey I've been digging into your stuff." Minor level creeper but I can understand the behavior. Now, the insidious form of LLs is pretty similar... except these people are looking for ammo for themselves. I had a relative message me after the funeral asking if she could keep a piece of artwork that has been in my family, now that my mom has died. The art in question was hanging up in my mom's house, so she saw it and asked if she could have it "back" since it was from my dad's side of the family. I'm gonna let you guess what my answer to that was.
5. The Go-To
For me, this was Mary and thank god she flew under the radar. This is the person at the funeral that you actually want and need to help you get through the day. If you're smart, you'll keep your Go-To as on the DL as possible. It saves them from the drama that funerals invariably bring so you have actual support and shit gets done. For me, Mary rallied the troops to ensure that the wake was taken care of (coordinating times with people to be there for deliveries, etc) and that people had assignments so guests didn't come to me when wine was out or napkins couldn't be found. It was just taken care of. Your Go-To is probably close enough to you that you can exchange a look across the room and they know what you need. You may even create some sort of safeword or signal that means "come save me" because you're going to want to be rescued at some point during the day.
While it may be hard in the moment, I've found that it's important to ensure that the funeral is about the person you just lost. Would they want these people there to celebrate them? If so, and the guest list isn't what you would choose for yourself, remember that it is just one day. Afterwards, you're under no obligation to keep up the relationship if it doesn't serve you. Lean on your Go-To in the tough moments and detach from other people's energy. It's not your shit to carry, so be mindful of this and keep it moving.
What other kinds of people do you see at a funeral or during periods of loss? Let us know!