Funeral Do's and Don'ts: Funeral Etiquette 101

Podcast Transcripts

[00:00:00] Pete Waggoner: Hello again, everybody. And welcome to the Good Grief podcast. It’s time for another scintillating edition of funeral etiquette. Along with Michael O’Connell from the O’Connell Funeral Homes, Amber Miller standing by as well. We are going to be talking about what we’ve learned is one of our hottest topics that we’ve had.


[00:00:22] And our podcasting world here, Michael and that’s funeral etiquette. Little would I have known that it had that much popularity,


[00:00:30] Mike O’Connel: Pete? I, um, I’m trying to look up scintillating. I don’t know what tha means. You’re going to have to help me.


[00:00:35] Pete Waggoner: White hot. Like, it’s past


[00:00:37] Mike O’Connel: Can you talk on my level, please? I’m not, I was not an English major.


[00:00:42] Pete Waggoner: Okay. Well, okay, we’ll break it down a couple of notches. So you know, what we’ll get into is, we did feel because of the overwhelming response that we received from our original podcast and funeral etiquette, we thought we’d discuss the topic once again, while sharing some more helpful tips to those that are attending a [00:01:00] funeral, visitation, and a celebration of life.


[00:01:02] Truth is we did talk about this. I’ve been to a funeral since, and I try to harken back on what we spoke of. And I, there was so much in there. I couldn’t remember everything. So I think it’s really good for a refresher course here.


[00:01:15] Mike O’Connell: Yeah, actually we did this because if you look up, what are the most, looked up things about funeral and memorials


[00:01:22] it’s what to wear, what to say, what to do. And so obviously we could probably do this every month and still be behind the eight ball, but yes, it’s…simulating.


[00:01:33] Pete Waggoner: Well done. Well then we’re going to get into what to wear, what clothing to avoid and, accessories and, and all of the other things to say, not to say, to do, and not do when we get into the funeral etiquette podcast here from Good Grief, right after this.


[00:01:52] Amber Miller: Hi, this is Amber Miller from the O’Connell Funeral Home. Have you ever felt like negative emotions were controlling you? We understand that many [00:02:00] people who are grieving, or just going through the ups and downs of life, experience this. That is why we created a series of Positive Affirmations with you in mind! Head to our website,, to sign up. You’ll get a series of emails every other week that will give your day the boost that it needs. If you’d like to change your mood, your state of mind, or manifest the change you desire – get the affirmations now. The best part? The emails are risk free, so if at any point you don’t feel they are helping you, you can opt out at any time. My gut, though, says you are going to enjoy them!


[00:02:09] Pete Waggoner: And we welcome you back to the Good Grief podcast. The question of the day is, and I think it’s the biggest, it’s the first. Do you have to wear black to a funeral? And I’m sure, Michael, there is some form of history that goes with that as well.


[00:02:32] Mike O’Connell: Well black was just mourning. It’s what you wore in observance or reverence of someone that’s died. That’s why black and it stuck with the funeral industry. Cause that’s what funeral directors wear. And, and it goes way back to


[00:02:43] you know, centuries ago when they’d have certain lights on your house or badges of flowers that showed a death was there, but black always just showed reverence to someone that’s died.


[00:02:52] Pete Waggoner: And wearing black isn’t a bad idea either because, I don’t know if neutral Amber is the correct term, but it keeps distractions away [00:03:00] from being loud. [00:03:00] And, you know, it’s being more respectful to the situation at hand.


[00:03:05] Amber Miller: Absolutely. I think when in doubt, be more conservative than what you think. If you’re in your closet trying to pick something out for a visitation when in doubt, just be as most respectful for the family. And black is a good color for that.


[00:03:17] Pete Waggoner: What to avoid is a big deal, I think, because we’re gone from the world where for men, for instance, you’d wear a suit every day and you just, we don’t do that as much. So has that part of your closet dwindled, have you lost a ton of weight? Have you gained a ton of weight and then you start narrowing your options, right?


[00:03:40] And then you start looking at it and say, okay, well, these are my things that I could go to. What do I need to avoid at all costs?


[00:03:49] Mike O’Connell: Well, you’re probably asking the wrong people, cause we’re probably a little too conservative, but it’s amazing. You know, when I grew up, if I had a baseball cap on,


[00:04:00] my parents would say, take that off in the house or take that off at the dinner table at the very least.


[00:04:05] And we have people now, who wear them to visitations.


Pete Waggoner: Are you kidding?


Mike O’Connell: Oh, absolutely. But now they wear them into a church. Now for me, my growing up, I may think that’s inappropriate. So


Pete Waggoner: I would agree


Mike O’Connell: I, I watch people too, and we do taps most will take their hats off, but still some don’t. And I don’t think they’re doing it out of being disrespectful.


[00:04:28] They just have no clue. They weren’t raised in that environment to think out of respect for fallen soldiers, take that hat off. So I would say, you know, that you want to know what the don’ts are, the don’ts are don’t wear anything that’s low cut, sleazy. I don’t know if that’s the right word you use on this podcast, but I think it’s, it’s understandable why those.


[00:04:51] You would be shocked, at what people wear today and what people do at visitations. It’s just, absolutely amazing. I’ll never forget [00:05:00] this one lady almost wore a bikini to a visitation. She walked in and asked my dad where the visitation was. Cause I think she just had come out of jail or something and he just looked at me and he goes, “that’s why I can’t quit this job, it’s something new everyday.”


[00:05:14] But those are moments that were far and few between, but now they’re everyday occurrences.


[00:05:19] Pete Waggoner: So keep the revealing short skirts, tight clothes and also don’t be too revealing, just avoid that.


[00:05:27] Mike O’Connell: I guess, I don’t even know if he could say tight clothing, Pete, because, today I don’t know what they’re called.


[00:05:32] What are those called? They’re black, women wear them a lot. Leggings? Like the ones you wear, Pete, but leggings are kind of a common thing, but they’re fairly tight. So I don’t think people are wearing those to be disrespectful. So I don’t know. And that’s just, it, that shows what the old rules are and what today’s people are wearing.


[00:05:52] They’re just not meshing.


[00:05:54] Pete Waggoner: Yeah, absolutely. Then on the footwear, the flip flops boots, snow boots, those types of things. Probably a


[00:06:00] no-no. We don’t want to see your toenails. Okay. Just put it away.


[00:06:04] Amber Miller: If you feel like it’s overly casual, something you’d wear to the beach or the nightclub, probably not appropriate for a visitation or service.


[00:06:10] Like I said, err, on the side of, of conservative and, and you know, dress it up, put on a nicer pair.


[00:06:16] Mike O’Connell: Pete, i’m going to ask you now. Okay. So yeah, you’re asking Amber and I that and that’s the responses we’re giving. If you had a visitation for your mom and your friends came, would you care what they wore or that they were just there?


[00:06:28] Pete Waggoner: That they were just there. And I wouldn’t even really be thinking about that to be fair.


[00:06:32] Mike O’Connell: Right. So in one aspect, you’re agreeing with us that you shouldn’t wear those things, but yet your heart’s telling you that I wouldn’t care. So do you see where the, the collision is coming now?


[00:06:42] Pete Waggoner: Yeah. Well, and the collision too comes to I’m agreeing with what you’re talking about, because that’s what I would do because that’s how I was raised in, in what I do.


[00:06:53] And I think the cultural collision comes in too – you go to a wedding these days and nobody wears a suit. It’s [00:07:00] very rare sometimes. I’m the only guy with one on. You know, what happened here? You know, I hadn’t been to one for years. You know, my kids are coming through with those. And that was a little surprising to me.


[00:07:11] But in the end, what you care about most is that people are there. And that they’re there for you.


[00:07:17] Mike O’Connell: So do we, do we hold them accountable if they’ve never really been taught? No. So we do these podcasts to make them think right. To make them think that maybe a baseball cap going into a church might not be the most appropriate.


[00:07:31] Maybe when they’re playing taps, it’s out of respect for the veterans. So we draw attention to it so they can make a better informed decision because some of these people, if you think of it, are raised in a difficult household and they weren’t taught those manners because that’s what it is,


[00:07:44] it’s manners.


[00:07:46] Pete Waggoner: And etiquette. Right. All that goes together into one. And, I think we grew up in a generation where that was really hammered home and maybe our generation didn’t hammer it home as much [00:08:00] as it was on us, maybe because we didn’t find it important, but, it’s helpful to share the information. Accessories, jewelry, bags..


[00:08:08] Should we turn that over to you, Amber? What can be done?


[00:08:11] Amber Miller: I think kind of same thing with, with the footwear and clothes, something that’s not distracting, you know, if you’re wearing a bracelet and during the service constantly fidgeting with your hair and it’s clinking and clanking, that can be a distraction to the family trying to listen to the pastor speaking or, you know, something that’s overly flashy.


[00:08:30] You know, that again can be, can be a distracting. A question to ask is “would you wear that to a job interview?” If not. Maybe something to rethink.


[00:08:39] Mike O’Connell: That’s perfect. Seriously. That’s perfect. If you think of it, if you’re going to draw more attention to yourself than you are the family, or why you’re there, that’s probably your cue.


[00:08:49] I think what she just said, it just summed it up perfectly.


[00:08:53] Pete Waggoner: How about when we get into conversational things? Should I or should I not say their loved [00:09:00] one’s name? Would that hurt them further to get them thinking about that? Or do you acknowledge it straight up?


[00:09:07] Mike O’Connell: Oh, good Lord. That’s a tough subject with me, but I’m going to go back to one more thing. That’s a don’t.


[00:09:11] Don’t drown yourself in cologne or perfume. That’s one thing that can be rather annoying to families. There’s a lot of sensitivity too them now. So if you’re wearing a lot of stuff, because you’re feeling kind of left out and you need to hug and you want to put that extra cologne on Pete, like you’re wearing right now, I would, probably…


[00:09:32] Pete Waggoner: Is it that bad?


Mike O’Connell: Well, I didn’t know they still made that anymore. So, but no, I would just say, put it in check if you’re wearing that much.


[00:09:40] Oh, a part of me doesn’t know if he’s serious or not! Cause I do have cologne on and it’s Armani 88. And I’m like, there’s no way he knows what that is!


[00:09:52] Mike O’Connell: Pete when you have to send in $15.99 and two cereal box tops for your cologne. That’s probably cute.


[00:09:58] Pete Waggoner: I’m certainly not, but [00:10:00] okay. Oh, so am I blowing out the room? Now you got me all worried. Nice work, good, solid effort.


[00:10:06] Mike O’Connell: Okay. I can answer that question. That’s a really hot one for me is that please use their name because most people think, I don’t want to say your mom’s name, your husband’s name, your kid, you know, your child’s name because it’s going to make you sad.


[00:10:19] Guess what they’re already sad, you can’t make them more sad. What they want to hear is that you remember them. So in essence, when you don’t use their name, when they can sense that, you’re disrespecting them. You’re not honoring their loved one, but that’s in your heart. You’re thinking, oh, it’s just, it’s uncomfortable.


[00:10:35] And I don’t want to see them all of a sudden start bawling because I don’t know what I’m gonna do. So I’m going to stay away from it.


[00:10:40] Pete Waggoner: You and I have a hard time with, personally, is referring to someone immediately two days later as “was.” I have a hard time with that. That just the verb tense. To me, it’s still “is.”


[00:10:56] And I don’t know if that’s insensitive. I do say [00:11:00] “was,” but I have to think about it and it becomes awkward. Can you talk on that a little bit?


[00:11:05] Mike O’Connell: I mean, because to me “is,” is a spirit and “is” is who the person is. “Was” is so final.


[00:11:17] Mike O’Connell: It’s past tense and as a survivor, you don’t want anything in past tense, especially their loved one. But that’s what people think. You think that they’re going to have a meltdown or they’re, you’re going to regress them. Trust me, they’re thinking about it every day. You know, obviously we went through that with Dan’s deal and people would say, oh, on the anniversary. I’m sorry about today and I’ll say, “why are you, sorry, first of all?” “Well, I didn’t want to say anything.” “Why?”


[00:11:37] “Well, I didn’t want to make you sad.” I’m like, well you think about it once in awhile, we think about it all the time. We think about it every day. So, but you want people. I would encourage you next time when you’re in that, Pete is to think about something to say, “oh, I love Jim, or he or she was a man they made me smile.


[00:11:56] They really brightened my day. I can only imagine [00:12:00] that, you know, you think of them often and, and smile. And at the same time you cry.” Acknowledge them. You’re acknowledging them. You’re not trying to shame them by talking past tense. You’re actually shaming them.


[00:12:12] Pete Waggoner: uh, by talking…


[00:12:13] Mike O’Connell: Past tense. Okay. We’re not talking about them.


[00:12:17] They want you to, but when you try to avoid it and trust me, they can sense it. You’re shaming them.


[00:12:23] Pete Waggoner: Just hammer into it. Yeah. Which is what is done. But in your mind, you’re like going, “Man, I don’t like saying “was.”


[00:12:30] Mike O’Connell: Well in your mind, you’re thinking, “God, I love hanging out with that guy. He was just great.”


[00:12:34] “He was funny. He was good at what he does.” Awesome. So tell them that. That’s the whole thing. Tell them. Don’t back off from it. That’s what they want to hear. Okay. If you get emotional too, that’s great.


[00:12:48] Pete Waggoner: Are you sure?


[00:12:50] Mike O’Connell: Is it sensual or whatever the word was? You used the beginning. Scintillating.


[00:12:54] Pete Waggoner: Mike’s making up new words here. We’ll park that right there. [00:13:00] That’s good. That’s fantastic. How about any tips to follow? Like being on time, those kinds of things.


[00:13:06] Mike O’Connell: I’m still working on that


[00:13:09] Pete Waggoner: You have to take a drink of coffee now!


[00:13:11] Amber Miller: Being on time is super important. It shows respect to the family, doesn’t distract them, or, you know, if you come in late and the officiants get distracted or whatnot, but it happens.


[00:13:21] We, you know, get busy things happen. We sit in traffic if we’re running late, we just suggest kind of stand in the back of whether it’s a church of the funeral home and when it’s safe to enter, sit down right away. Because I think a lot of people are hesitant about sitting down in the middle of a service.


[00:13:37] That actually can be more distracting than not, not only because of maybe the family’s up there saying a eulogy and they just see someone standing in the back or the pastor or whatnot. So, that’s a tip I usually give to people. Obviously if you do come in late, not walking down the center of the aisle, kind of walk


[00:13:55] Towards the side, find a seat as soon as you’re able to do that.


[00:13:59] Pete Waggoner: [00:14:00] So, sliding in is way better than crashing it. Correct? Right. Got it. Okay. Okay, go ahead. Tip number two, we covered on the perfume and scented body lotions. Got it.


[00:14:11] Tip number three.


[00:14:13] Amber Miller: Silence your phones. I know that’s really hard and maybe we.


[00:14:16] I think we silence them and we just turn them on vibrate, but that makes sometimes just as much noise as, as a ringer does. So kind of goes without saying rather obvious, but you know, right before you walk into the church or the funeral home, just make sure and make a point to turn that, turn that phone off it’s distracting.


[00:14:34] And the family is distracted too. If something starts ringing in the middle of their service.


[00:14:40] Mike O’Connell: Mike O’Connell: Okay Pete. This one? Yeah, you’re just trying to get me worked up. Aren’t ya? Absolutely. Okay. Tip number 3.5. If said phoned rings for the love of God. Do not answer it at a funeral. Oh God. It happens once a week. I’m not joking.


[00:14:57] Pete Waggoner: Shut up. Are you serious?


Mike O’Connell: Yes. Once a [00:15:00] week. Okay.


[00:15:01] You’re at a funeral here. It is. Here it is. Okay. Ring, ring, ring. And they hold it for like two seconds, like two rows behind is going to be a little softer. Hello? Yeah. I’m at a funeral right now. What? Okay, well, do you want me to call you back as they’re trying to walk out and Amber, am I wrong?


[00:15:19] No, that happens once a week.


You just confirmed it


and I’ll say half the time. It’s family too. Now what can be more important, seriously, then, taking time off to be present mindful of that family? And you take a damn phone call, obviously it’s, it’s annoying to us. I think I’m important, you know, but no. Seriously.


[00:15:43] Pete Waggoner: Well, bigger to that, then a tip for, to what you said is, put it away.


[00:15:48] I mean, so not only turn it off and down and completely, but then put it away. You don’t, then you don’t answer that phone. You don’t, you know, how do you like this? You know, you had it all. The hold it off to the side when replying, right. [00:16:00] Like no one sees it. We see it.


[00:16:03] Mike O’Connel: Okay. Put it away. Ask yourself this Pete.


[00:16:04] Have you ever talked to somebody and they’re talking to you, but then they’re, they’re looking at their phone. Oh yeah. And do you feel a little disrespected? Now, think of your family member in, in your someone’s there to see what a visitation and they’re looking at their phone when they’re talking to.


[00:16:18] Does that just negate everything they’re there for? 100% Yeah.


[00:16:21] Pete Waggoner: Put it away.


[00:16:23] Amber Miller: For smartwatches too.


[00:16:25] Pete Waggoner: I think we’re graduated to that right now. You’ve got a stealthy phone there. Tip five, you know, the registrar registration book is there for a reason, right?


[00:16:36] Amber Miller: Oftentimes we hear frustrations probably same as the number of people who are answering their phones in services.


[00:16:42] We hear from families how frustrating it is that they go through their register book and they see that John Doe just signed his name and didn’t put his address or anything like that. So at the end of the day, when they’re writing thank yous, they have to spend hours on end, trying to look up addresses and phone numbers to send a thank you card.


[00:16:59] [00:17:00] So, just, you know, we just suggest be courteous to the family. Take that extra time, write your name and your address so that they can write you a thank you card.


[00:17:07] Pete Waggoner: And one of the things to keep in mind is even if you don’t want to receive the thank you card, let the giver, or them decide whether or not you’re going to get it and take that away.


[00:17:20] Right. Important to put your information out. How about respect the line if there is one? I bet you two have stories that could go for a while on the line.


[00:17:29] Mike O’Connell: Next time I’m going to take some anti-anxiety medicine. You are seriously. These are the things that I could go on an hour on each one. Okay, please.


[00:17:39] I get it. When there’s a busy visitation. Please do not come to the funeral director and ask them, “Can you please tell the family to move it along? Because we’ve been waiting in line for a half hour?”


Pete Waggoner: Are you serious?


Mike O’Connell: Yeah. Pete, I’m not making this stuff up. How rude? You think?


[00:18:00] And I’ll usually say, okay, can you do me a favor?


[00:18:03] Can you write your name down? Because I’m going to go ask the family to speed the line up because you’ve asked them to do so.” “Well. No, no, no, no, I don’t. I don’t want that.” “Well, I’m sorry. What do you want then?” “Well, I, I didn’t want you to put my name in there.” The family has lost the biggest loss in their life and their, how do you say hi to somebody in 10 seconds?


[00:18:22] So when there’s a lot of people, that means they made a big impact on the community. Please don’t ask us to move the line up.


[00:18:28] Pete Waggoner: Have you ever thought about saying “Yeah, here, hang on, come with me.” And you just walk right up and say, “Hey, can you wait for a second? They don’t want to wait anymore.”


[00:18:37] Mike O’Connell: That is a great! We had a funeral procession, coming out of a church once and we were, I was trying to pull out and this lady went around one police car and got to the next one.


[00:18:48] And it was Tom Vanderberg. If you’re listening Tom, he’ll remember it. And he went crazy on her and I said, “No, Tom, let her go. If she’s got something more important than this poor dead man’s [00:19:00] burial and these, you know, 150 people here, let her go through” and he made a scene and said, “Ma’am whatever you are going to, it must be important that we’re going to put on this.”


[00:19:09] And she was so embarrassed. So yeah, that works.


[00:19:12] Pete Waggoner: I always turn it back on them for sure. What, if you do arrive and you see a long line and you can’t stay, what are your next moves? What do you do?


[00:19:22] Amber Miller: I think that’s a good question. You know, if, if time permits and you can’t stay and greet the family, I think leave your card.


[00:19:29] If you brought one sign, the register book, for sure. And maybe leave a note in the cards, you know, stating or apologizing that you weren’t able to stay, but you wanted to come to support them. Maybe reach out to them after the visitation or service with a text or a phone call and suggesting the same thing apologizing.


[00:19:45] You couldn’t stay, but kind of showing your support and kind of touching base. I think that’s always good.


[00:19:49] Mike O’Connell: That might even be more important. Actually, that’s a great point is that when there’s 400 people at a visitation, the family only gets, you know, half a minute, minute, with everybody. [00:20:00] It’s more important to stop after the fact. That’s really when they need it is when things start to settle down.


[00:20:05] Pete Waggoner: So how do you handle the family lines where there’s multiple people, but I just know one person through work or something or whatever. What’s the next steps for that?


[00:20:17] Amber Miller: I think if there’s a one communal line, I think that’s one issue that people have like, “oh, I’m standing in line, but I only want to speak with one person” It’s still customary to stand in the line and, you know, kind of express your sympathies to those that you don’t know.


[00:20:30] And then once you get to the person you do know, then that’s when you can, when you can visit further. If there’s multiple lines to family members, then I think it’s appropriate just standing in the line for the person that you wish to speak with and not necessarily having to stand in line with what the rest of them.


[00:20:44] Mike O’Connell: We do talk about that, Pete. Cause if you think about it, what’s the most, probably apprehensive. You have to go to a wedding it’s to go through the 10 people in the wedding when you only know one of them and you have to say hi to the bridesmaids and the parents, and you’re like, [00:21:00] “Hi.” “Hey, who are you?”


[00:21:01] “I’m a friend to Phil’s.” “Oh, Yeah. Okay. Yeah.” “Well, it’s a nice day out.” It’s awkward. It works the same as funerals. Sometimes we’ll have family names on them because you don’t know who’s who, and then sometimes they don’t know who the people are once in a while. We’ll have name tags on the people coming, but, we do talk about it and a lot of people will scatter and if they scattered Amber’s right, you just go to who you want.


[00:21:26] But it’s hard to do that if there’s a single line.


[00:21:28] Pete Waggoner: But before we get into the next topic, which is a big one. Between the actual service and, you know, the reviewal or receiving lines, which part of your process is the most difficult in terms of management?


[00:21:50] Amber Miller: Think the line can be challenging. Yeah.


[00:21:53] Yeah, that can be a hard one. Especially we try to have those discussions with families ahead of time, especially if we know that maybe this was a big name [00:22:00] in the community. So we expect there to be quite a lot of people at the visitation. Having that discussion ahead of time and saying, you know, it’s probably going to be best that we do formulate a line.


[00:22:08] Here are the suggestions that we have. Here is what we can do to make it the most comfortable for you versus being scattered. And some families are the opposite where they say no matter the line, you know, the amount of people, we still want it to be, to be more casual. So kind of working how that’s gonna, how that’s gonna look, especially in the winter time, we don’t want people standing outside.


[00:22:28] Pete Waggoner: Clearly, it seems like there’s more variables to that part of the process.


[00:22:31] Mike O’Connell: And please be understanding if it’s 10 minutes to the service time and you’re 50 people back. You’re not going to get a chance to talk to them. We just have to start on time. It’s not the funeral home saying, well, we’re starting at two o’clock or 11 o’clock.


[00:22:46] It’s the respect of the people there that have come at 11 o’clock that are there. And it’s the respect for the pastor’s schedule and the, maybe the church or the cemetery or the musicians that are there that have taken time off to come for that hour. [00:23:00] So that’s why we typically start on time, but just realize it’s, we’re not trying to be difficult.


[00:23:05] We’ve been given an order to start on time. And so that’s what we have to do then.


[00:23:09] Pete Waggoner: Now we get to the topic of the day. I think this is what we know. We know what not to wear. We know how to handle ourselves in the lines. And it comes down to, what do you say? How do you say it? Is there a right thing or wrong thing to say?


[00:23:27] This topic can be deep. And I know when we did our last podcast on this, Michael, I thought it was incredibly helpful. And I think everybody should listen to this because this is where we can really get into almost the psychology to it.


[00:23:41] Mike O’Connell: Absolutely. I’m looking forward to it. Let’s, there’s a lot to it. So I’ll let you start.


[00:23:46] Pete Waggoner: You know, let’s, let’s go for things that some people should think about being mindful of the questions you ask the family when greeting them. You know, you might be curious of what happened.


[00:23:57] But is that appropriate to ask? I would think not.


[00:23:59] Mike O’Connell: Hell to the no. No. No.


Pete Waggoner: But does it happen? Oh, okay.


[00:24:05] Campbell. She said all the time, all the time.


[00:24:05] Amber Miller: All the time.


[00:24:08] Pete Waggoner: I don’t [00:24:09] get it. Okay, tell me.


[00:24:10] Mike O’Connell: Yeah. Well they, you know, especially if someone dies when they’re 90, we don’t get people saying what happened, while it’s obvious.


[00:24:18] It’s always funny because people would come in with my dad. If you didn’t know my dad, but he had this straight face that this poker face, you couldn’t tell. And they’d say what happened to Joe? Oh, he’d say “heart stoppage.” Okay. And they’d turn around and he’d look at me and shake his head. Well, everybody is heart-stopping but he would never give them the reason.


[00:24:38] That’s just, it’s hard because if we violated that family and said, well, here’s what happened, Pete? Oh, it’s lawsuits. It’s that family is going to be hurt, which they should. And so we can’t, we can’t delve into that. So please don’t ask the family at the visitation “boy, I just [00:25:00] saw, your son last week.


[00:25:01] What happened?” I know that you want to know. It’s really putting them on the spot and you’re, you’re creating more anxiety for the family by asking that question.


[00:25:11] Pete Waggoner: Well, and don’t you surely leave it to the family to, communicate and share what they want.


[00:25:16] Mike O’Connell: Well, what if it’s a tragic event, like something that they were in an accident, maybe they were part of the reason or they had taken their life or they were, you know, with mental illness, that’s sometimes a taboo and a shame, and you’re just accentuating that by asking them.


[00:25:32] So it’s not about you.


[00:25:34] Pete Waggoner: There’s some phraseology here that should be avoided obviously. And I’m sure you guys hear these quite consistently.


[00:25:41] Mike O’Connell: Yep. You, you, you name them and we’ll talk about them.


[00:25:44] “He/she is in a better place.” Who wants it?


Mike O’Connell: I’ll take it. Oh, he loves that. Pete, Hawaii is a better place. Okay.


[00:25:51] Absolutely. So all these things we’re gonna talk about right now, or because we don’t know what to say. Right? We’re going to say some cliches because we don’t know [00:26:00] what else to say. We don’t want to make you sad. We’re uncomfortable. You’re uncomfortable. So I’m going to say these things. What people think are going to be peaceful and taken the right way.


[00:26:10] So yeah. And people say that I can say, well, yeah, but we’re not in a, in a happy place here. We’re in a hurtful place right now. So, that one you gotta be careful with. Yeah.


[00:26:22] Amber Miller: And for a griever too the better place for them is with them. You know, if you say they’re in a better place, the better place is here with me, is me caring for them, is me loving them.


[00:26:34] How do I know that they’re in a better place? We’re not God.


[00:26:37] Pete Waggoner: Wow. That’s a, don’t use that one. This one is obvious to me. “I know how you feel.” How could you?


[00:26:45] Amber Miller: grief is unique to every single person? Like yes. You know, you may have a friend who also lost a mom or a dad or a brother, but they didn’t lose your mom or your dad or brother.


[00:26:56] Right. The relationship is different and it’s unique. [00:27:00] So you don’t really know how they feel. You may have empathy and you understand in some way as maybe you’ve experienced something similar, but you don’t know exactly how they feel.


[00:27:10] Pete Waggoner: How about this one? This is, from the advice world, Michael, “Just keep busy, [00:27:14] you’ll get over it.” Thanks for the advice.


[00:27:15] Mike O’Connell: ‘Just keep busy.’ I hear that a lot and I’ll stop people and say, it’s okay to feel. We don’t want to feel we will. And you know, I always say you can’t run faster than the speed of hurt, so it’s okay to feel these feelings. Death can be a thing of beauty too. Okay.


[00:27:34] So feel all those feelings and we don’t get over it. You take it with you to your grave. You learn to live with it. But again, it can be a beautiful thing. I don’t come to work every day and think, “oh my gosh, I need to get over my Dad. My Mom, my Brother” No. I use them to help others. And it’s a thing of beauty.


[00:27:55] I don’t want to dwell on the negatives.


[00:27:57] Pete Waggoner: Another one to avoid is [00:28:00] “It could have been worse.” In my initial thought is, how could it be any better? I mean, it’s like, they’re not here.


[00:28:08] Amber Miller: Well, for some it’s, that’s kind of obvious, right? It could have been worse, you know, but that doesn’t change the situation.


You know, say you get in a car accident and now you have to deal with the, you know, airbags and you have to deal with all of these things. Yeah. It could’ve been worse. You could have been severely injured. Absolutely. But that doesn’t take away the pain and grief and annoyance that you’re having to deal with finding a new car and the money and finances.


[00:28:32] Right. So of course it could have been worse, but that’s just minimizing their feelings of grief and anything that you do to minimize those feelings is probably not a good thing.


[00:28:42] Pete Waggoner: Here’s one. Does, does time really heal all wounds? Mike?


[00:28:46] Mike O’Connell: I love the analogy: If you fell and broke your leg outside the door and your bone is angulated and somebody walks up and says, Pete time will heal.[00:28:54] Don’t worry about it. Well, your heart’s fractured. It’s in a million pieces. [00:29:00] You’ve got so many different losses. You can’t imagine living without that person. And so no time does not heal that. Now time does coincide with healing. Okay. So when you do the right things, like we talked about the cemeteries in the past podcast, or we talked about personalizing or going to grief groups or different things, you are doing the grief work.


[00:29:24] Now, when you do the grief work, time goes with that. But time by itself will not go away.


[00:29:30] Pete Waggoner: “At least you had a chance to say goodbye. You were one of the lucky ones.” Amber?


[00:29:34] Amber Miller: It kind of goes along with, “It could have been worse.” It’s just, it’s just minimizing their feelings of grief, their emotions. You know, nothing can prepare you for the death. Working in hospice, [00:29:42] that was a huge thing in providing bereavement from my experience in that, you know, yes, people were prepared for the deaths. They were enrolled in hospice. They were terminal, but when the death actually occurs, you don’t know how you’re going to feel and you don’t know how it’s going to impact you. And it most certainly does in ways that you don’t [00:30:00] envision or expect.


[00:30:01] “So at least you had a chance to say goodbye” is minimizing, but also there’s still grief there, even if you did have that chance.


[00:30:11] Pete Waggoner: So the word “at least” is a hot button, correct? Okay. That’s fair to say. “Life goes on.”


[00:30:18] Mike O’Connell: Well, okay. So “at least”, or another one that goes there is “but” right? So anything you say with “at least” or “but” you’ve just completely negated everything you just said. “Pete, you’re a good guy, but…” “Well, at least…”


[00:30:33] Pete Waggoner: Yeah a leading statement, but just, you know, you can just cut out the first section of it and just, just give me the “but” right?


[00:30:40] Mike O’Connel: right.


[00:30:41] At least you didn’t wear, Brut, cologne. Thank you. But those are those comments, Amber’s right. But Amber’s got the perfect word. When she says minimize grief. That’s what its doing.


[00:30:53] Pete Waggoner: “Life goes on. He or she wouldn’t want you to be sad.” That’s true. Do you hear that? [00:31:00]


[00:31:00] Amber Miller: All the time! I think grief and love are essentially cut from the same cloth.


[00:31:04] They may seem like totally different emotions, but they’re the same. So the more we love someone, the more we grieve for them and it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to feel any emotion you feel with grief, whether it’s anger or being tearful or regretful or guilty or relief, disappointment, anything you can think of.


[00:31:22] It’s okay to feel that. So to say “Life goes on. She wouldn’t want you to be sad.” Well, no one wants anybody to feel sad, but it’s obvious when you lose someone to be sad, that’s, that’s a normal emotion.


[00:31:36] Pete Waggoner: Doesn’t that put more pressure on you as the survivor? Maybe that is that person’s being, and that’s really not what they hoped for obviously. But that puts pressure on you now.


[00:31:47] Amber Miller: Absolutely it does. Yeah. Kind of, again, minimizes your feelings that it makes you put them away in a box, right? So if you feel that you shouldn’t be sad, then maybe you masked some of those emotions [00:32:00] and that will severely impact you in your grief work down the road.


[00:32:04] Pete Waggoner: Let’s talk about the puzzle.


[00:32:06] You guys have kind of put this together in. Is this a Mike comment or an Amber comment?


[00:32:11] Amber Miller: I’ll take this one. So I, I really like to create the analogy of grief is kind of like a puzzle. So our life, we put the pieces together. And when something significant happens to us like a loss or a severe change, let’s just talk about death in this situation.


[00:32:26] Imagine that the puzzle is thrown on the ground and the pieces are scattered everywhere. And in the first parts, we’re frantically trying to pick up these pieces and put things together, but there are significant pieces that are missing that will always be missing. And those are our loved ones.


[00:32:41] We work as part of our grief work to put the puzzle back together, the image is going to look different. The pieces are going to fit in a different way. It’s going to be a different shape. And that’s what grief work is all about. So how our life is going to look will be different because it’s not going to look the same as it was prior to the death.


[00:32:57] It can’t and that’s okay.


[00:32:59] Pete Waggoner: [00:33:00] Really brought value today. That was good. So thank you.


[00:33:04] Mike O’Connell: I’m just thinking of this. If somebody’s listening to this, they’re going okay. Okay. Okay. Well then what do I say? I would simply just say, “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling, Pete.” Let’s say it’s talking to you.


[00:33:17] “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling. I, the impact that he or she had on me was amazing. And I just think, thank you for sharing him with me or her.” But you’ve said a lot there. Right? And you didn’t make him or you feel uncomfortable actually. I empowered you. I affirmed your loved one and nobody feels uncomfortable.
[00:33:41] I think that it’s, it can be just as easy as that. Or sometimes “I don’t have the words.” Because I say that I don’t have the words sometimes. Absolutely. I’m I, you know, I’m a professional, but sometimes I don’t have the word. So just say that. Its ok.


[00:33:56] Pete Waggoner: To this point, those two things that you stated are [00:34:00] what I’ve been doing from our last podcast, those have been takeaways for me.


[00:34:05] And I’ve found that the word empowering is really good because typically what it does is it opens up whomever you’re speaking to, to smile. And then they actually go into sharing moments and stories of those things that were shared with you as a person. It could be someone’s mom or dad who were like a second mom or dad to you.


[00:34:27] And then that really draws that out. So that was, I think, out of that podcast, the most valuable piece of information from our first round. And I think again, it’s a really important part of the, what to say. And sometimes less is more as well.


[00:34:42] Mike O’Connell: I would say one more thing besides the verbal is non-verbal, please look them in the eye when you talk to them.


[00:34:48] Oh, 100% percent. Otherwise again, you’re, you’re shaming them.


[00:34:51] Pete Waggoner: What about if you are really close to them and maybe you’re shaking their hand. And you have, can you put an arm on his shoulder or [00:35:00] is that like too much?


[00:35:02] Mike O’Connell: No, I would say just follow your heart. Okay in post COVID, follow your heart.


[00:35:07] Pete Waggoner: Okay. And I, I see a lot of that, you know, where there’s some connectivity, you know, with a buddy or a friend or whatever it is.


[00:35:15] And, I think, you know, it’s funny cause we grew up where our fathers probably didn’t do that. Right. But we’re doing that a lot more as, as a group of men. And I think it’s been really helpful for us to break down barriers that way.


[00:35:30] Mike O’Connell: Follow your heart, follow your gut. You’ll be able to tell if somebody is going to be receptive to that, open your eyes. And tell you what, if I looked at you, Pete, and I wasn’t sure.


[00:35:39] And I said “Is it okay if I give you a hug, Pete?” Absolutely. “Thank you though, I’m okay.: People don’t want to hug, they’ll tell you if they’re uncomfortable. Absolutely.


[00:35:49] Yeah. That’s my dating life. I mean, when I was dating.


[00:35:54] Pete Waggoner: I love it! Yeah. For the record, he is not. Okay. Thank goodness. Another topic of discussion is [00:36:00] memorials and what memorial language means in obituaries.


[00:36:03] This is an interesting topic. This is part of the etiquette too, right? This is the story you’re telling. What are some of the important things to note about these?


[00:36:12] Mike O’Connell: Let’s define it first. What’s a Memorial Pete? Do you know? You’ve read it in obituaries right? Do you know what it is?


[00:36:20] Pete Waggoner: I don’t really know.


[00:36:21] Mike O’Connell: Right. There you go. Memorials are the gifts or the cards people bring usually with money in it. That’s a Memorial. A flower could be a Memorial, but usually when we talk about it, it’s the gifts of money. Now, you know, when you say it’s preferred, I personally don’t like to use ‘in lieu of flowers.’ Why? Because flowers also have a great meaning in the funeral service.


[00:36:44] And that’s what the flowers do. The flower shops take a personal vested interest in each family. So I’m not a big fan of that. Some people, you know, make us do that, but that’s what a Memorial is.


Pete Waggoner: That’s been a whole topic on the flower part of it. Absolutely fascinating. Indeed. [00:37:00]


[00:37:00] Amber Miller: I think too, if a family, kind of jumping back, but if a family wants to put memorials preferred to a particular organization, I always suggest when people call to attempt to do that, I mean, that organization was either really significant to the family or really significant to the deceased.
[00:37:17] So, you know, that’s always a good option. Flowers are a normalcy for people. Sometimes people put in lieu of flowers because maybe they can’t have flowers because maybe where they live it;s not an option or they have horrible allergies or it’s just, you know, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a funeral flower and taken it home and the pressure and stress it is to keep those flowers alive.


[00:37:42] Right. I think that’s a huge stressor for grievers – it’s the last thing I want to do is kill a plant for your grandma’s funeral. Right. But there are so many other options that florists do as well. Whether that’s wind chimes or candles or succulents that are easier to keep. There’s so many other options that [00:38:00] are really great for, for families.


[00:38:02] And then if it says, just memorials preferred to the family, that’s typically where they’re either going to be using the money towards paying off. Maybe other expenses, whether that’s medical expenses or education expenses or funerals, whatever it is, or maybe they just haven’t decided on an organization and they want to collect everything and then give at that point.


[00:38:21] So yeah, if they don’t list a particular organization.


[00:38:24] Pete Waggoner: And if you’re in doubt, reach out to the funeral home, if you have any questions about what you should do. Now we’ve gotten through the whole process and then you, as the family have to get into the thank you cards, is there a right or wrong way to address those?


[00:38:39] Mike O’Connell: Well, actually, we give it out to every family in our, we have a packet that we give out that talks about the etiquette of thank you cards. As a general rule, you send a thank you out when somebody gave you something in value. If you send a card with no money in it, or just a ‘I’m thinking of you’, you typically don’t need to. Some people do, that’s [00:39:00] great, but usually it’s when you gave something of value – that could be a casserole, that could be flowers.


[00:39:06] That could be, you know, tickets or something later on, but usually it’s when you receive something. Now I say that with all the respect in that Pete, when your parents died or your, when you just had your dad’s funeral and you received a memorial. Did you think that any of those people wanted a thank you back or acknowledgement?


[00:39:28] Usually not. When you have given memorials, did you ever think, well…


[00:39:32] Pete Waggoner: I don’t even wouldn’t even consider it.


[00:39:34] Mike O’Connell: You wouldn’t, but I think it’s part of the grieving process that you acknowledged that by writing everybody, because you’re telling yourself in your, you’re making yourself write a thank you to so-and-so because your dad died.


[00:39:45] It sounds silly, but it’s accepting that reality. So although nobody’s really looking for it, I think it’s, it’s helpful and therapeutic to do it.


[00:39:53] Amber Miller: And I think along the same lines it’s important for those that are giving cards to be patient with the [00:40:00] survivors, that some of the, the process of writing thank you cards can feel daunting and sometimes they don’t get to it for a month or two months after.


[00:40:08] Unfortunately we have received some calls of people calling saying, do you know if this family has written thank you cards yet? I haven’t gotten anything in the mail. Which is kind of crazy, but it does happen. So just know and give them that grace that it may not come right away after.


[00:40:24] Pete Waggoner: Well, and I think it’s just such a great acknowledgement of your appreciation of them, their efforts, their generosity, no matter what it is.


[00:40:33] And it’s the recognition of your loved one, which, when the process is right, it is right to say, thank you. It’s just, when you do give, when you do get a thank you note from it it’s like, “oh, wow.” So, but here’s the cool part when you get them. It immediately, that moment, puts you into that moment again. And it’s a really actually refreshing thing as well.


[00:40:54] If you were just a part of it, but not a family member.


[00:40:57] Mike O’Connell: Pete, this is something I tell families too. And, not a [00:41:00] lot following actually, but the kids are there. They’re there for the weekend and they want to whip these out. Okay. Because they’re all here and then we’ll take care of it for Mom. Or we’ll take care of it for Dad.


[00:41:13] What I was telling him is it may be convenient for you to get them all done, but please let your Mom or Dad do a couple a day. That helps them accept the reality. And it helps them process their grief, but people always get them done, out of the way. And then the house is quiet and they’re by themselves.


[00:41:34] So do a few a day because nobody’s expecting you to get them done in the next week. And if you’re months out and you’re still writing them, that’s fantastic. Seriously. That’s fantastic.


[00:41:47] Pete Waggoner: So today’s world compartmentalizes. Get it done, move on, next. What’s next? Instead, what you’re saying is, you know, it’s okay.


[00:41:54] It’s part of the process. Let it draw out for awhile. And then you can process through [00:42:00] that as well. This has been great stuff. Great. Yeah. We even had new tips in here from our last one. So hopefully you all that have loved the last funeral etiquette podcast have come to this one. But keep in mind that the website here at is a great resource for further questions.


[00:42:20] Mike O’Connell: Look on the resource tab. It’ll talk about etiquette. Talk about writing eulogies. All these questions that people have that you don’t get to ask. We, we try to have a tab for them.


[00:42:31] Pete Waggoner: The depth of information is impressive and it is there for all of you to use as a great resource. To the two of you, thanks for joining us on what is a very thorough and great topic.


[00:42:44] Funeral etiquette from the good grief podcast for Michael O’Connell and Amber Miller. I’m Pete Waggoner. So long everybody.