Gene Hoopes attended the University of Utah in Neurobiology, then went on to Dallas, Texas to complete his professional mortuary schooling. He specialized in trauma reconstruction and plastic surgery specific for Mortuary Management. He was a Deputy Coroner plus has owned his own funeral homes since 1981. Gene served a mission to the Texas-San Antonio Mission, as a Scoutmaster, on the High Council, and in a Bishopric.
Being able to best be a support and a source of peace to families during the loss of a loved one is always a tender experience. In his November 1988 conference talk, Boyd K. Packer shared:
“One of the most solemn and sacred meetings of the Church is the funeral for a departed member. It is a time to soberly contemplate doctrines of the gospel and the purposes for the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What is Your Role as You Serve
When dealing with the death of a loved one, people often reassess their religious convictions. They will seek answers to difficult questions and a bishop and leaders will become a key figure in their search. Elder Packer went on to say:
“A comforting, spiritual funeral is of great importance. It helps console the bereaved and establishes a transition from mourning to the reality that we must move forward with life. Whether death is expected or a sudden shock, an inspirational funeral where the doctrines of resurrection, the mediation of Christ, and certainly of life after death are taught strengthens those who must now move on with life. “Many attend funerals who do not come to church regularly. They come subdued in spirit and are teachable. How sad when an opportunity for conversion is lost because a funeral is less than it might have been.”
As a leader, you should be prepared to answer difficult questions, give advice, and help with the special needs created by the loss. This is a great time to review religious values and find comfort in spiritual wisdom. Some specifics to consider:
- Show concern. This will let the family know you care for them and are mindful of their situation.
- Offer spiritual assistance such as prayers and blessings. Also, have an open ear and allow the family to express their grief and concerns.
- Arrange for others from your ward to visit and give support.
- Review with the family the plan of salvation.
- Refer the family to proper books or literature dealing with death and overcoming grief.
- Assist the family’s funeral planning. Other assistance you may consider is care of the funeral flowers, home-sitting, meal assistance, phone answering, baby-sitting, yard care, financial and insurance counseling.
- If the family has out-of-town relatives or friends, offer to arrange for drivers to meet them at the airport. You may also assist in finding places for the guests to stay.
- While the funeral ceremony takes place in one moment in time, the grieving process takes place over many moments in time. Holidays, special days, family events—times that will affect the family for years. Reach out to bereaving families throughout the year and subsequent years.
- Giving a eulogy is an important step in the family’s transition of having a physical relationship with a loved one to having only memories of a loved one. A meaningful eulogy helps mourners embrace the memories of the past and opens the future to new experiences. A eulogy should help families share memories and honor the person’s life.
- Sincerely listen to the family. You should have a desire to listen to the family. Any hint of superficiality on your part, from body language to speech, will harm your chance to help a family. Be committed to listening when you attend to the family. Clear your schedule, cancel appointments, and forget about taking phone calls. Your complete attention should be on assisting the mourning family. Finally, be patient. Don’t be in a hurry to take care of things. Let the family express themselves at their pace.
How to React to Grieving Ward Members
Reacting to a grieving member is difficult, but we can find comfort and reminders in Isaiah’s counsel:
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Isaiah 41:10
What should you say to a person grieving? What should you not say? What should you do or not do?
As a religious leader, people will look to you for guidance. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has said that bereaved people are our teachers of grief. We need to allow them to teach us about their grief experience rather than develop a set of goals and expectations that we believe the bereaved should meet. The only expert on a person’s grief is the person undergoing the grieving process. We may have a general framework for grief developed by Kubler-Ross, but grief is a highly-individualized process and people will progress at their own pace. Let’s explore some ideas.
Listen in a Supportive Manner
Sometimes, when we are unexpectedly placed in a position to be a support to someone, it’s easy to be distracted from the needs at hand. Thus, when we are listening to those who are grieving, consider being mindful of the below tips:
1. Eye contact and facial expression:
- Make eye contact.
- Show you care through facial gestures.
- Avoid gestures that hide your face.
2. Body language:
- Be attentive and relaxed.
- Face the person who is speaking.
- Sit on the same level.
- Create an open body posture: legs and arms uncrossed, body upright and centered.
3. Vocal style:
- Use a natural vocal style.
- Speak in a relaxed, warm manner.
4. Verbal following:
- Stay on topic. Don’t switch topics or interrupt. Take your cues from the grieving individual.
- Give the time the person needs. Don’t rush to respond.
- It’s ok to have a pause of silence.
Speak in a Supportive Manner
Actions may speak louder than words, but, especially during a emotionally trying time, our words can have a big impact.
1. Use open questions:
- These questions are useful to aid the individual in exploring feelings and thoughts.
- Begin questions with “How,” “What,” or “Could.”
- Avoid “Why” questions.
- Examples: a. How do you feel about the situation? b. What are some things that trouble you most? c. Could you tell me how you feel?
2. Use paraphrasing:
- Encourages more in-depth discussion.
- Focus on using key words then say back to the person the most significant things that are said to you.
- Example: “I have been having a terrible time sleeping at night. I keep waking up thinking he’s next to me and he’s not. In the morning, I can’t concentrate because I keep waiting for him to walk into the kitchen and sit down for breakfast. At work, I lose track of what I should be doing because I stare at the phone hoping he’ll call me.”
- Example paraphrase: “It must be terribly hard to sleep at night without him and that can create a difficult morning for you. His daily phone calls must have meant a great deal to you. I can tell, he was a great man.”
3. Reflected feelings:
- A feeling must be named. You may do this through the actual words expressed by the individual or through observation of non-verbal communication.
- Start with: “You seem to feel…,” “Sounds like you feel…,” “I sense you are feeling…,” Then ask: “Is that close?” or “Is that right?”
Grief Support and Bereavement Services
I would encourage you to become aware of grief and bereavement services in your area. It is important to realize that serving bereaved families extends beyond the funeral service and interment of a loved one.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is a process that will go through many stages and will take much time to understand and then to heal.
As a side note, our funeral home is always willing to offer you and your ward assistance during a time of mourning. Therefore, we have created a grief support and bereavement service that is available to all families whether the deceased was taken care of by one of our funeral homes or by another funeral home. Our goal is to establish a nurturing relationship with the family during critical times. Additionally, I would hope that you would feel comfortable to use us a resource of information at any time we may provide or help you as things come up in your journey.
May Heavenly Father be with you as you bless people’s lives.
Grief Support and Bereavement Services
Crisis, Grief and Healing – Webhealing.com, the first interactive grief website on the internet, offers discussion boards, articles, book suggestions, and advice for men and women working through every aspect of grief. The site’s founder, Tom Golden LCSW, has provided book excerpts and contact information to help those healing from loss.
Life Transitions – Willowgreen offers support and information for those dealing with life transition & aging, illness & caregiving, loss & grief, and hope & spirituality. The site offers advice, products, and inspirational materials.
Hospice and Palliative Care – The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s website provides a host of information and resources for people facing a life-limiting illness or injury and their caregivers.