Actually, some of my best work is done at funerals. I am often asked by the funeral director to hold services for those families who do not have a minister because he knows I’ll be nice and I won’t say stupid things.
The goal is to help the people attending to be able to access their own memories of their loved one. Usually, I can visit with the family beforehand and get them to share stories. I’ll ask about the person’s work and hobbies. When it’s working, I can stop asking questions and let them talk to each other. In the service, I’ll convey some of these same stories to the audience.
Lately, I’ve encountered a lot of shame in families. Their loved one did something wrong, or committed suicide or caused a lot of pain with other members. In some regions, families keep them secret, but I’ve noticed in the town I live in now, they’re more forthcoming about their pain, or maybe I just see it better than I used to.
It’s better for me to know than not to know. If they make me a participant in covering up the deceased major flaws, it makes things worse for the family in the long run.
I can usually reframe the negative into something with a more positive light. A person’s flaws are often their strengths, too.
In spite of the pain they cause, few people truly try to do evil. They meant to do good and I can usually get a sense of what they were trying to do even if they made a mess of things. Even if there is great bitterness within the family, there is usually love in the mix (otherwise there would be no pain). I try to tap into the good intentions and the love. I don’t have to put it all into words, I just work to pull it out of the people’s hearts and into their consciousness.
I haven’t explained this well, but it’s the best I can do.
I usually end with some exhortation about how it’s our turn to step up and make things better. The deceased gets to rest now but we still have some work to do. The idea is similar to recovery from surgery: Get the patients up and moving so they’ll heal faster.