I have attended many funerals of family members and friends and even served a bunch of funerals and wakes as an altar server or some other ministerial role. I think I've heard it all. People can be really awkward at funerals. They just have no words and don't know what to say when another's loved one dies because there really are no words that can remove the pain that another feels. What people really need is presence at this time. Nobody really remembers what someone says at a wake or a funeral--what they remember is that you were there! Often people try a bit too hard to say something meaningful including us ministerial types who often overdo it.
Some of the dumbest things I've heard people say at wakes or funerals and one major story:
1) (About the deceased) "She looks beautiful!" (To which her son replied, "No...she's dead!")
2) "Things happen for a reason." (Wow! I'd love to hear that one!)
3) "At least he's free of his pain now." (One I even said at a wake of my own college roommate before realizing that him being dead really didn't bring comfort to those who watched him suffer).
4) "It's God's will." (Glad to see you've got a direct pipeline to God)
5) "He's in a better place." (Well, maybe...but I still wish he was with me).
Finally, here's a great effort that just went bad...
It's got to be tough to have to do a funeral homily or to say a few words at a wake for someone you've never met. This was the case for the priest who officiated at my Godfather's funeral.
I was the lector at the mass and the priest asked me if I could tell him some things about my Uncle/Godfather.
"Well, his given name is Patrick but nobody called him that. Everyone called him "Bubby." Which we think was one of us kid's mispronunciations of "Buddy."
So during the homily the priest begins with a great interpretation of the readings and a nice comforting message and even a bit of challenge for us. And then...
"Since Patrick was so endearing to the children of his family they nicknamed him BOOBY."
And the rest of the homily continued to repeat that mistake until the entire family was nearly screaming, "BUBBY! Not BOOBY!"
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.