I've always thought it takes special skill to be the professional who guides families through the public process of grief and farewell. So it was interesting to find incongruence at a recent service.
What wasn't right? Smiles - lots of them. With absolute good intent, of course, warm, empathetic and encouraging. And completely out of sync with those who were gathered.
In another culture, in another group it might have been entirely appropriate. This time it missed the mark. The cultural norm here was for sombre faces, solemnly expressing their tribute. The service was mostly conducted in a language I don't speak (and nor, I suspect, did the funeral director). Grief, however, needs no shared words - the body language, the emotion and the dignity could not have been more eloquent.
I recalled the last funeral I attended in my family, with plenty of smiling greetings, plenty of crying over memories and plenty of joyous laughter. A marked contrast to this occasion. Not right or wrong, just different.
Are our observation skills always acute enough to notice that we might have it wrong? How do we learn what it takes to honour those special events that mark rites of passage in other's lives? How do we learn the protocols of a different culture?
Food for thought
Rather than seeking a checklist of dos & don'ts, try observing, checking your assumptions and asking questions such as:
What would cause you discomfort?
What would put you most at ease?
Is my usual behaviour appropriate here?
That way you will honour the people and the occasion by ensuring that supporting roles complement rather than clash.
Until next time!