Funeral food: A blessing, within limits

A little coordination among friends can help make “funeral food” a real help instead of one more problem for a grieving family to manage.

It may seem heretical

to say it here in the South, but funeral food – that reflexive response to tragic news – can have a downside.

Especially in small towns and rural communities, taking sliced ham, deviled eggs (“stuffed” eggs in some locales), potato salad, green-bean casseroles, pimiento cheese sandwiches, pecan pie, and the like to the home of a bereaved family is as ingrained as offering words of condolence or signing the guest book at the visitation.

It’s natural to want to help, and chances are that family members and friends will be returning home from far-flung places, providing a houseful of folks to feed for several days.

Besides, funeral food gives rise to the Southerner’s paraphrase of Julius Caesar: “I came. I saw. I cooked.”

Where such beneficence becomes troublesome is when it arrives in such mass that (1) the recipient family must take time away from grieving and visiting to try to manage it all, and (2) food ends up spoiling because it exceeds available capacity of all onsite refrigerators and/or stomachs.

The other downside is that we can forget that grieving goes on long after the funeral, and providing at least occasional meals is one way friends can continue to take burdens off the mourning family.
Churches often head off such problems by having a funeral committee overseeing who’s going to bring what, how much, and when.

Websites like Take Them a Meal can also help coordinate a pantry posse. Take Them A Meal allows one friend to set up a schedule, with input from the grieving family, so any group of friends can bring kitchen-born love on a timetable that makes it most welcome and useful.

The website also allows listing of food allergies and preferences, suggests recipes, and offers insights in its blogs about everything from suitable meal-transport containers to non-bereavement issues such as how to make a hospital stay easier on both patient and family.

Take Them A Meal lets friends see what dishes others bring so no family need burn out from three straight nights of tuna casserole or spaghetti and meatballs. The website suggests recipes, and for those with more money than time or culinary skill, there are tempting send-them-a-meal options.

With a little coordination, the culinary compassion of a neighborhood, church, or social group can give a mourning family whole new insights into the term “comfort food.”

For generations yet to come, we hope it will continue to be a part of helping others grieve well.

Tell us what you think.

Well, then, what SHOULD I say?

Even with the best of intentions,

it’s easy to say something that could be unhelpful – or even downright hurtful – to people who are grieving.

Nancy Guthrie’s book, What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts), offers some safe ground. Her insights come from being that grieving person after both of her children died from a genetic disease and from years of conducting retreats, with her husband, for other couples who have children who died.

Guthrie reminds us, “Even if you come up with the perfect thing to say (as if there is such a thing), it simply won’t fix the hurt or solve the problem of the people who are grieving. Does that take some pressure off? … Your purpose in saying something is to enter into the hurt with them and let them know they are not alone.”

In our efforts to comfort others in their grief, here are some statements that Guthrie offers as fairly safe ground:
• “It is so hard to think about life here without [name of the person who died]. I miss her already.”
• “Some people want to compare loss, but it all just hurts to the person who has experienced it. I’m sorry you are hurting.”
• “I know we’ll never understand exactly why this has happened, but I am praying God will allow you to see some ways He is using it for good.”
• Instead of “How are you?” – a question that often feels to a grieving person like a demand for a progress report – consider these possibilities:

o “What is your grief like these days?”

o “I can’t imagine how hard it must be to face these days without [name of the person who died]. Are there particular times of day or days of the weeks you’re finding especially hard?”

o “I find myself missing [name of the person who died] when I [fill in the blank].”

o “Are there particular things I could be praying for you as you go through this time of grief?”

o “I know that [deceased’s] [birthday/death anniversary] is coming up, and it must be so very hard to anticipate. What could we do to help you through that day?”

• And in the early days of a loss – when you’re at the visitation or funeral, for instance – you can always say:

o “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

o “I’m so sad with you.”

o “You can be sure that [name of the deceased] will not be forgotten. I will never forget him.”

o “One of my favorite memories of [name of the person who died] is … .”

o “I don’t presume to have anything to say that would make this OK. But I do want you to know how much I care.”

o “I wish I could take some of the pain you’re feeling and bear it for you. I know I can’t, but please know I’m feeling it with you.”

o “I don’t know why this has happened.”

o “I’m so sorry you have to go through this.”
NOTE: This blog series is adapted from What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie, © 2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

‘Rosie’ Busby was remembered as he lived

Family and friends gathered at Coleman Funeral Home to honor Mr. “Rosie” Busby’s requests for a “cowboy coffin” and to be transported in his favorite pickup.


It isn’t every funeral in which the guest of honor is reposed in an old-fashioned, six-sided coffin, surrounded by the equipment and tools that were the focus of his life’s work.

But when Mr. Young Roosevelt “Rosie” Busby’s family decided to host his memorial service in the workshop adjacent to his Abbeville home, they asked Coleman Funeral Home to help plan the farewell.

The result was a reflection of Mr. Rosie’s life, from his favorite pickup, to his beloved “Poppin’ Johnny” tractor, to his penchant for cowboy movies.

“One time we were watching a Western, and he said, ‘That’s it!’” Chris Busby remembered, recalling a scene with an old-fashioned tapered coffin. “I said, ‘That’s what, Daddy?’ and he said, ‘That cowboy coffin – that’s the kind I want y’all to bury me in.’”

When Mr. Busby died April 10 after a short illness, family members considered building one of those tapered coffins but weren’t sure it could be finished in time for the visitation to be held in less than three days. Technology and tradition met when a Google search came up with a New Mexico woodworker whose business is called “The Old Pine Box.”

“We knew what Rosie wanted as far as a coffin, and the first thing that came up online was in Albuquerque, and we called them,” son-in-law Richard Thomas said.

The craftswoman had such a coffin ready, but her normal shippers couldn’t guarantee delivery in time. Instead, Thomas, his son Adam, and Chris Busby’s son Jacob drove straight through the night to the Land of Enchantment to buy the six-sided, pine-and-red-cedar coffin, then turned right around and brought it back to Mississippi.

The whole trip turned out to be a treasured part of the threesome’s grieving.

“All the way there and back, we conversed about Pop and some of the funny things he did,” Richard Thomas said. “Basically we just thought about him and the crazy things each of us remembered. I think the trip did us all some good, separating us from the day-in, day-out, and letting us have time together.”

Even at the visitation and viewing – an otherwise traditional event hosted at Coleman Funeral Home of Oxford – Mr. Busby was dressed in work clothes and a Caterpillar ballcap rather than a suit and tie.

“That’s just who he was,” Chris Busby said.

The day of the funeral brought more elements unique to Mr. Rosie’s way of life. He had asked that, in lieu of a hearse, his body be carried in the back of his 1986 Ford pickup. After friends helped secure the coffin to the truck bed, Chris Busby drove, tailgate down, from the funeral home to the shop.

Neighbors and friends gathered at Mr. Rosie Busby’s shop for a funeral that was marked by emotion-stirring songs and laughter-producing stories.


“We didn’t have an actual procession, but when other drivers saw the coffin in the back of the truck, they didn’t want to pass,” Chris Busby said. “He would have liked that.”

The shop was cleared for seating to accommodate the overflow crowd that came to Mr. Rosie’s service, conducted by the Rev. Randy Hope. Mr. Rosie’s antique John Deere and the trackhoe that Chris Busby used to dig his father’s grave sat just outside, in homage to the man who had worked with and repaired them for decades. Friends and family filled scores of seats in the metal building, and at least as many people stood outside, respectfully listening to the service.

“It was just like Daddy would have wanted it,” Chris Busby said.

Several songs and stories invited both tears and laughter – including one recollection about a mischievous grandson who shook up a beer before handing it to his grandfather. With the sharing of such memories, some said the funeral felt almost as though Mr. Rosie were still there.

“Honestly,” Richard Thomas said, “it was just like another day hanging out at the shop with him.”

Funeral director Glenn Coleman said he encourages both pre-need clients and at-need families to customize memorials.

“We want to feature their music, their stories, the things that were important to their lives,” he said. “And the next time we have a call for a cowboy coffin, we’ll be ready.”

What Not to Say to Grieving People

In What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts), Nancy Guthrie offers insights gained from the loss of two children from genetic disease and the work she and her husband have done since with other grieving couples.
In the previous blog, we looked at some basics – that being present means more than words, that we’re not expected to make everything OK, that listening is often the most helpful thing we can do.
Let’s now consider some examples of phrases – most, unfortunately, gleaned from real life – that Guthrie suggests avoiding with people who are mourning.
I know just how you feel. Really, no one can. Even if circumstances are similar, everyone’s experience with grief is different.
You’ll be fine. Even though this phrase is presumably meant to encourage, the grieving person may hear it as suggesting the deceased person’s life really wasn’t worth grieving and really didn’t matter in any lasting way.
You can have more children/You still have other children/You’ll get married again. Even if these are true, no one will ever replace the children or spouse who has died.
Don’t you think it’s time to move on? Don’t rush anyone through their mourning; there is no prescribed timeline for grieving. It can be helpful to encourage “moving forward” toward healing and joy that incorporates their grief and sadness while coming to acceptance and a new sense of “normal.” “Moving on,” though, implies leaving behind the person they loved.
This must be God’s will. What we mean when we say that may not be even close to what is heard. Grieving people may hear, God wanted your loved one to die,” “God gave your mother the cancer that killed her,” “God is happy that your loved one took his own life,” “Even though this feels like a bad thing, it is really a good thing,” “That drunk driver isn’t responsible for the death of your loved one, since really God did this.” Not the messages we want to send.
The pain never goes away. We may mean the one who died will always be valued and remembered, but what grieving people often hear instead is, “You are always going to feel the same level of pain you feel right now.”
God just needed her in heaven more than we needed her here or God took him so … . Such quasi-spiritual statements can trivialize the grieving person’s loss and pursuit of legitimate answers to spiritual questions.
Call me if you need something. Grieving people are overwhelmed already. They need you to figure out what they need and just show up and do it. It may be calling relatives and friends, mowing the lawn, buying groceries, cleaning their house, caring for young children. For some friends, it may even include accompanying them to make funeral arrangements. After a death, there’ll be all those tasks and a hundred others, both immediate and longer-term. (More on this in a later blog.)
How are you? This is a most natural question to ask someone who’s grieving, and it may be intended as an invitation to talk about their loss, but many who’ve been there say they feel put on the spot, as though they’re required to give a status report on this “project” called grief. They can’t answer truthfully answer “I’m fine,” but they probably don’t want to say, “I’m terrible,” “I’m angry!” or “I’m crying all the time.”
Our next blog in this series will touch on some safe and potentially comforting things to say to people who are going through grief.

NOTE: This blog series is adapted from What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie, © 2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

What Grieving People Wish You Knew

“What do I say?”

It’s a common question – a common fear, really – when someone we know has lost a loved one.

The fear of not knowing how to approach a grieving person can plague even normally talkative folks. Some people are so nervous about it that they avoid visitations and funerals altogether.

Nancy Guthrie’s book What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) shares insights from the author’s own loss of two infants to genetic disease and from the work she and her husband do with other grieving couples.

One of the first is that a friend’s or acquaintance’s bereavement simply cannot be ignored.

“It matters less what you say than that you say something,” Guthrie says. Whether the death just happened or was months ago, a hurdle of sorts arises between the grieving person and everyone he knows. It stays there until the loss is acknowledged in some way.


A Grief Primer

Some quick insights for approaching recently bereaved folks:
Grieving people do not expect you to make the pain go away. They really just hope you will be willing to hurt with them.
Let the grieving person take the lead. Listen more than you talk.
Don’t assume anything. Sometimes grief is complicated by other emotions such as relief, anger, shame, and dread – even joy.
Don’t compare. Generally, don’t talk about your own loss or anyone else’s. Let it be all about the grieving person and the loved one who has died.
Don’t be in a hurry. Grief is a marathon. You can’t say everything you need to on the day of the funeral; besides, grieving people will need sympathetic listeners for a long time to come.
Don’t tell them what to do. All of us want to help, but telling the grieving person what books he ought to read, what actions she ought to avoid, what counselor to see, how their grief should progress, how they should feel, etc., can add to their stress.
Value their grief. When we’re grieving, we want to sense the person we’re talking to recognizes how significant our grief is.
Don’t be put off by tears. While a grieving person’s crying can seem awkward, weeping helps release the tension and get the pain out in the open, where it can be dealt with. If anything, feel honored that they feel comfortable enough with you to be vulnerable.
Don’t ask potentially painful questions out of curiosity. Not about the cause of death. Not where it happened. Not whether she was wearing a seatbelt. Not whether the couple was living together. Not whether he was a smoker. Not about her spiritual condition.
• If the grieving person wants to talk about hard moments or feelings of regret, be willing to listen. Let your heart be broken with theirs, and then keep the details to yourself as a sacred trust.
Don’t hesitate to approach someone because you think it has been too long since his or her loved one died. We may think they’ve probably moved on and don’t want to talk about it anymore. The reality is more likely to be the opposite. As other people have stopped talking about their loved one, the grieving one’s desire to talk about him or her has only increased.

NOTE: This blog series is adapted from What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie, © 2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,