Honestly, as a clergy person, this shouldn’t have surprised me. I know, when meeting with the family before a funeral, that the loveliest thing I can do for them is simply to ask them: “Tell me about your mom/dad/child/spouse/friend.” This is often the most healing portion of the whole funeral process, no matter which parts of it make it into my funeral sermon. Letting people talk about their loved one reinforces their connection to them. Makes the deceased person more present, more real.
But I hadn’t really thought about how universal that is. Hadn’t realized how precious and beautiful it is, after you have lost someone, for someone to talk about your loved one. To ask questions, or share memories. Talking about their death might well be painful and awful. But talking about their life, talking about why you loved them, or perhaps even how they made you crazy: that’s precious. That renews the connection. That makes them … live!
I don’t tend to offer advice about such things, but I really do think it’s useful to know that the bereaved often yearn for someone to ask about their loved one. They long to talk about them. So, ask what the person was like, if you didn’t know them. Figure out a question to ask, or a topic to raise, if you did know them (“I was watching football the other day, and I remember how much _______ loved the ___________. You guys had season tickets, right?”). Make it clear you’re inviting the reminiscence. Ask follow up questions, if they seem open to it. It might not be the right time for them to dive deep; let it go, if not. But seriously, it’s almost always a worthwhile effort.
Because for me, the truth is: I love to talk about Brian. You could not possibly talk to me about him too much. Talking about him, or hearing you talk about him, makes him more alive to me in the best way possible. For me, it’s the most precious gift you could give me.