Things I can and can't do in one hour

Date Published: 
March, 2005
Original Author: 
Richard J. Obershaw
Grief Center, Lakeville, Minnesota
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, March 2005

Can you say goodbye forever in 60 minutes?

I can wash a car, mow the lawn, wash the house windows, change the sheets on every bed in the house, make a meal, give a lecture, write a letter, visit a shut-in, read an entire magazine and take a nap. I think and plan ahead to maximize my efforts.
These are tasks I know I can do in one hour.

There are also things I know I can't do in one hour: paint the house, drive 400 miles, read "War and Peace," understand my computer and solve the Middle East crisis.

And, I know I can't accept condolences from 100 or more people prior to the funeral service for my loved one.

Saying goodbye shouldn't be rushed
I may be able to receive support, tell how my loved one died, hold another human being, reminisce and share my grief with perhaps a maximum of 10 individuals. The rest will have to stay lined up in the center aisle of the church, synagogue or funeral home.

They will not get to see the deceased, to whom they have come to bid their farewell or pray for. And they will not get to fully accept the reality of their friend's or co-worker's death.

They, and I, will be forever void of the meaningful interchange when people stand at the casket and share their stories, memories and grief. They will be without the opportunity to touch, kiss or pray near the body of a person they knew and loved.

The stories will be lost forever. The pain will be kept forever. The support will be missing forever.

A life is remembered by poignant moments, forever.

Visitations matter
The visitation is a major aspect of the funeral process. It brings humans together to fulfill human needs. These basic human needs cannot be met when the obituary reads, "Visitation one hour prior to the service."

Picture memory boards are helpful at a visitation. Video collages are helpful at a visitation. Prayer services are helpful at a visitation. A well prepared body is helpful at a visitation.

But most of all, time is the greatest asset at a visitation. Without time, all of the other important functions can't happen.
One hour holds a mere 60 sweeps of the clock. How insignificant when compared to a lifetime of 85 years, or 44,676,000 sweeps of the minute hand.

Those in funeral service before us remember visitations that lasted two days and nights. They remember that at the end of those visitations the family was much more ready to give up their loved one.

By making things "easier" for mourners and funeral directors, we have made it harder to obtain the value of the leave-taking process.

In this era of options, which funeral service proclaims as the new wave, let us offer the option
of more hours of visitation/viewing and explain the value of the visitation in the funeral process. Counsel those you serve on the value of time and keep meeting those basic needs in your funeral home.

It all started with these words
If you're seeing numerous people lined up in the aisle prior to the start of the service and are wondering what to do, remember, it all started with the words, "Visitation one hour prior to the service."

When a large number of family comforters will not leave the cemetery and continue to stand near the closed casket, and you can't get the immediate family members back to their cars, remember the words, "Visitation one hour prior to the service."

When family members come to pick up more thank-you cards and say, "Everything seemed to happen so quickly and we never got to talk to everyone who came," remember the words, "Visitation one hour prior to the service."

One of our major roles is helping families see the pros and cons of their decisions. When you counsel families, please remember what can and can't be done in one hour.