Yesterday I went to a funeral. A friend of mine, Jake, lost his Mum last week to many years of battling a number of health issues. Sadly, I never got to meet her. From everything I heard, Sandra sounded like a wonderful Mum and a kind, generous, and loving woman.
We arrived at the church a few minutes late and proceedings had already started. The church was mostly full and we sat a few rows from the back in the middle section. Sandra’s brother was up the front speaking warmly about his sister. There were many people gently nodding and wiping their eyes.
My eyes started leaking too as I listened to his stories about his sis and the fun times they had. I got stuck in my own reflective bubble for a moment, wondering what people would say at my funeral.
Her brother’s eulogy was warm and loving and you could hear and feel that they were a close family. His words were engaging and his message was clear. As he finished with his final words the emotion built and then he wiped his eyes and said the final goodbye. Then I could see and I could hear him fold up the piece of paper from which he had read. Surrounded by deafening silence, he walked back to his pew.
On almost every other public occasion where someone stands up to speak, even if they are dead boring, they are acknowledged by clapping. Sometimes quiet clapping, sometimes a standing ovation and everything in between. But, in this setting at a funeral, it is often just flat..don’t make a sound…silence. WHY?
This is the only time that all of these people, family and friends, would ever be in a room together to celebrate the life of this 55 year old woman. Why is it that the culture of most funerals is to magnify the sadness and not reward the courage of the speaker or view the occasion with celebration and joy.
Why is it deemed to be wrong or inappropriate to clap after people speak in this setting? Who made that rule?
The priest spoke for a while and then Jake got up to speak about his Mum. He was flanked by his brother and sister. He took a deep breath and he spoke beautifully. He told stories about his loving Mum who lived for her kids and was always there for them. He laughed and cried and took the audience on an emotional experience letting us in to more about this loving, thoughtful woman.
And when his eulogy was done, he wiped his eyes, took another deep breath and slowly moved away from the lectern. Again, raw silence as he walked back to his pew. This time I looked around just as he was finishing and I saw at least 6 people slightly lift their hands. I could see people wanted to clap, but nobody did. I wanted so much to clap and I thought if I started, others would gladly follow. But I didn’t. I sat still and silent, like everyone else in the room.
The silence after such heart felt and important speeches makes no sense to me. I’ve thought about this before at past funerals I’ve attended, but this time it just stood out.
I discussed this with my partner, Mike, and he said he felt the same. Not only did he consider clapping, he said he almost stood up from his position to say some positive words and get everyone else clapping. But he, too, sat still. We questioned why he and I, both confident and bold people, were too afraid to follow our truth and just clap when every part of our heart said it would be a great thing to do.
Afterwards, at the wake, Mike and I both spoke to a number of people about the ‘non-clapping experience’ and they strongly agreed. They all said the same thing, that they really really wanted to clap, but because nobody else did, they stayed quiet.
I also spoke to Jake and even he said he thought acknowledgement through clapping would have been nice – but he didn’t know how to start it or if it was the ‘right thing to do’.
I thought about this in context of some of the work I do around TRUTH. This is not an application of my message in the form of good truth vs bad lies, rather about how we are often afraid to show our own truth through our behaviours or actions. I teach people about 4 Truth Circles, one of which is SPEAK TRUTH.
The truth and desire for so many people was to show their love and appreciation through clapping, yet nobody did. In this setting clapping is a form of expressing the truth about how you are feeling at the time, yet fear can hold us back from speaking up in this way. People were regretting that they didn’t clap. Too late now.
This sort of fear plays out everyday in our personal and professional relationships. We often want to do something or say something but the fear of standing out from the crowd or embarrassing ourselves or doing the wrong thing takes over.
There are some parallels with the bystander effect when someone witnesses an incident such as bullying or discrimination but then does nothing about it. They stay silent – either believing that someone else will take action or they remain fearful to speak up or take action.
Bystanders can be slow to respond because they are monitoring others in the group for their reaction. That’s what I saw at the funeral too. People try to determine if the situation is serious or important enough to do something and they will watch to see if someone else will step forward or do something. Sometimes when no one steps forward, bystanders feel justified in doing nothing, believing they have done the right thing.
My experience at the funeral has given me a jolt about speaking up through my words and behaviour when I think something is important. I thought I already had that nailed until yesterday when I observed myself being the silent one and going against what I felt was right.
That experience reminded me about how one persons actions can change the way things unfold. Imagine having the courage to speak up about something important at work when everyone else is too afraid. Imagine letting go of the fear and following your truth, backing yourself for your choice no matter what happens next. Surely that is a better choice than sitting in silence?
If I had have backed myself to speak up through my actions and follow my truth I could have changed the whole vibe of that ceremony. Could it have backfired? Sure it could’ve, but sometimes you’ve just gotta do what feels right. I believe that one courageous person could have released the floodgates to allow other people to more freely express their emotion and appreciation through tears and through clapping and movement.
Both Mike and I have vowed that at the next funeral we go to, we are clapping. We hope we don’t get the chance to do that too soon – but I promise we will do it.
So, if you want to make sure your funeral is more celebration-filled when your time comes – do one of two things. Leave it in the instructions to your family – or, put me on the guest list and I promise to get things rockin’.
Here’s to more TRUTH when it matters most!