I was a close friend of your husband. No, really, I was.
December 2, 2014 11:50 AM   Subscribe

I'll be meeting the family of a close friend for the first time at his visitation and funeral. This seems awkward — more awkward than funerals usually are. How best to handle it?

A good friend of mine died a few days ago. Without going into details, suffice it to say that while he died far too young, his death was not unexpected. We had known each other for 20+ years, and even though I hadn't seen him in person for ~10 years, we still kept in touch and I felt very close to him. I'll be going to the visitation and funeral later this week.

Here's the thing: I've never met his wife (married about 8 years; they had had a very small, immediate-family-only wedding) or teenage stepchildren (hers from a previous marriage; he was very loving towards them and vice versa). I'll be meeting them for the first time at the visitation. This seems particularly awkward to me, given how close he and I were. My natural introversion doesn't help, either; talking to people I've just met is not a strength of mine even under ordinary circumstances. And maybe I'm feeling a bit badly that I never made time to visit him and his family after he was married.

I know all the usual things to say to the bereaved (how sorry I am for their loss, how much he will be missed, what a kind person he was), but should I address this as well? If so, how? I'm sorry that we're only now meeting for the first time, and under these circumstances? Which is true, but I don't know whether I should bring that up, or if that would only make it more awkward.
posted by DevilsAdvocate to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
His wife and kids knows that they had a tiny wedding. I would just stick to the basics. If you are asked how you knew the deceased, tell the truth. Maybe have a funny story from your online interactions ready.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:54 AM on December 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

This is not a problem at all. There were many old friends of my father's that I first met at his funeral, and I did not think twice about it. At most funerals, the bereaved aren't looking to make conversation. A simple "I felt very close to your Dad/husband, even though we hadn't seen each other in a long time. I'm sorry to meet you under these circumstances. My condolences on your loss." and then move on will be fine.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:55 AM on December 2, 2014 [25 favorites]

I don't think this is an awkward scenario at all. In fact, it's probably really common - all sorts of people show up at funerals. At my dad's funeral I met a lot of people for the first time. It meant a lot to me that they loved my dad enough to come, end of story.

In all likelihood, the day will be an emotionally difficult hazy blur for his wife and children. You don't need to have a profound conversation, because they likely won't be capable of it, or won't really remember the details afterward anyway. Just tell them how much your friend meant to you and how sorry you are that he's gone. That's all you need to say.
posted by something something at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

My Dad's best friend of 30 years was an office mate, who never met my family until my Dad's wake. I knew him because I worked for the same company, briefly. I remember asking my Dad: "How can you be best friends when you never see each other outside of the office, never talk on the phone?' He said: "It's a guy thing." I think that's an acceptable answer.

Go and say goodbye to your friend. You don't really have to explain anything. He was your friend. All of you will miss him. Your share their loss. That's enough.

And I am sorry for your loss, as well.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss.

I agree with the other posters: the conversation you envision isn't really necessary.

Hand-write a note about how much your friend and your friendship meant to you and mail it to them.
posted by grouse at 12:10 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's very possible that you and he were close, that he's told the family all sorts of stories about you, so that when you show up, the family is going to hug you and say "oh gosh we've always heard so much about DevilsAdvocate, it's so great to finally meet you!"

What people are saying about saying something simple is true, but just adding that it's possible that the family will welcome you with open arms no matter what.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:11 PM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss. I was in a similar situation recently and it was not remotely a problem. My friend's family knew that there was a piece of her life that they weren't super-involved with, and they seemed comforted by the dozen or so friends that came to the funeral from that piece of her life. I didn't speak to them, but other friends did, and the family knew we were the craft friends they were always hearing about.

"I was a friend of your husband from [X time of his life]. Whenever we caught up he always spoke so highly of you and your children. He was a great friend to me and will be dearly missed."
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:17 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is expected at visitations. In fact that's the beauty of these things, finding out aspects of your loved-ones lives that you did not know and that you are not alone in your loss. A loving memory to your friend's wife would be very welcome. If the opportunity does not present itself for talking to the widow, please take the time to express it in a letter.
posted by readery at 12:28 PM on December 2, 2014 [16 favorites]

My dad was a teacher, and I had tonnes of these at his funeral last year. It was really nice having a perfect stranger come up and tell me what a difference dad had made in their lives. Really nice. Best part of the funeral by far.
posted by smoke at 1:05 PM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

You don't need to prove your relationship; they're not going to cross-examine you, or throw you out for not being close enough. If you go there and say nice things, that will be meaningful and kind.

They just had their lives turned upside down, they'd barely register it if you told them you and he were best buddies on a UFO made of sausages driven by a team of unicorns. They don't really have the bandwidth to care about you as much as you are worried they will.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:16 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

It meant so much to me at my mother's funeral when people I didn't know told me how much they cared for her. She had a life far beyond what I knew and that made me feel better, somehow, like she had lived a fuller life than I had previously imagined.
posted by janey47 at 1:16 PM on December 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

Nothing odd about that all. Just give your condolences and move on.

BTW, I'm sorry for your loss of a friend.
posted by harrietthespy at 1:33 PM on December 2, 2014

Hello, I'm DevilsAdvocate, and I just wanted to tell you what a wonderful man Jeff was and how much he meant to me. I was lucky enough to meet him N years ago doing X, and I really value the time I was able to spend with him.

The key piece of phrasing is that you're not introducing yourself by telling them that you were someone really important to him (I'm Jeff's good friend from work!), you tell them that he was someone really important to you.
posted by aimedwander at 1:37 PM on December 2, 2014 [19 favorites]

At my dad's funeral, I met a good number of people (old co-workers and friends) for the first time. It was so nice that these people had come to remember my dad, and I appreciated when people introduced themselves to me, told me how they knew my dad, and how much they liked/respected/appreciated him.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 2:27 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your advice and assurance that this is completely ordinary for a funeral, and especially to those of you who have shared your own stories of meeting unknown friends of your family members at their funerals. It's very helpful and reassuring.

Thanks also for all your condolences.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:01 PM on December 2, 2014

It could only get uncomfortable if you insist on explaining how very close you were to the deceased. You may feel its important for them to know, but its not. If they didn't know when he was alive, they don't need to know now.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:51 PM on December 2, 2014

Agree with most of the above - this is not at all unusual - with one note: I think we're all assuming you're male, it's hard to be absolutely sure from your question. If you're female, it'd go even more toward SemiSalt's answer... be discreet and don't open that can of worms for the wife, even if there was never any sort of that kind of relationship there.
posted by stormyteal at 7:13 PM on December 2, 2014

Response by poster: [Yes, I'm male. But I appreciate you considering all possibilities. And Semisalt's advice is well-taken all the same.]
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:48 PM on December 2, 2014

Agree with all of the above, is is not necessary to explain. When my father died there were soem 200+ people there, and I knew only a few really well, but I also knew lots of those present had been close friends of his at one point or another of his life. It was comforting to see he would be missed.
But to be honest I was grateful for anyone who did not want to make small talk to me or talk to me about how they met him (some did try) and now would miss him. I was too emotionally drained to take it in, and all I could manage was a polite nod. My memories of the funeral (3 yrs ago) are blurry at best.
What I would have enjoyed much more would have been something in writing, but only one person did that, I still treasure that.
posted by 15L06 at 2:17 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

>should I address this as well? If so, how? I'm sorry that we're only now meeting for the first time, and under these circumstances? Which is true, but I don't know whether I should bring that up, or if that would only make it more awkward.

if it comes up (doubt it does, but there is every chance that they know who you are at least) just answer it like you did in the question above.

"i knew him for more than 20 years, we met doing XXX and we stayed in touch via YYY/ZZZ (phone/email/internet/whatever) even though we were unable to get together in person. i still felt close with him"

honestly, the biggest thing that they will remember is that you were there and that they saw you...

(sorry that you lost a good friend, i know it can be incredibly difficult. especially when you were unable to see him for a while)
posted by knockoutking at 5:39 AM on December 3, 2014

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