A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker


Grandpaís funeral was exactly like the family he helped to raise.

Big. Noisy. Spirited. And not always well-mannered.

The family had gathered from all around the country to pay their last respects. For many of us, it was the first time we had seen each other in years, and the solemn occasion quickly turned festive as beloved aunts and uncles and long-lost cousins joyfully embraced each other in a sudden outbreak of family unity.

Undignified? Absolutely. Just the way Grandpa would have liked it.

A few minutes before the service was scheduled to begin, Cousin Ray walked into the funeral home. Alone. Ray had always been one of Grandpaís favorites. And why not? He was my favorite cousin, too. He was about my age, and we had a lot of fun growing up together. But it had been a long time since we had seen each other, and I knew . . . we all knew . . . well, letís just say he had chosen a different lifestyle.

As Ray made his way toward Grandpaís open casket, the rest of the family sort of moved away. I donít think it was intentional. I mean, we werenít shunning him or judging him or anything like that (at least, not consciously), and I know it wasnít because we didnít love him. We just didnít know what to say. And so we said nothing.

Thatís when my brother Bob stepped in. As Ray stood there Ė alone Ė at Grandpaís casket, Bob walked purposefully toward him, embraced him warmly and started talking. Just talking. Then he glanced at me.

"Look, Joe!" Bob announced grandly, as if I hadnít seen. "Rayís here!"

He beckoned me to join them at the casket, and I did. With the ice broken, Ray and I chatted Ė awkwardly at first, then easily Ė while Bob gathered other brothers and sisters and cousins. Before long the family reunion was in full swing again, with Ray lovingly ensconced in the center of things, where he happily remained throughout the rest of the day.

During a quiet moment after the funeral I thanked Bob for taking the initiative with Ray.

"I wanted to say something as soon as he walked in," I confessed, "but I didnít know . . . "

"Neither did I," Bob said. "But sometimes it isnít important what you say. Itís only important that you say something."

Thatís true more often than not. And yet we often avoid expressing our concern or love or interest or good wishes to those we know who are facing difficult circumstances for no other reason than we simply donít know which words to use. We convince ourselves that weíre actually doing them a favor by not forcing them to think or talk about something painful. Weíre so preoccupied with not saying or doing the wrong thing that we donít say or do anything, which means we neglect the most humane of human services: caring. Sharing. Bearing one anotherís burdens by reaching out with love, understanding and acceptance. No matter what.

Which is why we need to go with our most empathetic instincts when loved ones are flooded by troubled waters Ė literally or figuratively. Reach out to them. Give voice to concern and caring. Do something. Say something Ė even if itís trite, awkward or clumsily phrased. Your loved ones probably wonít remember what you say. But they will remember that you were there for them.

And that you said something.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and