September 17, 2013

Writing About: A Funeral

Funerals are always emotional. When you write about a character’s funeral, it’s all about the emotion you convey. These five tips can help you to heighten the emotion:

1.    Devote a good paragraph to the setting.
What does the funeral home look like? What kinds of flowers are set out? At the grave site, write about the weather. Weather often plays a big role and can contribute to the tone of the piece.

2.    Describe your character’s grief. 
Grief can be expressed in many ways.
Physically: in the form of headaches, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, fatigue, aches and pains.
Emotionally: crying bouts, extreme sadness, depression, worry, anxiety, guilt, denial, anger, and frustration.
Let your character rage. Death is something that we can never understand when someone we love passes away, and anger is often a major coping mechanism. Your character can scream at other characters or unleash their anger on innocent people.

3.    Don’t neglect the water works.
Utilize tears at the perfect moment: when your main character has to follow the casket out of the church, when she tosses a rose into a grave, or when she accepts the American flag in honor of her loved one.

4.    Give your character a eulogy to read.
What would you say about your mother? Your sister? Your child? Your wife? Your best friend? Whatever you would say at a loved one’s funeral will resonate with others and will most definitely cause your readers to choke up, too.

5.    Have your character recall memories of the person who passed away.
Memories are always powerful. Don’t underestimate the use of a memory whether it is happy or sad. Showing a memory could reveal a moment of symbolism that can impact your readers.

Photo by Chrys Fey
My grandma, Clara.
I put that stone on her grave when I was eighteen.
It was my first time visiting her grave.

Another option is to write about a character viewing a funeral from afar. If you do this, the emotion you use will be even more important because you won't have the advantage of writing about everything that happens during the funeral. So, describe the setting and what your character sees. Although your character isn't there, she could still see the cemetery, the casket, and recognize some people they know. 
Focus heavily on your character’s thoughts and emotions. You can still let her cry and think about what they would say if they could. Is the funeral for an abusive step-father? Maybe she will shed tears over the painful memories she has.
After the funeral: Don’t forget to write about what happens after the funeral. Does your character listen to condolences? Does she escape into a dark room, curl up in bed, or pick up a bottle for comfort?
Always follow your character’s grief. You can’t just kill a character off, write a sad funeral, and then bring everything back to normal. Even if your protagonist is a detective and has to continue investigating a case, make sure her grief is a cloud hanging over him. Let your character’s grief impact her social life by making her depressed and by cutting herself off from friends. You can even let your character question her faith.
After your character’s grief runs its course, let your readers know when and how she finally accepts the death of her loved one. The moment of acceptance is as equally important as the funeral itself.
Continue to follow your character through the healing process while progressing your story forward.

SHARE: Your tips to writing about a funeral.

QUESTION: What do you remember the most about a loved one's funeral/memorial?

*Check out this poem: De Mortuis by Ette Meyer written in response to my question. 

If you have lost a loved one, I am opening the comments as a place for you to share their names and memories. 


  1. Great post, valuable information.

    The first funeral I attended was for a 16 year old boy. He suffered from Muscular Dystrophy, and watching him disintegrate was heartbreaking, when his lungs and heart finally gave out it was devastating. Seeing him in the casket, his body finally straight - was beyond description - I lost it. (I was 20 yrs old) MD destroys the muscle and twists the body into unbelievable shapes. But at the grave site I found peace - I remember the hill we stood on, the view of the valley, the blue flowers and the birds singing. I remember clearly understanding that he was at peace, it was more than a thought-it came from deep inside as though his soul had reached out to mine. He granted me the peace of knowing he was free from pain - happy to no longer be deformed - free. That day, those feelings are what convinced me - there is no real death only a journey.
    Thanks for the information about dreams!

    1. Thank you for sharing that touching story! I am sorry for your loss, and at twenty it no doubt would've been devastating, but I am happy that you were able to find peace.

      I know someone with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and he is one of the best people I know. He is terribly funny and an inspiration. He's also a writer, Ricky Tsang. He published his first book a couple of years ago titled, "Ridiculous: The Mindful Nonsense of Ricky's Brain", and he is writing his second book, which is about DMD. This is his awareness page:

      And you're welcome for the dream information. I hope it gave some insight. :)

  2. I agree with having to deal with the grief afterwards, and this is something I have to tackle with for two upcoming projects. As much as I want to get on with the action, I know that I'm going to have to slow things down and give the characters time to grieve. Good post!

    1. In my series I had to deal with the same challenge, and it was difficult because I just wanted to dive into the next event (like you), but it is important to keep your character's grief for as long as it is needed.

      Good luck with your upcoming projects! :)

  3. I've not written about a funeral, but I did have a major character die and had to show the other main character struggling to go on. There was anger, sorrow, and withdrawl.

    1. Yes, tips #2 and #5 can be useful to help your characters (and readers) through the transition even if you don't write about an actual funeral.

  4. I've written a funeral seen but it was a funeral observed from afar, so it was a little different. These are great tips, though. I'll definitely keep them in mind for the future.

    1. In the case of a funeral witnessed from afar, you would really have to focus on what the character sees, their thoughts, and emotions. I added a bit more to my post to address this, so thank you for mentioning it, Ashelyn! :)

  5. "What do you remember the most about a loved ones funeral/memorial?" -- Always the emotions, Chrys. The passing of my maternal grandmother 10 years ago was one of the saddest days of my life. I was at first in denial, seeing her photo at the obituaries section of the paper. I went to her room two days after she died and it all felt so surreal that I would no longer see her sleep in her bed. I cried and talked to her. On the day of her burial, I guess God finally helped me learn to let her go because even if I was still sad, a part of me was grateful that her suffering on earth finally ended.

    Thank you for sharing about these wonderful tips, Chrys! God bless! :-)

    1. I am sorry for your loss, Irene! And I thank you for sharing your story with me.

      I forgot about denial. (Don't know how I did. So I will definitely add it to my post.

      Thank you for your comment! <3

  6. Your always posting such valuable tips, Chrys! Thank you!

    I wish I was making these instances up, but sadly, I'm not. Two of the most dreadful deaths I had to go through were my Daddy C's and my first love, Glenn. Daddy C's funeral was an absolute shit show because his wife at the time was high on drugs and crashed his car that morning with my sister in the passenger seat. They were both okay, but my step-mother at the time was so high that she looked like a complete crackhead. She also tried selling all of my dad's clothes and some of his jewelry back at her house afterwards. Can you believe this? I could go on and on but I will leave it at that.

    The second funeral was my ex-boyfriend, Glenn's. He was also a dear friend of mine for almost 15 years. At his funeral, his girlfriend at the time (who must have missed the manners bus) was dressed in jeans and like a complete slob. She also told everyone how she was going to drink her sorrows away at some club that night, asking who wanted to go party and celebrate Glenn's death. Again, I wish I was making this stuff up, but I'm not. I could go on and on like how she showed up to his mom's house with no card or flowers, asking for some of Glenn's personal belongings from his bedroom. His mother loved me so much that she told her to sit down. Needless to say, I don't think Glenn's girlfriend was getting anything. There are so many other things that happened that day but again, I'd be here commenting for hours, lol.

    These two experiences are forever painted in the back of my mind. Someday, things will surface. Thanks for posting this, Chrys!

    1. I am so deeply sorry for what you had to go through at Daddy C's and Glenn's funerals. Some people just don't have respect for others and it bothers me that they made such a spectacle of themselves. I wish it could've gone differently because those days, as terrible as they already were, shouldn't had been how they turned out. I'm sorry. :(

      But I am happy that you find my tips valuable. I just post about things that I have written, because I figured other writers may have to write them too.