Why Does It Sometimes Take a Funeral to Really Get to Know Someone?

Today I attended a beautiful memorial service for my sister’s mother-in-law, affectionately known to most people as Iris.

I first met Iris about 40 years ago, which meant she was in her early 50s at the time.

Obviously, I knew nothing about the first 50 years of Iris’s life. And I really did not get to know her that well over the years, just seeing her on certain holidays and special occasions. She was always nice to me and my family when we did see her, and my sister and her four sons always had good things to say about her.

But at the service today I learned the story of an amazing woman.

She was a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother, a postal worker, a farmer, a church volunteer, a cook, a party planner, a hall of fame bowler, an accomplished high school athlete.

Family and friends were the center of her life, and she was not hesitant to let them know. She knew, and was known by, apparently everyone in their small town.

And I knew virtually none of this.

Hearing my nephews talk so affectionately about her and her daughter deliver such a moving overview of her life made me regret not having taken the opportunity to get to know Iris a bit better over the years.

It’s not the first time I’ve been to a funeral and heard stories about the deceased that made me realize how little I really knew about them.

Why does this happen? Why does it take a funeral to really get to know someone? Wouldn’t it be so much better if we knew a little bit about these amazing people – their struggles, their passions, their hobbies, their secrets to a good life before they passed away.

For example, I love bowling, but I never really knew about Iris’s success as a bowler. That would have been an easy one to talk about. Or finding out how she learned to be a farmer, from scratch. Or the story of the square dance she hosted in their brand new barn before it was put to use.

So while it’s too late to talk to Iris about these things, perhaps hearing these stories about her will motivate me to take a more active interest in the lives of the people I know.

Who knows, perhaps there’s a hall of fame bowler or juggler among them…


15 thoughts on “Why Does It Sometimes Take a Funeral to Really Get to Know Someone?

  1. Good point. I learned a few things about my public-figure fathers at his funeral last month. We have however, the other side of the coin where we have the “he never met a stranger, he never said a bad thing about another person, he always put others ahead of himself.” eulogy. After a 36-year career as a funeral director, I’ve heard, more than once, people commenting to each other, wondering if they were at the right funeral because the person they knew wasn’t perfect. I learned it is important to remember folks accurately the way they were when they were alive.


    1. interesting perspective, Ray, as always! I guess at funerals people just want to focus on the positive parts of someone’s life, and the good memories. But you’re right, we are all much more complex than what a eulogy might have to say.


  2. Very true and it’s not only those older than us. Sadly our friend’s disabled daughrter died in a tragic accident; the funeral was strange, the regulation 30 minutes in the crematorium and no service at all, just people getting up to speak. Now we only saw her with her mother and step father, only heard how she was through them. But it turned out she had much more of a life and great friends than we had imagined.


  3. Another fine post, Jim. There is always so much more to people than meets the eye, whether it’s good or bad. That’s why I try to invest deeply in the relationships I have; I want true, intimate connections. 🕊


  4. Interesting post! I’ve had this thought, too, over the years. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, it’s like after Dumbledore dies and Harry keeps finding out things he didn’t know about his beloved professor to the point where he wonders if he ever really knew him at all. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to learn everything about every person that somehow comes into your life’s orbit.


    1. thanks, Amanda. Great comparison to Harry Potter, which I had thought of it! And while we can’t know everything, at least for me, I can at least make a better effort to get those close to me a bit better.


  5. I also find it sad that often we do not tell people how much they mean to us until their funeral. I made sure to tell my Dad in his later years how much I loved him, every time I saw him. In the week he was dying I sang to him and told him over and over stories from my childhood. I climbed on his bed and he died in my arms. Eighteen months later, my sister, much too young, was dying horribly of sepsis. I did the same with her. I regularly tell my daughter and friends that I love them.


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