I have attended many funerals of family members and friends and even served a bunch of funerals and wakes as an altar server or some other ministerial role. I think I’ve heard it all. People can be really awkward at funerals. They just have no words and don’t know what to say when another’s loved one dies because there really are no words that can remove the pain that another feels. What people really need is presence at this time. Nobody really remembers what someone says at a wake or a funeral–what they remember is that you were there! Often people try a bit too hard to say something meaningful including us ministerial types who often overdo it.

Some of the dumbest things I’ve heard people say at wakes or funerals and one major story:

1) (About the deceased) “She looks beautiful!” (To which her son replied, “No…she’s dead!”)

2) “Things happen for a reason.” (Wow! I’d love to hear that one!)

3) “At least he’s free of his pain now.” (One I even said at a wake of my own college roommate before realizing that him being dead really didn’t bring comfort to those who watched him suffer).

4) “It’s God’s will.” (Glad to see you’ve got a direct pipeline to God)

5) “He’s in a better place.” (Well, maybe…but I still wish he was with me).

Finally, here’s a great effort that just went bad…

It’s got to be tough to have to do a funeral homily or to say a few words at a wake for someone you’ve never met. This was the case for the priest who officiated at my Godfather’s funeral.

I was the lector at the mass and the priest asked me if I could tell him some things about my Uncle/Godfather.

“Well, his given name is Patrick but nobody called him that. Everyone called him “Bubby.” Which we think was one of us kid’s mispronunciations of “Buddy.”

So during the homily the priest begins with a great interpretation of the readings and a nice comforting message and even a bit of challenge for us. And then…

“Since Patrick was so endearing to the children of his family they nicknamed him BOOBY.”

And the rest of the homily continued to repeat that mistake until the entire family was nearly screaming, “BUBBY! Not BOOBY!”

Oh well, everyone makes mistakes I suppose.

0 thoughts on ““They Called Him Boobie” (and other dumb things I’ve heard at funerals and wakes)”
  1. Booby?



    There is a sadly endless list of poorly uttered words… and as you so humbly indicate, even our own, said with all good intentions, but coming out poorly.

    I have done quite a bit of funeral ministry. As you might imagine, in my parish office job, I also have a lot to do with the funerals that come our way.

    You are so right about the whole priest not knowing the person thing. My boss as well as my pastor where I worship are really good about learning what they can in advance and using that information with compassion and wisdom.

    Once I went to a funeral (in your sainted Yonkers!) and the priest clearly did not really care that he never knew Aunt Jennie, he was happy to go on about how God would judge us more harshly than we think.


    Yesterday was the 18th anniversary of my mother's death. The pastor was one of the worst homilists but he loved my mother. He was never more eloquent than he was on that day and I remain grateful.

    Thanks for this series Mike, it is compelling.

    My word verification is stern – which reminds me of that priest at Aunt Jennie's funeral….

  2. I heard the story once of a priest who taught philosophical logic going to the funeral of one of his students, killed tragically.

    The grieving mother went to the priest and pleaded, "Why did my child die?"

    The priest gave the most logical of answers: "He was hit by a car."

    Not the most pastoral of responses, perhaps, but logical.

  3. An interesting article indeed. "She looks beautiful" or "She looks just like herself" are comments that I have heard in many a Wake Room. At the wake of one of his literary colleagues who had fervently sought notoriety by trumpeting atheism, G K Chesterton declared, “There he lies, all dressed up and nowhere to go!” Then there was a certain Premier of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland who, wherever he was, always wanted to be the centre of attraction. It was said of him that if he went to a wake he wanted to be the corpse!

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