Saturday night my wife came late to the restaurant. She had missed my nephew's Eagle Scout court of honor because we still had workmen in the house, but she caught up with us (my sister's family, our parents, my father-in-law, and me) for the celebratory dinner.
After dessert, my wife said "come outside with me." Once there, she started to cry. She said she had gotten a call at home from Aunt E., on my mother's side. Aunt E. had said that her and my mother's sister, Aunt G. in Minnesota, who was in her early 70s, had died earlier that day of an apparent heart attack.
My family is pretty tight-knit, so it naturally shook everyone up, especially my mother. (During the dinner, my wife had not said a word about Aunt G., and had acted for all the world as though everything was just peachy, so as not to spoil my nephew's celebration; she said it was one of the hardest things she'd ever done.) We adjourned to my sister's house, where we sat and talked, a bit somberly of course but not without levity — Aunt G. would have smacked us if we'd been too gloomy. We telephoned relatives up north to commiserate with them, retold old family stories, and in general had an impromptu wake.
It would have been valuable if the church had a brief, universally-known, family-oriented ritual for occasions like this. When we perform ritual together, we subtly reassure each other about our common life and our longstanding bonds. In times of grief or other stress, knowing that we are doing the "right" things, explicitly approved and endorsed by the community, can be a comfort to a mourning family. The Jews have shiv'ah and the Mourner's Kaddish; so far as I know, we Christians have nothing of that ritualistic nature.
Some excerpts from the Prayers of the People (Form VI), which most Episcopalians know by heart, would seem to be just the thing:
Opening Versicle for Any Occasion — from Psalm 51.16, 11
Open my lips, O Lord,*
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,*
and renew a right spirit within me.
From the Prayers of the People, Form VI — BCP 657
In peace we pray to you, Lord God.
We thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life [especially for the life of N.]
The People may add their own thanksgivings
We will exalt you, O God our King;
And praise your Name for ever and ever.
We pray for all who have died, that they may have a place in your eternal kingdom [especially for N., and any other loved ones named]
The People may add their own remembrances
From Burial I — BCP 486
Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon him.
May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
I wish we'd had something like this on Saturday night.