Q. I just attended an event where I briefly met a colleague whose 18-year-old daughter died in a drowning accident four years ago. I meant to send a condolence note at the time. But I never did, and I’ve always felt so guilty about it. Is it out of the question to send a note to her now? If it isn’t, what should I write?
I’ve always said it’s never too late…Continue
Added by Florence Isaacs on March 28, 2013 at 10:00am — No Comments
Q. I’m going to a graveside funeral for the first time. Can you tell me what’s involved and why families choose this type of service, rather than a regular funeral at a church or funeral home? Is there any special etiquette I should know about?
A graveside funeral, which is also known as “direct burial,” is held at the site of the deceased’s grave in the cemetery. …
Added by Florence Isaacs on October 25, 2012 at 11:00am — No Comments
Q. When is it a “must” to attend a funeral or a wake, viewing or visitation? I’m confused about how close you have to be to the people involved, and what is and isn’t appropriate.
I’ve recently received a number of queries on this subject. The questions range from “Is this occasion only for relatives and very close friends? I’d like to attend, but is it okay for a casual friend to show up?” to “I’d rather not attend. Can I make a donation to a charity or send…
Q. I am thinking of sending a condolence message to a neighbor I knew decades ago. I just heard that her father passed away last November. If I had known at that time, I would have attended his funeral even though it would have involved a very long car trip to another state. I do have fond memories of this man, who was a kind and caring person. When I knew him I was a teenager and on the school debating team. He was a big fan and cut out articles from the local paper any time…Continue
Added by Florence Isaacs on June 21, 2012 at 1:15pm — No Comments
Q. I’m thinking about inviting an old friend, whose mother recently died, to lunch. I haven’t seen this friend in a while and didn’t attend the funeral. Is this an appropriate thing to do? What should I say when I call? This friend often complained about her mother, who was very cold and critical of her.
Yes it is appropriate to invite the bereaved to lunch or dinner (or coffee, for that matter) a few weeks or more after the funeral. By then the calls of…Continue
Q. The father of an acquaintance of mine just died at 98 years of age, and I’m uneasy about what to write in a condolence note. Nobody lives forever. The man had dementia for years. Is there something I can say besides “I’m sorry” in this situation?
People are living much longer these days, and obituary pages are filled with notices for people who died in their nineties or even beyond. I just saw a notice for someone who died at 104. In this case, you…Continue
Q. My cousin just died, leaving his family high and dry. Money management wasn’t one of his talents, and he left no insurance. His wife is disabled, and their son is unemployed. Funeral expenses will more than wipe out what little savings there are. I know it’s incredibly tacky, but I think they should request monetary donations instead of flowers from people to help pay the funeral costs. Is there a tactful way to ask for money?
There are times when…Continue
Q. I am going to a funeral mass for a friend’s elderly mother, who died after a long illness. This is my first Catholic funeral—I am not Catholic myself—and I feel uneasy about what to do (or not do) during the service. Can you give me some guidance? Also, do I have to attend the wake, as well as the funeral? Would it be disrespectful to skip the wake?
A. Any funeral can be anxiety-provoking. We’re forced to confront issues of…Continue
Q. Next month is the first anniversary of the death of a friend’s daughter. Is it appropriate to call or write at that time to acknowledge the anniversary, or will that just stir up painful memories?
A. Your concern about causing pain is a common one. Yet one of the best things you can do for someone who has lost a loved one is talk about—and listen to the person talk about—the deceased. This is true not only around the…Continue
Q. My sister-in-law died last week after a brief illness, and my brother is shell shocked. I’ve heard about bereavement groups and think he might benefit from one. Exactly how do these groups work and how can you find one? I want to know what I’m talking about before I suggest the idea of a group to him.
A. Bereavement groups offer comfort and support to help people deal with the death of a loved one. Some focus specifically on the loss of a spouse or…
Q. My neighbor just died, and I’d like to go to the funeral. I’ve been told, however, that the funeral is private. What exactly is a private funeral and why does a family make this choice? It bars people like me who wish to pay their respects.
A. My dictionary defines the word “private” in this context as “confined to or intended only for the person or persons immediately concerned.” Unless you are specifically invited, you should not…Continue
Q. A dear friend of mine since our high school football days recently drowned in a tragic accident, leaving a widow and three children. His wife asked me to arrange funeral services near my home. I live several states away, but my friend was born and grew up here. Is it proper to suggest that, in lieu of flowers, people send memorial contributions to the family to help pay…Continue
Q. I’ve just heard that an acquaintance of mine has advanced lung cancer and is receiving hospice care. Can you tell me exactly what hospice is and how it works?
A. As the population ages, the issue of quality end of life care grows more urgent than ever. Most of us have heard of hospice care (or may even have seen scenes of it in medical dramas on TV), yet we often don’t really understand what’s involved until someone we know needs it. Hospice’s goal is to improve…
Q. My maternal grandmother died recently in Florida, which is where she and most of my extended family live. My parents and I are 1500 miles away. There was always an awkward relationship between my parents and my mother’s family. After I moved out on my own, I did get in touch with these relatives a few times, although we’re still not close. Regardless, my parents are going to Florida for the funeral and have asked me watch…Continue
Q. The son of a casual friend died today. It has come as a complete shock to the family. He was a charming, handsome, and successful young man who will be greatly missed. I am a Christian, but the family is Jewish. I don’t want to say anything disrespectful by accident at the funeral--or sound…Continue
Q. A colleague’s elderly mother just died, and I wonder if it’s appropriate to route a sympathy card to the entire department so people can express their condolences. I’m also thinking of asking about making a donation in the mother’s name. What’s the proper etiquette in a situation like this?
A. Ordinarily, people should send their own individual condolence cards or notes. But this is different because some…
Q. My colleague’s wife died, and I can’t decide whether to make a contribution in her memory to my favorite charity or find out what the family’s preference would be. What’s your advice? Also, how much should I contribute?
A. Most bereaved will appreciate your thoughtfulness at a time like this, no matter what you do. But since this is about them, not you, I would always try to get the name of their preferred charity. This makes sense especially if your personal…
Q. What can you say or do when there’s a suicide in someone’s family? My cousin’s 21-year-old son killed himself, and she and her husband are inconsolable. What can I possibly say to them in such a devastating situation? I feel powerless to help them.
A. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the 15-24 age group in this country with only injuries and homicides claiming more lives, and suicide on college campuses is more common than most people…
Q. What’s the difference between a funeral and a memorial service? I plan to attend a memorial service for an old college classmate, but I’ve never been to one before. What should I expect?
A. Memorial services have become more and more common in this country, and in a way are a sign of the times. A memorial service is held without the remains present. Perhaps there are no remains, as in the case of some 9/11 victims or soldiers killed in combat. Or the…
Q. My friend’s ex-husband just died, and I feel awkward about what to say to her and her children. I’m also concerned about talking to her ex’s family at the funeral. I met the in-laws a few times during the marriage. Do you have any suggestions?
A. It can get very complicated when someone’s ex-spouse dies. The surviving ex-wife or -husband may feel deep sorrow. For a time, the couple did share a life together. There can be good memories as well as bad, and…