Q. I just heard that the mother of an old friend died several months ago. I haven’t seen or talked to the friend in over a year due to her move to another state and my own busy life. Her mom was very kind to me when I was a teenager and needed all the positive reinforcement I could get. I’d like to send a condolence note, but so much time has passed and I feel embarrassed about losing touch. Should I write or not? What can I…Continue
Q. I’ve been told not to attend my aunt’s funeral, due to a longstanding feud with my side of the family. I had nothing to do with it, and my aunt was always very kind to me. I’m very upset that I can’t say goodbye to her at the funeral home. Should I attend anyway and just sit in the back? Can they keep me out?
A. A funeral is a way to honor the deceased and grieve in the company of family members and friends. It’s a healing experience and an…Continue
Q. A dear cousin of mine is dying of colon cancer and I’m going to visit him. I want to see him, but I’m also nervous about it. I don’t know what I should talk about. What do you suggest?
A. This situation has become more and more common—and complex—due to medical advances. One issue involves your definition of “dying.” It used to mean days/weeks/a few months to live. Today, the person may have a terminal illness that allows him to function in life (at…Continue
Q. I’m thinking about running an In Memoriam ad in the newspaper as the fifth anniversary of my daughter’s death approaches. Is it appropriate to do this so long after she died? How do I place the ad and how much does it cost? What should I say?
A. An In Memoriam ad is appropriate on the anniversary of a loved one’s death or birthday. For example, I recently saw an In Memoriam, placed by a son, on what would have been his late father’s 100th…Continue
Q. My brother-in-law wants to be cremated after he dies and have his ashes shot into space. I laugh when he mentions it, but he’s serious. Do people really do this?
You’d be surprised. The man who invented Pringles potato chips wanted his ashes buried in a Pringles can. Ashes can be scattered in space—or in the great blue yonder from airplanes and balloons—and even in fireworks.
Some people prefer a body of water, as in…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. My husband is hospitalized and won’t be able to attend his father’s funeral. His sister has suggested broadcasting the services on the Internet, which would allow him to watch the funeral on a laptop. Is this possible?
It is indeed possible to “attend” a funeral or memorial service on the Web today. Many funeral homes offer the service. The audience can be limited to relatives and friends for privacy—or include the general public. For…Continue
Q. Why do some people prepay funerals—and how is it done?
There can be advantages to prepaying a funeral—your own or the funeral of a loved one, such as an elderly parent. For example, my siblings and I prepaid our mother’s funeral a few years ago, after her nursing home notified us that her condition (dementia, along with severe heart disease) had suddenly deteriorated. She would die soon. At my suggestion, we decided to use the time we…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
Reader mail is always gratifying for a writer, which is why I’ve departed from my usual Q&A format to discuss it this month. So many people have e-mailed me about topics covered in this column. The subject of giving a eulogy drew the biggest response. In a column on the topic, I wrote, “First, understand that brevity is a virtue. It’s fine to speak for no more than five to seven minutes. This is not the Gettysburg Address.”
To my shock, many readers taught me a…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. Is it appropriate to send acknowledgments to everyone who attends a funeral? Should mass cards be acknowledged? And how much time can you take to send acknowledgments?
My policy is to mail acknowledgments to those who sent flowers, food, etc. or made a contribution to a charity or institution in memory of the deceased. Mass cards fall into the latter category, since people usually do contribute something. I also send acknowledgments to someone who wrote a…
Q. My aunt, a woman of great accomplishment, is dying. She was very good to me throughout my life, and as her closest living relative I want to write an obituary for her now and have it ready to send to our local newspaper when the time comes. How can I make the obituary as special as she is?
A. One of the best obituaries I’ve ever read was the one that appeared in the New York Times last June…
Added by Florence Isaacs on October 14, 2010 at 9:30am — No Comments
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. I recently attended the funeral of a coworker, who was an active environmentalist. She was buried in a biodegradable coffin. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I thought caskets were pretty routine—pine or some other wood. Is this something new?
A. There once was a time when a casket was just a casket. But that’s long past. Along with the trend toward “green”…
Q. What is your opinion of taking pictures at funerals? I feel that many mourners do not notice who was in attendance and photos are something that can help in the grieving process and later on. Also when is the timing appropriate to take photos?
A. We’ve all seen newspaper and TV photos taken at the funerals of luminaries, such as U.S. presidents and other prominent…
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 aunt is terminally ill and has been told by her doctors to “get her affairs in order.” My family and I have decided to organize a life tribute to her…sort of giving her flowers while she lives. She contributed to the social work profession for more than thirty years. We don’t want to wait until her funeral for people to speak well of her. What should we highlight during this…
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