Q. My father is very ill and wants his ashes scattered in a lake near the family summer home when he dies. Are there restrictions on doing so? Who should I contact for specific information? Also, there will be no minister present when the ashes are scattered. Is there a protocol we should follow or particular words that should be said?
Your questions raise some complicated issues. One is location. Is the lake on private or public property? The owner’s…Continue
Added by Florence Isaacs on April 25, 2013 at 11:18am — No Comments
Q. The mother of a friend of mine died and his aunt has hijacked the funeral. She made all the funeral plans on her own. Afterwards she called and told him when and where to show up for the services. The mother had earmarked money to pay for a funeral, so there is no cost to either party. But my friend feels so angry at being left out of all the decisions that he talks about not wanting to attend the funeral. Why would someone hurt him this way at such a sad time? I’m trying to…Continue
Added by Florence Isaacs on January 3, 2013 at 3:21pm — 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. Is it okay to tell a funny story in a eulogy? I would like to do so at my cousin’s funeral, but I wonder whether people might be offended. What do you think? Are there rules to follow?
A funeral is no time for stand-up comedy. But humor leavened with compassion does have a place on this occasion. The goal is not to entertain, but to share meaning and capture the person your cousin was—in a way likely to elicit chuckles or wistful smiles from those assembled…
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. My aunt died suddenly and was buried in a plot she purchased years ago. Because she had no children, I am now in charge of buying a cemetery stone. What’s the best way to do this and how should I proceed?
Begin by calling the cemetery to find out its rules for markers, headstones, and other options. Size, shape, design, and other requirements vary widely.
You can buy the stone from a monument retailer and ask friends, neighbors, or relatives for…
Added by Florence Isaacs on May 29, 2012 at 9:00am — No Comments
Q. My father, who is frail and elderly, wants his body donated to science when he dies. Does that mean there’s no funeral or memorial service? Why do people want to do this?
A. Those who make this choice usually wish to benefit society. The decision is sometimes difficult for survivors to accept, but it’s a matter of carrying out the loved one’s wishes. We hear less about whole body donations than about donations of body parts, but cadavers play a critical role in…
Q. Why do so many people refuse to prepare funeral and end-of-life instructions while they’re well, instead of saddling next of kin with all the decisions? It’s not morbid to discuss funeral arrangements and end-of-life care.
Before you take the step of planning for your own death, you have to accept the fact you’re going to die—and you don’t know when. Those are very disturbing thoughts, and there’s a tendency to deny or banish them. Your own…Continue
Q. I’ve been asked to be a pallbearer at a funeral. What exactly is a pallbearer supposed to do? How many are there? And do I have to say yes? Frankly, I’ve only seen pallbearers in movies or on TV.
Pallbearers carry or accompany the casket at a funeral. They are friends, relatives, professional or business associates of the deceased—or sometimes members of the religious congregation. Pallbearers who do not actually carry the coffin are called “honorary…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’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. 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
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. 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 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…