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
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 relative’s husband, a retired officer in the Armed Forces, just died and will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I was surprised. I thought only Medal of Honor winners and other heroes are buried in Arlington. What are the eligibility requirements?
A. There are actually 130 national cemeteries in the United States where free burial benefits include a…
Q. So many public figures and other important people eulogized the late Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy at his funeral that it’s hard to imagine what a friend, who is an ordinary person, might say in such a situation. How can you eulogize someone in a meaningful way in the company of a “star lineup” of other speakers?
A. I was asked a similar question when I was interviewed on the national radio show “The Michael Smerconish Program” a few days before…
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 friend had a miscarriage at four months, and I don’t know what to say to her and her husband. Do you have some suggestions?
A. A miscarriage is a tremendous loss to a couple, whether it happens at nine weeks or four months or later, especially if it’s a first child. It’s a case of a joyful event being transformed into a tragedy. So much expectation and so many hopes and dreams have been dashed. The couple feels devastated emotionally, and feelings of…