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 funeral costs? The widow is not prepared for the expenses. Also, how do I tell the family to use these funds to pay for the services? As I make these arrangements, I am incurring expenses that would normally be the family’s responsibility. I’m established enough to take care of the bills, but they are an unanticipated cost. It bothers me to even mention this, knowing that the right thing is to just take care of my friend’s family. What are your thoughts?
A. This is a tough one because people can be so sensitive about financial issues in general, let alone when an unexpected death has occurred. I’d tell the wife, “I would like to ask people to send a check made out to you to help cover funeral costs, instead of buying flowers. How would you feel about that? Would it be okay?” Then see what her response is. I can visualize reactions ranging from gratitude and relief, to refusal because it would be a “handout.” If she agrees with your idea, talk to the funeral director about whether it’s appropriate to ask for such contributions in the obituary. (You can, of course, tell selected people yourself.)
Be aware, too, that there may be other financial resources available. For example, if the deceased was a veteran, the widow may be entitled to death benefits. There may be benefits from social security or from the deceased’s employer. The deceased may have had his own insurance policy. In addition, the widow may have extended family that can provide assistance.
As bills arrive for the funeral, I’d ask the widow, “How should payment be handled?” The point is you are not responsible for funeral costs. You are already spending a great deal of time and effort handling arrangements for a grief stricken, overwhelmed widow. I think most people in your shoes would feel as uncomfortable with reimbursement issues as you do. One thing is certain: You are behaving like a caring, loyal friend. The family is very lucky to have you.
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Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
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