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 history lesson, pointing out that the Gettysburg Address was, in fact, very short. Among them was Lisa McLendon, Deputy Copy Desk Chief of The Wichita Eagle. She wrote, “The Gettysburg Address runs less than 300 words—about 2-1/2 to 3 minutes of speaking time.” In contrast, she noted, President William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address—delivered in a snowstorm—lasted almost two hours. Harrison died of pneumonia a month later.


It warms my heart to know that interest in history and in historical accuracy is alive and well. Who knew a momentous speech like the Gettysburg Address could be so brief? Today’s politicians should take note. As for me, one of my resolutions for 2011 is to improve my fact checking. 


Taking photos at funerals was another topic that ignited reader response. People voiced differing points of view. Some believed photos were helpful in the grieving process over time and a reminder of those who attended the funeral. But it was also possible to feel violated when photos of the deceased were taken at the funeral home without the knowledge and permission of the closest grieving relative. It’s simple basic courtesy to ask permission on this most painful occasion. In addition, those left behind may feel vehemently that the only pictures circulated should show the living person.   


I’ve also heard again and again from people anguished at being banned from a loved one’s funeral by other family members. They want to say goodbye, but fear a battle at the funeral if they show up. Others refuse to attend a funeral due to past grievances. I know from my own experience how healing it can be to forget past “transgressions” (on either side) and take comfort in mourning together. In this uncertain world, the beginning of the New Year seems like a good time to consider forgiveness, let bygones be bygones, and move ahead. 


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at


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 Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.  


Image via Flickr Creative Commons / anaivette64

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