Q. I see In Memoriams in the newspaper regularly, but I wonder why people bother to place them. First, they’re expensive. Second, isn’t an obituary enough? 

Many of us never consider an In Memoriam because it isn’t a family custom and funeral costs are hard enough to handle. Yet the notices do comfort those left behind who wish to voice love and sorrow. These emotions have no expiration date. In Memoriams placed by parents and siblings speak of children who died. One can only imagine what happened. An accident?  Cancer? Who knows? It doesn’t matter, except to those who remember and grieve. The words, “We miss you so much,” never go stale. Tributes to loved ones who lived to old age can be poignant, as well. To survivors, these lives weren’t nearly long enough. 

There is no set script for In Memoriams, although some take the form of love letters. The writer recalls a first meeting with an adored spouse or partner, and expresses the lingering pain of loss. Other notices include an appropriate quotation that captures the essence of the deceased. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote the long poem, “In Memoriam,” in response to the death of his 22-year-old friend Arthur Hallem. The masterpiece reflects on finding hope after great loss, and is said to have brought solace to Queen Victoria as she mourned her beloved husband, Prince Albert.

In Memoriams often run on the deceased’s birthday, the first anniversary of the death—or the 40th. Recently, I read a notice marking a death that occurred 90 years ago. Holidays like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Christmas are also common occasions. Military veterans may be honored on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, or D-Day, the sixth of June. A daughter told me, “It made me feel better to run an In Memoriam for my dad on July 4th. I wanted to celebrate the life of an ordinary man who had an extraordinary love for his country.” 

Such notices kindle connection for younger generations of families, and for many of the rest of us, too. They move us. Perhaps that’s why the In Memoriam segment of the annual Academy Awards ceremony is so popular with attendees and TV viewers. The list of film industry honorees includes actors, directors, writers, and others who have died in the past year. Furor erupts when a favorite name is left out.    


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.

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 blog for bereaved spouses and partners.

Image: Shutterstock / Ed Phillips

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