Etiquetteer was quite surprised at the outpouring of reader comments after last week’s "Past Imperfect" column. A few choice responses, sometimes edited for length and to preserve anonymity, are offered today:
From a doctor: Some etiquette should be history for good reason. Thanks foran enjoyable and well-expressed column.
From a graphic designer: My husband and I thought about this, but as a wedding day flies by, and many people do not know how to keep things going, we opted out, with the exception of the informal hugs, kisses and handshakes as people exited the [Insert Name of Wedding Hall Here]. There the group of people behind exiting guests naturally impressed that a brief greeting was best.
At the calling hours following my mother’s death we did have a receiving line, which worked fairly well despite the number of people in it (6), and the many guests waiting in line. Receiving lines are formal, ritualistic things. Not without value, but no place for a heart to heart, or for two people who’ve not seen each other for years to embark upon a reunion.
My mother’s family, especially her sisters, took the clothing subject very seriously. Black dresses, stockings, gloves, hat, sweaters and coats for at least a year, whether at home or in town. I think I favor that over what one friend saw at his father’s calling hours a couple years ago. He said that nearly a dozen people all twentysomethings, showed up in nylon athletic running pants and sweatshirts. He was appalled. I agree that mourning a loss, a death, has a place.
Etiquetteer responds: Many years ago Etiquetteer attended a visitation at a funeral home. Three friends appeared wearing beach clothes: shorts and casual shirts. They’d learned of the death while returning from vacation and chose to show up in the wrong clothes rather than not pay their respects at all. Etiquetteer thinks they made the right decision. On the other hand, we could all take a lesson from the Queen of England, who always travels with something black in case she has to return home quickly due to a sudden death. (She also has someone do all the packing and dry cleaning for her . . .)
From Someone Who Would Know: One ugly feature you didn't mention, but one that can tear the heart out of family and close friends, is the "open mike." It seems to be a popular feature with some of our megachurches; however, if I hear it's to be included in a service, I don't go.
Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer must gently disagree with you. While the term "open mike" is better suited to a comedy club than a funeral, the custom of "bearing witness" to the life of the deceased can be a beautiful opportunity for mourners to share the good ways that their lives were affected by that person. That said, not everyone understands that There Are Limits on these occasions. Etiquetteer was once Absolutely Appalled at one memorial service to hear how a dead acquaintance had helped someone evade the law and posed for nude photographs. Really, that’s not the sort of story for Public Consumption!
From a Regular Reader: Enjoyed your article about mourning practices but you failed to mention people 'producing' the after-burial festivities before they die. I gather there are now 'funeral planners' who are similar to wedding planners except that the host pays but does not appear at the party. Videos of the departed run on a continuous loop, food, flowers, valet parking etc are over the top for those underneath the bottom. I guess we are not all equal in death. I had personal experience with about a year ago when someone in my condo building died after a long illness. She was Jewish and arranged for two evenings of a catered reception with floral arrangements (even though in traditional Judaism no flowers are present). It was held in the social room of the building and from a distance looked like a wedding reception. Moreover in discussions with friends I learned that this is now becoming common with people making videos that play continually. It is such a departure from the traditional way of mourning that are very carefully detailed down to the fact that the door of the house is left open so the mourner does not have open the door or that the mourner sits on a low stool to mark his/her status as one 'brought low' and that the food is to be brought into the house for the grieving family, not served to the guests who should be bringing the food. It has become such a party that I think it is bad taste to grieve now; might spoil the fun people are having.
From an engineer: My boss's mother died, and in the Jewish tradition, she wore a small mourning button (Keriah), which if you know what it is, is a nice signal to lay low. The button carries an attached black cloth tail, which is cut as a substitute for tearing of actual clothes. It’s worn for 30 days.
Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer saw two Jewish ladies (on two different occasions) wearing such a button, but didn't know its significance. But let Etiquetteer tell you, wearing that button with a loud red floral print blouse doesn't really look like mourning to Etiquetteer.
From a journalist: When my mother died we had a memorial service instead of the traditional funeral -- we couldn't have a Jewish ceremony because a) she had died out of state and a Jewish ceremony has to be done within 24-hours, and b) she was cremated. We did have a very nice Rabbi who gave us the traditional mourning ribbon. This is a small black ribbon that is cut to symbolize how family members used to tear their clothing in grief. The tradition is to cover the mirrors for a week, you light a candle that lasts a week, and you wear the ribbon for a month. Then I guess, although I never had any counseling on this, you should begin a period of healing. Better than three years of mourning.
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