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Death etiquette
Old 10-18-2011, 12:43 PM   #1
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Death etiquette

What do you do when someone you know dies? Just wondering since I'm sure there will be many instances, as we grow older, when one could use some ideas. I know that sympathy cards are still being sent and some times food is prepared for the family. When my husband died, I received sympathy cards, but no food. I'm very out of touch in death etiquette.
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:09 PM   #2
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People still send flowers to the funeral, send sympathy cards, and sometimes take food to the bereaved. AFAIK none of that has changed.

Although I suspect that flowers are losing popularity with some, they were still plentiful at funerals I have attended in recent years.

Food may be less popular than it once was, especially among those who are not close to the bereaved. But it can be very helpful too.
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:22 PM   #3
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Cash is often preferred over flowers. Cash for a memorial, cash for a particular cause/charity, cash for kids college fund, or even cash to cover funeral expenses. The family will generally specify.
Still, flowers are a nice touch if you can do both,,
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:37 PM   #4
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Guess I'm old fashioned, but I always send a card of sympathy and flowers if it is a relative or close friend. If it's a neighbor, I would check if there was anything I could do to help. They can usually use assistance in the way of food for incoming guests. Ref the card thing, my kids don't send cards anymore of any kind. Asked my sister and brother about this and their kids don't send cards either. They say it's old fashioned. I say bullcrap, it's being lazy.
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:44 PM   #5
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One of the nicer trends is that families can ask that donations be made in someone's memory to a charity. Many people will suggest a charity but others will just ask for gifts to the charity of your choice. Most funeral homes have cards for this purpose. (side note: please write your name and address legibly - it took me hours to send out thank you cards because I had to search for addresses on the 'net)

Food is always appreciated. The family doesn't usually have the time or inclination to buy and/or make meals. At my mom's funeral, several people sent the fixings to make sandwiches: cold cuts, cheese slices, buns, pickles. It was a nice thought, since so many people are picky about what they eat nowadays.

Sympathy cards are always welcome too.
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:45 PM   #6
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I really think this varies depending on your relationship with the surviving person. It might range from a sympathy card to financial contributions, dropping off a few meals, and just a sincere phone call expressing support.

IMHO the most valuable thing you can do is to just be there ready to listen. It is surprising how many well-wishers are not at ease when discussing death and grieving.
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:50 PM   #7
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I forgot to add: it's also very nice to do 'random acts of kindness' that will just make the family's life easier.

For example, during my mom's funeral, there was a 2-day snowstorm. On the first morning, we came outside to find that someone had shovelled all the snow from the driveway and cleaned off the cars. When we got back that night, it had been cleaned again. Same thing on day 2, even though the wind chill was -47 and there was a full-blown blizzard blowing.

Offer to walk the dog or look after the lawn care or whatever.... little things that people won't ask for help with, but they make a big difference.
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:54 PM   #8
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I usually give a donation to a charity plus send a sympathy card . The one thing I received when I had losses were plants . It was a nice thought but it was a constant reminder of my loss . I eventually tossed them . I'm Irish and they one thing I've learned from Irish funerals besides how to party is the saying "Sorry for your troubles ". I think it's a nice way to show sympathy .
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:55 PM   #9
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IMHO the most valuable thing you can do is to just be there ready to listen. It is surprising how many well-wishers are not at ease when discussing death and grieving.
This is the hardest, and often the most valuable. And in the cases of someone in hospice care, more or less waiting to die, it is vital to just go sit and listen, laugh, and tell them that they won't be forgotten.

The question of what to do/send is really one of culture. I see you are in Nebraska, so I can't say what is typical there, but here you would go to the wake, send a HANDWRITTEN sympathy card (tacky to send store-bought words) and drop off some food at the house if you are close to the family. If it is requested, you can donate to a favorite charity, or send flowers if you wish.
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:58 PM   #10
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IMHO the most valuable thing you can do is to just be there ready to listen. It is surprising how many well-wishers are not at ease when discussing death and grieving.
Well said, and IMHO most effective long after the services, after all that have attended have "forgotten" the deceased.

Without the remerbrance of the living, the dead - well, are dead...
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Old 10-18-2011, 03:48 PM   #11
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Well said, and IMHO most effective long after the services, after all that have attended have "forgotten" the deceased.

Without the remerbrance of the living, the dead - well, are dead...
+100 for this one

When my husband passed suddenly 7 years ago, I was very touched by the huge attendance at his wake and funeral. I was in a bit of a fog from shock, but I do remember the tributes that were given at the services. I had a lot of community support. Sympathy cards by the dozens arrived for weeks. So far so good, right?

The worst part of it all...was after all was said and done, I noticed people acted very oddly when they saw me a few weeks later. Some had the presence of mind to greet me and give me a hug, inquire about my eating and sleeping habits (I looked like hell), and say something kind about him.

Most people shifted their eyes, hemmed and hawed, and just stood there or said a quick hello and then bolted. The good old "I don't know what to say" syndrome. I cannot describe how hurtful that was to me. Just when I needed human contact the most, people failed miserably. The phone remained silent, none of my couple friends asked me over for dinner or offered to have me join them at group events, and the odd behavior in public continued. I felt very isolated.

My grief counselor and doctor told me that this was very typical behavior and had nothing to do with me, but how people deal with death. Not very well, universally. I resolved myself to getting used to being alone, more than I thought I should be at such an awful time. I managed but I will never forget how some of these people acted toward me. It was unforgivable.
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Old 10-18-2011, 03:51 PM   #12
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freebird, thank you for this--I needed to hear this right now. I have a good friend (we were in each others' weddings) whose husband is at home now, with hospice. We've been a few times to see them, and I have texted her, brought by little things, but mostly I'm focused on being the friend to her when all this is over. She's very private and the house has been full of his friends in past two weeks.
Your post reminds me of how important my role will be in her life after he is gone. I won't let her down like your friends, unknowingly, did you.
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Old 10-18-2011, 05:18 PM   #13
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The worst part of it all...was after all was said and done, I noticed people acted very oddly when they saw me a few weeks later. Some had the presence of mind to greet me and give me a hug, inquire about my eating and sleeping habits (I looked like hell), and say something kind about him.
Most people shifted their eyes, hemmed and hawed, and just stood there or said a quick hello and then bolted. The good old "I don't know what to say" syndrome. I cannot describe how hurtful that was to me. Just when I needed human contact the most, people failed miserably. The phone remained silent, none of my couple friends asked me over for dinner or offered to have me join them at group events, and the odd behavior in public continued. I felt very isolated.
My grief counselor and doctor told me that this was very typical behavior and had nothing to do with me, but how people deal with death. Not very well, universally. I resolved myself to getting used to being alone, more than I thought I should be at such an awful time. I managed but I will never forget how some of these people acted toward me. It was unforgivable.
I've been on the other side of this with the families of deceased veterans. Many times the survivors seemed to pull away from military contact and isolate themselves. Understandable if they can't bear to look at the uniform, see their old command or shipmates, or encounter other reminders.

But there's also other support to offer. We take care of our own-- if they let us. We were the ones who made sure their dearly departed could be viewed (if desired) a final time in their full uniform with all the accessories looking shipshape. We were the ones who helped them navigate the (sometimes inconsiderate) bureaucracy of benefits applications, extensions, and waivers. We don't have to sit in the conference room in uniform being uncomfortably formal when we can just as easily meet them somewhere in civvies to talk story over a cup of coffee and help with whatever.

What are we gonna do, go after them and dig them out of their self-imposed isolation?

There's a middle ground between finding out who your friends really are (and who's just a co-worker or acquaintance) versus withdrawing from society.
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Old 10-18-2011, 05:34 PM   #14
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What are we gonna do, go after them and dig them out of their self-imposed isolation?

There's a middle ground between finding out who your friends really are (and who's just a co-worker or acquaintance) versus withdrawing from society.
Yes, absolutely so.
I guess my point was to relate my own experience, and perhaps someone here would remember to pick up that phone, make that invitation to come out, and make a difference in the life of someone going through a loss. Sometimes all it takes is a kind word and a nudge to rekindle a grieving spirit.
I was the type who got out of the house and went to places I had always gone to, even if it was tough to do.
As time went by, I became aware of other widows/widowers who did just the opposite, sadly hermited up in their homes. I tried to engage them in social events, i.e. let's team up and not have to go solo. That w*rked to some degree.
I found the balance in a combination of revisiting places that I used to go as a couple, and understanding that I needed to branch out into new places and new people. These days, I have a new set of friends and places to go to.
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Old 10-18-2011, 05:47 PM   #15
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The one thing I received when I had losses were plants . It was a nice thought but it was a constant reminder of my loss . I eventually tossed them .
Thanks for the responses so far. I know when my husband died I didn't know what to do with 7 Peace Lilies. They also just reminded me of death...they also got tossed.

I did the memorial/donation thing too with my husband's death. So, I'm good with that.

What is bothering me the most is the personal touch things. I don't really have any close friends, but, the one person that came past my house when my husband died, has now lost her daughter. So, I need to DO SOMETHING...just having a hard time figuring out what. I know I need to stop by her house, probably a day or so before the funeral. I probably will take some food of some sort. She has a very large extended family that probably will be coming for the funeral. Would a gift certificate to a pizza place be out of line? So, that they could order by phone and have it delivered when they want it? I certainly don't want it to look like party time.
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Old 10-18-2011, 05:58 PM   #16
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Thanks for the responses so far. I know when my husband died I didn't know what to do with 7 Peace Lilies. They also just reminded me of death...they also got tossed.

I did the memorial/donation thing too with my husband's death. So, I'm good with that.

What is bothering me the most is the personal touch things. I don't really have any close friends, but, the one person that came past my house when my husband died, has now lost her daughter. So, I need to DO SOMETHING...just having a hard time figuring out what. I know I need to stop by her house, probably a day or so before the funeral. I probably will take some food of some sort. She has a very large extended family that probably will be coming for the funeral. Would a gift certificate to a pizza place be out of line? So, that they could order by phone and have it delivered when they want it? I certainly don't want it to look like party time.
I like the pizza certificate idea.

Some "personal touch" ideas...
Offer to take her for a hairstylist visit, or drive her to select clothing for the services.
Offer to be a driver for the family for the services.
Ask for a shopping list and do the shopping.
Offer to do setup and cleanup for the meal afterwards.
Offer to keep track of cards and flowers and donations sent.
Bake (or buy) a huge batch of cookies for nibbling on. Place them in airtight containers.
Be that "go-fer" for Kleenex, drink of water, coat handling at the funeral home.

...Any sort of small task you do will be greatly appreciated.
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Old 10-18-2011, 06:10 PM   #17
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I don't really have any close friends, but, the one person that came past my house when my husband died, has now lost her daughter. So, I need to DO SOMETHING...just having a hard time figuring out what. I know I need to stop by her house, probably a day or so before the funeral.
The death of a child is so painful that nothing will help . I would just stop by and tell her how sorry you are and do not ask questions just express your sympathy .
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Old 10-18-2011, 07:02 PM   #18
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happy2bretired....

You come across as a loving, compassionate woman.

Seems to me all you need to do is give your friend a warm embrace...and a shoulder to cry on. After a little time has passed, visit her again and listen.....
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Old 10-18-2011, 07:35 PM   #19
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Timely thread for myself as a good friend of mine lost his wife a few weeks ago while we were in England. They had planned to come over and stay for a couple of weeks but she got real sick very quickly.

Thanks in particular to Freedbird for her personal feedback on this subject.

My friend's wife had retired at 60, 2 years ago, and he retired in May at age 62, so they have had no retirement time together after 35 years of marriage. I met him a couple of days after we got back and we played tennis. One of his sons has bought him a bike (cycle) so we are already planning some rides together along with my DW, plus we'll now be able to play tennis more than once a week, provided our bodies hold up.

Reading this thread tells me that personal contact and talking about his wife and whatever he wants to talk about is probably the best I can do for him.
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Old 10-18-2011, 07:51 PM   #20
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It is never time wasted to keep a grieving person integrated into the same circle of friends they had before the loss occurred. Some may refuse at first, preferring to grieve alone or simply catch up on sleep lost. Grief is physically exhausting.
Some may alternate between "bless you for calling" and "I'm just not in the mood today". Please listen carefully to what they tell you.
Just don't treat the grieving person like they are crazy, nor ignore what they say, nor isolate them socially. It is a very tough time already without all that silliness added.
Be gentle, be there.

PS You're welcome, Alan.
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