Loss, and the etiquette of Loss

funeral

I am at a loss. Yesterday a friend lost her husband to cancer. I am close enough to her to want to show her how sad I am for her and her children, and that I am available for her to ask me to help her or her children with anything, but not close to her husband, and don’t know what is the right behaviour in the coming days and weeks.

I trusted my gut instinct and called her this morning, and thought I’d get her voice mail. To my surprise, she picked up the phone. She was, understandably very sad and emotional. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I was so moved that she even picked up my call. We shared the injustice of his illness, and how he was taken so quickly, and she shared with me how fortunate she was to have spent 30 years with this man.

But what happens next? It is such an uncommon occurrence, so I just don’t know what is the right protocol. Again, I lean on those who know, and find myself guided by their experience, and then want to apply my sensitivity and closeness to her and her family.

Yes, I have experienced loss before. Mostly when I was much younger as aging relatives died, and was mostly guided by my parents behaviour.

Now, I must firstly check their religious faith, as I don’t know what is customary; does one wear black, or should I send flowers, or do people select worthy causes for donations?

Secular ceremonies have various forms of honouring their family and friends, and this note by no means aims to standardise mourning and loss. But, after doing some research, it seems that there are changes to some of the past behaviour that I thought still in practice.

It seems that it is no longer expected to wear black to funerals. Tasteful attire, covering up shoulders (though bare arms seem acceptable), and skirt or dress length need be at least above the knee or longer. Pants are acceptable, though shorts are not.

Offering up condolences are acceptable, and it seems that as long as the message is sincere and thoughtful, then it can be by phone, by mail, in a condolence card or note, or even by email. It’s not wise to send a condolence by text.

It’s important to reach out to people you may know that are close to the family of the departed. They will let you know if there is a funeral, which is often kept for close family and friends, and if there is a memorial service for the extended friends, colleagues and other people who want to show their sympathy.

Gifts, such as wreaths and other flowers, are still thoughtful gifts, to add gaiety and colour to the ceremony. If a donation is preferred, the family will let you know in the lead up to the service.

It is however, considered most important to attend the service, whether at the funeral, the cemetary, memorial or the wake, and to offer a kind word to the family of the deceased. Though they will be wrought by sadness, they will still appreciate the kindness of those around them.

Rushing to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while after the service should be muted to a respectful murmur.

From the UK etiquette experts – Debrett’s – taken from http://www.debretts.com/etiquette/rites-of-passage/death/miss-debrett-on-funerals.aspx

Miss Debrett’s Top Tips

  • Take your lead from the chief mourners and never outdo them.
  • Switch off your mobile, don’t whisper during the service and maintain an air of dignified discretion.
  • Keep your behaviour sober and restrained at the post-funeral gathering; remember this is a wake, not a party.

Loss in death is the worst grief one experiences in life. Offering up any small gesture of kindness will aid the grieving process.

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