Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 8 May

Funeral etiquette is always a delicate topic, but a fearless Thomas Blaikie is here to lay down the law…

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
For the last two years a group of us have played bridge twice a week at a community centre. Six weeks ago one of our number became unwell. Sadly, our friend died in hospital. We received a friendly card from his daughter, whom none of us knew, nor any of his family. Then we heard from the community centre that the funeral had already taken place without anyone being informed. We were hurt. We’d spent more time with him at the end of his life than anyone else. What is the protocol in these situations? Should the family’s wishes take priority? Aren’t funerals supposed to be a celebration of the person’s life and open to anyone who wishes to be there?
Rachel Sutherland, Gosport

Dear Rachel,
What a very distressing situation. I do feel for you. Just recently a neighbour of my mother’s died and word went round that the deceased had said nobody was to come to his funeral. He was rather like that. In the event, his command was ignored. There was a goodly turnout at the crematorium and a tea in the village afterwards where all sorts of people who hadn’t seen each other for years were reunited.

In an odd way, funerals can be happy occasions. In your case, you might have met your bridgeplaying friend’s family and other friends. As you say, you’d spent more time with him latterly than anyone else. You were with him when he was taken ill. You had no chance to say goodbye. It might just be thoughtlessness that nobody was told about the funeral, but its suggests that whoever was in charge didn’t care that much. Or perhaps your friend had expressly said in his will that he didn’t want anyone at his funeral. If the deceased had made a big issue about this, it might be hard for relatives or friends to ignore.

But wherever possible these whims should be ignored. The funeral isn’t just about the one who has died; it’s about those left behind as well. Of course, in the shock and sadness of death, those close to the departed one might feel that they cannot face a huge funeral with a wake afterwards. The thought of organising it and meeting people is too much. Maybe there are disputes within the family and a danger of unpleasantness. If at all possible people should try to resist these feelings. The funeral will mean so much to others who will be distressed if excluded. Maybe someone slightly outside the family could make all the arrangements? When it’s all over, the chances are everybody will feel the better for it – comforted, consoled, family and friends coming together, and, just maybe, feuds at an end.

Please send your questions to thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

What to do about... sending emails

Recently I was on the phone to an event organiser trying to tell them that my plus-one wasn’t to be the one originally named. ‘Okay,’ the young man said, ‘that’s fine. Can you email me the names?’ Well, I was standing in the street on my phone, about to have lunch with a highly strung individual – but that’s beside the point. I felt like screaming: ‘But I’m one of the names and you’ve already got that. The other name is just two words. The spelling should not be a challenge. The surname is a well-known brand of jam. Can’t you write the names down now?’

But I was restrained by politeness, of course. Also, to tell the truth, I was bemused. In the end, it was agreed that I would text the names, including my own. After careful reflection, I see what I had not properly seen before. If it’s not an email, or a text message, or on Facebook, if it’s just scribbled on a piece of paper in actual handwriting, assuming a person is capable of that, it just doesn’t exist. This is a yet-to-berecognised impact of the technological revolution.


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