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ON GRIEF AND DECORUM

Dear Miss Manners: I am saddened by the loss of a friend who passed away as a result of an auto accident just a day before she would have participated in her graduation ceremony. The whole community she grew up in is devastated.

I want to pay my respects at the funeral home. I will be going by myself so I will be very nervous about the proper way to handle things. I want to send a card and flowers.

I purchased a sympathy card for the family. Should it be addressed to the parents or the deceased? I assume it should be addressed to the deceased.

I have no idea what to say to the family.

What is the proper way to express your concern and sorrow without upsetting them further? I sometimes get lightheaded around caskets. This occasion will make me lightheaded. Do you have any suggestions for either preventing the situation or excusing myself if I feel it coming on?

Gentle Reader: This is always a daunting situation, even for those who have had to go through it before, and Miss Manners admires you for facing it. Many an adult takes the cruel and cowardly course of running away.

The only thing that could upset the parents more than they already are is the impression that others don't care. But you have nobly determined to use all the ways to show that you do.

The flowers should be sent to the funeral home, addressed to "The funeral of" with your friend's name. Condolences are addressed to the bereaved, in this case the parents, but a letter is infinitely preferable to a card, where you merely sign someone else's words.

This brings us to the question of what to say. Both in person and by letter, what you need to tell the parents is that you sympathize with them and cared for their daughter. The former is done just by saying "I'm so sorry," and by writing, "I send you my deepest sympathy." Elaborating on this is what gets people saying foolish, hurtful things, such as "I know how you feel" or "Time will heal you."

If there is an open casket, you may be able to busy yourself with the mourners so that it is not conspicuous that you keep your distance. But if you do get faint, you need only say so to anyone nearby who can help you to a seat. The one thing people do not have to be embarrassed about in this situation is being overcome.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com.

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