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Funeral Etiquette Part II

  Taking Charge

The world over, funeral customs have one factor in common; the belief that the dead man has not ceased to live. This belief finds expression in rites and ceremonies. it is for this reason that funeral and mourning practices are highly conventional. Another reason, perhaps, is because death is a shock, and a round of conventional ceremonies alleviates that strained feeling during the period of readjustment.

Thus, the members of the bereaved family should be left as nearly alone to their grief as possible. Nothing in the nature of business should be thrust upon them. A male member of the family should take complete charge; or the immediate duties may be left in the hands of the nearest outside relatives. But whoever does take charge should see that the family is not troubled with the minor details, and that the funeral ceremony is carried out according to the family's pre-confided wishes.

The duties of the person, or persons, who take charge are many and varied. The first duty is to see that all the blinds are drawn and that the door-bell is muffled. Proper announcements must be made in the newspapers, pall-bearers must be selected, and the arrangements must be made with the sexton for the funeral itself. The clergyman who is to officiate must be interviewed and all the details concerning services, music and decorations of the church must be determined. Upon the person in charge also rests the duty of seeing that the undertaker does not take advantage of his authority to the extent of making the funeral unduly lavish.

It is within the power of the person who takes charge at a funeral to mitigate considerably the grief of the family. And it is a service that the family will not soon forget.

Announcing the Death

Modern funeral customs demand a few lines in the newspapers making public announcement of a death. Attendant ceremonies are also included for the benefit of friends and acquaintances of the family. Following is a typical announcement of a death, copied with only a change in names from the newspaper:

Radcliff__At her residence, 410 West Fiftieth Street, Rose Speyer Radcliff, daughter of James and Helen Wilson Speyer, and beloved wife of Robert L. Radcliff. Funeral services in the Chapel of St. Bartholomew's Church, Park Avenue and Fiftieth Street, new York City, on Saturday morning, 11 o'clock. Interment at Waterbury, Conn.

When an announcement of this kind appears in the newspapers all friends and relatives of the family are expected to appear at St. Bartholomew's Church on Saturday morning at 11 o'clock to attend the services. If the words "Funeral private" or "Interment private" are added to the announcement, it is the height of ill-breeding for any except very intimate friends and relatives to be present. Very often the request "Kindly omit flowers," or "Please omit flowers" is added to the announcement of a death. In this event it is still the privilege of a friend to send flowers to some member of the family or to the family as a whole after the funeral ceremony has taken place.

Some Necessary Preparations

Where there are servants, one should be stationed at the door to receive cards and messages. otherwise this duty devolves upon the person who is taking charge. The servant should wear a black gown, white collar and cuffs and a white apron and white cap with black ribbons. If a man-servant is stationed at the door he wears a complete black livery.

With the growing taste for privacy and simplicity, many of the foolish demonstrations of grief, expressed in outward display, have been eliminated. it is now a very rare occurrence for the room in which the dead body lies to be filled with wreaths and masses of flowers, for people are beginning to realize that this is a relic of ancient and savage burial customs, and that it is not so much a manifestation of grief as a display of vanity. Of course it is a pretty way of expressing sentiment to send a floral offering to some one who has died; but modern principles of good conduct acclaim it better taste, and certainly more dignified, to express these sentiments of regard in some other way. A short expression of sorrow appearing as a semi-=public announcement in the newspaper after the announcement of the death may be offered by a group of friends or business associates but it is not good form for a member of the family of the deceased to insert such an announcement in the papers. Family grief is private; and publicity cheapens it.

The somber crepe announcing to the world that a death has occurred in the family is also fast becoming a thing of the past. One can easily see in this custom of crepe-hanging a relic of that custom of ancient Patagonia that required all belongings of the deceased to be painted black. Even the body of the person who died was covered with black paint. The black crepe of today is merely another form of that same custom. Now, instead of the broad black ribbon, a wreath or long sprays of white or lilac flowers are entwined around the flowing ends of white ribbon. This is especially appropriate when the deceased is a young person__man or woman. For a girl of tender years, or for a very young child, a sheaf of white roses or white carnations with white ribbons should be used; roses and violets with a white ribbon, or roses with a black ribbon denote the death of an older unmarried man or woman. The plain crepe streamers are usually used for married people. Custom still demands this flower-and-ribbon tribute to the dead on the door of his or her residence, but gradually this custom, too, will be relegated to the forgotten things of the past.

The Ladies of the Family

A close friend or relative of the bereaved family should make the necessary purchases for the women members of that family. It is considered bad form for them to be seen abroad before the funeral. A dressmaker should be summoned to the house if orders are to be given for mourning dress.

The duty of writing necessary notes and seeing callers also devolves upon some intimate relative or friend. Notes or letters written in the name of the family are on either black-edged or plain white paper, and signed with the names of the people for whom they are written. Thus, if Mrs. Carr's husband has died, and her cousin is attending to the incident preparations and duties, the notes and letters written for Mrs. Carr would be signed with her name and not the name of the cousin, but with the initials of the cousin beneath the signature.

The ladies of a bereaved family should not see callers, even the most intimate friends, unless they are able to control their grief. it is a source of discomfort to the visitor, as well as to the mourner, to enact a scene of semi-hysteria in the drawing-room. Yet, at a time like this, one can hardly be expected to be in full control of one's emotions. Therefore it is always wise for the women to keep to their rooms until after the funeral.

(To be continued: Part III)


Website: The History
Article Name: Funeral Etiquette Part II
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina


 BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my collection of books " Book of Etiquette" by Lillian Eichler Volume I, Nelson Doubleday, Inc. 1921
Time & Date Stamp:  


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