My husband is dying. We have hospice in the house and I would like to know about memorial service etiquette. What should I be doing? They predict he’ll be dead in 72 hours.
–LS, Montauk, NY
About memorial service etiquette. As you no doubt know, the purpose of a memorial service is to remember your husband in a manner in which you and his close family and friends knew him. It can also be a way to say goodbye to his physical presence.
The memorial service may be an essential form of support for those who loved your husband and knew him well, and those who knew him not as well, but really liked him.
Aside from nurturing and comforting family members and your husband’s closest friends, you would orchestrate various practical elements: the burial, the obituary, the memorial service, the program or takeaway.
- That handout consists of the order of the service as well as photos, favorite poem, etc. of your husband, and, last but not least, the sympathy acknowledgment.
In many families, the elders are encouraged to make a draft or outline of their obituary, as well as to leave written instructions as to how and where they wish to be buried.
- A recently deceased friend, a former diplomat who lived by protocol, had his entire church service worked out beforehand spending “hundreds of hours,” going over every detail of his funeral with the minister. She made that clear in her sermon.
Even as the spouse, you may not have those directives, but at the memorial service you would be expected to greet all the mourners and be introduced to partners and spouses.
- A series of tasks would presumably overwhelm anyone grieving and the more delegating you can do the better.
Nevertheless, these elements are part of the letting go and filling the empty void, that, somewhat, eases and prepares the grieving process.
Burial: The traditional, conventional details will be outlined for you by a good funeral director, who will shepherd you through the steps.
- The director, or staff, will give you the information you need to decide about how and where your husband’s remains will be handled, and buried or stored.
- You will be asked to choose a vessel, either a coffin for the embalmed body or an urn in which to safe keep the cremated ashes. You will be prompted at every question to make it easier for you to come to a decision.
- You will even be asked about the particulars of your husband’s life, because the funeral home releases a death announcement (template obituary) to local newspapers.
Obituary: Ideally, the family would write the obituary. Look at recent notices in your local paper to find a style that suits you and adapt the wording to fit information about your husband; his milestones, and family.
- Starting this now will possibly enable you to query your husband for his input.
- At the end of the obituary you will just need to add information as to the date, time, and place of the memorial service (if it is open to the public), as well as where to send a check “in lieu of flowers in honor the deceased.”
Memorial Service: Whether the service takes place at your husband’s favorite fishing rock, watering hole, or in your home or a house of worship, having someone you know to officiate is ideal.
- You want to be sure that the officiate knows many of the specifics about your husband in order for him/her to sound credible; they will help you plan the order of service and program.
- When there is a reception following the service, the officiate would invite the mourners to attend, “The family would like you to join them (following the service or after the private burial) at ….”
*You can find out how much the officiate is owed for their time (and in some instances travel expenses) from their office.
Flowers: Aside from the boutonnieres that the ushers wear as an identity badge, you can also instruct relatives or friends to take charge of the flowers.
Have them write a brief description (white roses
spray with blue bachelor buttons) on the back of
the florist cards.
Ushers: Family members and close friends will either step up to volunteer as ushers, or you’ll have to ask several people ahead of time to help greet and seat mourners and see to it that everyone is given a handout/program.
Program/Handout: The church, or house of worship, should be able to provide you with the template for the order of the service and help you select prayers, readings and music, plus have that handout printed in time for the service.
- For a memorial service you would have more time to have a program printed that reflects your aesthetic.
- It would include the order and names of the various speakers and readers, and could display a photo of your husband, say, on the front, and a photo of the two of you, or of your family, on the back, making it a takeaway remembrance.
Reception: This gathering of the clan and fans is a opportunity for the family to thank mourners for attending the memorial service, and, possibly, for other sweet expressions of sympathy extended, such as flowers, cards, reading your husband’s favorite poem or reminiscing about his success during the service.
*You will have handpicked those speakers ahead of time.
Venue: A parish hall is convenient space for holding the reception, because of the parking, kitchen catering, and proximity to the church.
The most intimate setting would be your home.
At the very least, sandwiches, coffee, and sweets are
offered over a a period of approximately one to
two hours to give guests a chance to sit informally
The sympathy acknowledgement is the thank-you note in the form of a thick paper card or a thin paper fold-over card. They can be found already printed, but not personalized, boxed by the dozen in stationery stores or printed to your specifications there (in Newport we use the stationery store Papers); or designed and ordered at online stationery stores such as reavesengraving.com and dempseyandcarroll.com
These sympathy acknowledgment cards, whether preprinted or printed to order, can be shared with family members; you each write your own sweet expression of gratitude to your friend on the back of the card; or if a fold-over, write in the inside.
Just a sentence or two to give thanks for the flowers, etc., or simply for their attendance, before signing your name, would be apt.
You would not need to have the return address printed as each family member can fill in their own address on the back of the envelope.
- Depending on your style, a laminated photo of your husband can be enclosed with the sympathy acknowledgment.
- That second card can also include his date of birth, date of death, and even a quote from the scriptures, his favorite poem or song.
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Accepting A Compliment