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
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)