Thursday, February 12, 1998; Page C23


I have many questions about funerals -- a delicate topic -- and no one to turn to for answers. Perhaps you could address this in your column. I'm sure many others have these same questions.

What is a memorial? Sometimes, a memorial is specified, like "in John's name" or "UNICEF." Many times, it is not. Just how do I contribute to a memorial? Do I send cash or a check? To whom should it be sent? How do I find the address of a particular charity? How much should a person contribute? There are usually small condolence cards at a funeral home. Is that what I should use for a monetary contribution, or should I purchase a card from the store?

There are many times when I do not personally know the deceased but work with, or am friends with, family members. Is it OK to visit the funeral home or attend the funeral without making a donation? Is it OK to just send a card or a note without enclosing money? What about signing the guest book? Whether or not I knew the deceased, if I don't make a donation, should I still sign the book?

Thanks for any help you can give me. -- No Name, No State

Dear No Name:

The purpose of attending a funeral is to show respect for the deceased and to support and comfort family and friends. Unless the funeral is specified as private, everyone is welcome. A condolence letter, or even a few personal words on a store-bought condolence card, should be sent to the family as soon as you learn of the death. It can be brief, just two or three sentences, but it should be sent as soon as possible and preferably handwritten. Money or checks NEVER should be included in a card or letter of sympathy.

There is no obligation to send flowers or make a contribution to a charity unless you wish to do so. The family may ask that instead of flowers, donations be made to a specific organization or charity in memory of the deceased. If you wish to make a donation, send a check directly to the charity with a letter stating that it is in memory of the deceased and give the family's address. The amount is entirely up to you. The charity will acknowledge receipt to you and notify the family. You should be able to locate the address of any charity at the local public library or in your city's telephone book. Sometimes, the funeral home has this information.

It is thoughtful to attend the visitation at the mortuary, and your signature in the guest book will let the family know that you were there. Though it is not usual for thank-you notes to be sent to each person who attended, family members like to know who visited so they can mention it when they next see you. Your name should be carefully written so it is easily read.

The most important thing to remember when someone dies is that your expression of sympathy will comfort the family. Your questions may help others do so more easily. Thank you for writing.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company