Thursday, January 8, 2015

Horse, Then Cart

Photo courtesy Flickr user Chuckumentary
In a rite of passage, the pressure of events can obscure priorities. Particularly with a funeral, the stress of final illness and bereavement burdens judgement and cognition at the very time the most sensitive decisions must be made: a friend was recently left out of the loop for a memorial service in which she was scheduled to do a reading. The ceremony was planned by a woman who had been up for three days straight after years of elder care. A grieving daughter’s clerical error and a grieving niece’s failure to notice that something was missing combined to produce a no-show.

On a smaller scale, I set up an elaborate Easter breakfast for a gang of cousins, waited at the table for a couple of hours before rising to make some guilt-inducing phone calls, only to discover that my enthusiasm for polishing silver and ironing the ancestral tablecloth had trumped actually notifying the family of the basics: who, what, when, where, and why.

Prevent miscommunications by maintaining a meticulous address list with entries noted exactly as they are to be copied. Designate a trusted associate to act as social secretary. Years of freelancing calligraphic social invitations left me familiar with the many chapters of many print versions of etiquette books. I encouraged clients to choose one volume as a reference so that I could avoid unintentionally insulting people’s grandmothers.

There is standard practice in funerals and memorial services just as there is standard practice in a wedding. Convention is a powerful ally that allows one to delegate. Just read the manual and set up a check list. The key phrase to remember is simply to say, “I’m sorry” to the bereaved. Do not improvise.


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