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I read this last night

January 28, 2008

and thought I would post it. I read the excerpt in a memoir by Joan Didion. In her book, she makes an interesting point about death–and that this was written in a time when people embraced that death occurs, that people mourn, and that things don’t change overnight. She also addresses that the more modern view of dealing with death is to act as if nothing has changed–that grief these days is seen as self-indulgent especially when it infringes on the happiness of others. Her point is that in our society today, those who seem to “get over it” faster or those being able to “move on with their lives” are more favored than those that accept the full magnitude of emotions that are present when someone dies.

I’m just posting this because I found it interesting, and wanted to make note of it. When I googled “Emily Post”, “funeral etiquette” immediately filled in itself in my toolbar. Either google search has tapped into my psyche, or its a well-searched topic. I also find that interesting.

Emily Post (1873-1960).  Etiquette.  1922.

Chapter XXIV.
Funerals

At no time does solemnity so possess our souls as when we stand deserted at the brink of darkness into which our loved one has gone. And the last place in the world where we would look for comfort at such a time is in the seeming artificiality of etiquette; yet it is in the moment of deepest sorrow that etiquette performs its most vital and real service.

All set rules for social observance have for their object the smoothing of personal contacts, and in nothing is smoothness so necessary as in observing the solemn rites accorded our dead.

It is the time-worn servitor, Etiquette, who draws the shades, who muffles the bell, who keeps the house quiet, who hushes voices and footsteps and sudden noises; who stands between well-meaning and importunate outsiders and the retirement of the bereaved; who decrees that the last rites shall be performed smoothly and with beauty and gravity, so that the poignancy of grief may in so far as possible be assuaged.

FIRST DETAILS
As soon as death occurs, some one (the trained nurse usually) draws the blinds in the sick-room and tells a servant to draw all the blinds of the house…

…If the death was sudden, or the nurse unsympathetic or for other reasons unavailable, then a relative or a near friend of practical sympathy is the ideal attendant in charge.

CONSIDERATION FOR THE FAMILY
Persons under the shock of genuine affliction are not only upset mentally but are all unbalanced physically. No matter how calm and controlled they seemingly may be, no one can under such circumstances be normal. Their disturbed circulation makes them cold, their distress makes them unstrung, sleepless. Persons they normally like, they often turn from. No one should ever be forced upon those in grief, and all over-emotional people, no matter how near or dear, should be barred absolutely. Although the knowledge that their friends love them and sorrow for them is a great solace, the nearest afflicted must be protected from any one or anything which is likely to overstrain nerves already at the threatening point, and none have the right to feel hurt if they are told they can neither be of use nor be received. At such a time, to some people companionship is a comfort, others shrink from dearest friends. One who is by choice or accident selected to come in contact with those in new affliction should, like a trained nurse, banish all consciousness of self; otherwise he or she will be of no service—and service is the only gift of value that can be offered.
FIRST AID TO THE BEREAVED
First of all, the ones in sorrow should be urged if possible to sit in a sunny room and where there is an open fire. If they feel unequal to going to the table, a very little food should be taken to them on a tray. A cup of tea or coffee or bouillon, a little thin toast, a poached egg, milk if they like it hot, or milk toast. Cold milk is bad for one who is already over-chilled. The cook may suggest something that appeals usually to their taste—but very little should be offered at a time, for although the stomach may be empty, the palate rejects the thought of food, and digestion is never in best order.

It sounds paradoxical to say that those in sorrow should be protected from all contacts, and yet that they must be constantly asked about arrangements and given little time to remain utterly undisturbed. They must think of people they want sent for, and they must decide the details of the funeral; when they would like it held, and whether in church or at the house, whether they want special music or flowers ordered, and where the interment is to be.

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