• Facebook Life after Death
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Facebook Life after Death

Dear Didi,

Periodically, Facebook reminds me of a friend or acquaintance who is dead. Either because it is his birthday and it wants me to wish him a happy day or it wants me to recommend people who he should friend. If something happened to me, I would not want my face to hauntingly appear in the ‘Friends’ section of the timelines of members of my family and friends. In other words how do I have a civilized Facebook life after death?

–Ophelia, Grosse Point, MI

Dear Ophelia,

There does not have to be any life after death on Facebook. You have the option of appointing a "legacy contact." This executor of your account takes charge of the memorials after you're dead. You instruct him or her as to your wishes. Your legacy contact can even be changed. He or she has privileges that allow your profile photo and information to be updated. Your legacy contact can even be changed. However, take note that this memorialized contact cannot be changed once you're gone. From your account settings in your browser or on your mobile, select Security. Choose 'Legacy Contact' and type in the name of a Facebook contact to add as your legacy contact. If you would rather not have a memorialized timeline, you can choose the option of having your Facebook permanently deleted. However, even without a legacy contact your family can report your death to Facebook and place a memorialization request. Either way, your account name appears with "Remembering" in front of your name. In setting your security settings accordingly, friends will be able to post reminiscing comments on your timeline. Facebook states that account holders with memorialized accounts can be assured that their name and face won't appear in birthday announcements and advertisements, nor on the People You May Know list of friend suggestions. Otherwise, request to have your account deleted after you die.



  • Making A Memorial Service Private
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Making A Memorial Service Private

Dear Didi,

How do we contain the numbers at a memorial service in our church? My husband died and a good friend is hosting a dinner reception after the service, which will take place in three weeks.

The problem is this. The restaurant can only accommodate so many people, because of the strict fire code. My apartment is too small. Relatives and friends are coming from other states, our children’s friends will feel they have to attend, and everyone will expect to be invited to some sort of reception afterwards, which I cannot afford to host.

–N.W., Providence, RU

Dear N.W.,

In other words, making a memorial service private. Even if an obituary of your husband has already appeared in your local paper, take out a paid obituary announcing your husband's death and stating that there will be a 'private memorial service,' 'private family memorial service' or simply use, Memorial Service Private. Let the church know the service is private and by invitation only. The church should be able to rope off the nave (the main area) of the church for invited mourners. The officiate should NOT announce the reception following the service. Mourners who were not personally invited to the memorial service will sit in the areas of the church not roped off. Most likely the aisles (the sides of the church that run along the nave) and the transept (the area that crosses the nave near the top of the church). You cannot keep mourners out of the church, but you can delegate who sits where. When there is no announcement or information in the memorial program about a reception, those not personally invited will pick up on the fact that the reception is private. A memorial (funeral) invitation is a letter or card inviting the recipient to attend the memorial service (or funeral) to celebrate the life of the deceased. Written in a formal third person tone, it is sent immediately after the confirmation of the Memorial Service date, venue, and time. More recently, email letters and phone calls are used to rally the mourners. The invitation may include an admittance card to the church, such as this:

Admit Bearer

to service for

Mr. John Douglas Wilson

Thursday, May twentieth, 2015

At five o'clock, P.M.

St. James Episcopal Church

 Here are a couple of samples of memorial and funeral service invitations:Funeral announcment-1




  • What to Say in A Condolence Letter
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

What to Say in A Condolence Letter

Dear Didi,

Recently a very good friend hinted that I hadn’t written to her after her parents’ death. Despite the fact that I had sent her a card after each funeral. But she wanted more. Apparently she had wanted me to tell her an amusing story about the parent and elaborate on how wonderful each was. She had wanted me to delve deep into the parent’s character. I am not comfortable writing letters like that. I thought it was enough to send a card in which I added a heartfelt note. What is the proper etiquette for writing a condolence letter?

–G.L., Far Hills, NJ

Dear G.L.,

What to write in a condolence letter is one of the most difficult messages you will write. Go easy on yourself. In a perfect world, you would have written a one-page letter with at least three paragraphs. Starting by regaling the deceased's parent for being a memorable person in your life. Using their name along with any adjective that came to mind. Followed by offering your deepest sympathy for their loss. The third paragraph would consist of an amusing anecdote illuminating one of the parent's fine qualities. Or a colorful account of a dinner or car ride with the parent while you listened to your friend bantering about this and that. You could recall an incident about the Thanksgiving when you and your friend's mother walked into the kitchen to find the family dog gnawing on the turkey and how the two of you conspired to keep it a secret from the rest of the family. In the end, what you really want to come across is how deeply sorry you are for your friend's loss, because it is terrible to lose a parent. The next time you see this good friend, give her a big hug and tell her that you think about her parent with great fondness and let her know that the parent was indeed a wonderful person. Once the brouhaha from the funeral passes, we often forget that is when the real grieving begins. For many of us, writing such an intimate letter opens a wound of our own not yet healed. In the years to come, gently bringing up your friend's parents in conversation from time to time will make up for the fact that you didn't write condolence letters.


  • Children’s Attendance at Funerals
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Children’s Attendance at Funerals

Dear Didi,

My son recently passed away during an operation unexpectedly. His entire school went to the funeral. How do I thank them?

–Sad in West Virginia

Dear Sad in West Virginia,

Attending a classmate's funeral helps your son's friends and classmates to cope with their loss. Children's attendance at funerals educates them to recognize the importance of being part of a community. Children should be included in all aspects of family rituals and their school is an extension of their family. It is not necessary for you to thank your son's schoolmates, but you can certainly do so in several ways.

The family of John Wilson

deeply appreciates your

sympathy and is grateful

for your thoughtfulness

You definitely could have an acknowledgement posted on the school bulletin board using the wording shown above, but inserting your son's name.

Additionally, you could raise funds to provide the school with something  it needs such as a bicycle rack, the replacement of a tree on the property, a new basket ball hoop, books for the library in which you could place a bookplate (see bookplateink.com) in each of the books like the one below that would say:  In memory of John Wilson (inserting your son's name).

m101 Having children's attendance at funerals teaches them that a funeral plays an important role in their mourning and helps them see death as a fact of life.


  • Funeral Etiquette Flowers
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Funeral Etiquette Flowers

Dear Didi,

I am writing to you because you are an etiquette expert and I find myself at a loss not knowing what the appropriate etiquette is today because, thankfully, I have not had much experience with funerals.

My Dr. and dear friend died by suicide last week. You probably read about it in the New York Times. He was 65, a gay man without a partner, and no family except a brother he was distant from. He had so many friends and patients, that were also friends, and we all loved him.

One of his patients/friends is giving the funeral service tonight at Lincoln Centre for him. It is extremely generous of her to have organized everything.

I sent my own large arrangement and had my florist coordinate with her florist, who is doing the event’s florals, to keep on theme.

That aside I feel like I should send her a small posy of her favorite blooms and a note thanking her for stepping up during a time when we are all in shock. It is a huge responsibility to organize.

The only thing stopping me is that I don’t know her personally, only peripherally. In this situation is it appropriate for me to have my florist send a small discrete arrangement and a thank-you note?

–Francesca, NY, NY

Dear Francesca,

What a shock for you and his whole community that the good doctor took his own life. He must have been in a lot of emotional pain. The flowers to the service are generous and quite enough for now. About funeral etiquette flowers. My experience has been that during this time when emotion encompasses a broad range of feelings, reality has yet to set in. From the shock after the death of a loved one to the stress of orchestrating such an elaborate funeral service, it must be over-whelming for her. A well-meaning gift to the host of flowers can often be forgotten at this time. And is rarely acknowledged. On the other hand, one should never expect an acknowledgement. A small elegant arrangement of posies sent to the host reflecting your condolences and gratitude, would be appreciated much more deeply later on rather than now. 15 In a week or two when matters have calmed down, would be better timing. And who knows, you might even find a thank-you note in your mail. My point isn't about the thank-you note, it is about understanding the confusion of emotions surrounding the death of anyone. Also, on your enclosure with the flowers you can thank the host for organizing the 'moving and elegant funeral service.' 13


  • When to Stay Silent
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

When to Stay Silent

Dear Didi,

A friend of ours died in a car accident recently and we’re not only at a loss for words, but we’re at a loss for the right words to say to his family and friends of the family. They have a child who is in school with one of our children and it has been difficult telling them what to say and what not to say. Please, give us some badly needed guidance.

–Anonymous, Newport, Rhode Island

Dear Anonymous,

When in doubt as to what to say and what not to say it is advisable to say as little possible. The best thing to say is that you have been thinking about them. The worst thing to say is "How are you?" Obviously, they are not feeling great and you cannot take away the pain. They just lost their father or husband. Your feelings of helplessness shouldn't keep you from reaching out and encouraging your children to reach out to their friend. Don't underestimate the power of love. Words give us power, so let the adult or child find the right words. Most importantly, tell good memories. Children dealing with loss have many of the same feelings and needs as adults, but fewer resources and coping skills to deal with their feelings. Any way to ease the pain of mourning is welcome. We all mourn in our own way and in our own time, and have individual patterns and outlets for grief. Sometimes it is best to say nothing and just be with the person, or give a big hug instead of saying anything. If you have a favorite memory of the deceased, share it. Or simply say: 'I am sorry for your loss,' 'I wish I had the right words, please, know that I care about you and your children,' 'I can't say that I know how you feel, but I'm here to help any way I can.' It would be insensitive to ask for details about the accident, such as, 'Was he wearing a seatbelt?' You simply wouldn't ask a question like that. Someone will probably tell you, anyway. Or say things such as, 'He is in a better place,' or 'There is a reason for everything,' or never 'You're still young you can marry again,' or 'I know how you feel.' Stay clear of bringing in God and religion, because you never know, the survivor could be very angry at God right now. Let the widow know you're thinking about her and check up on her from time to time, because, after all, when the out-of-town family and friends have gone home and she is alone, your friend will need you most. When the children are back in school and she is alone with her pain -- and her memories. Let her know that she and her children are in your thoughts and prayers and that you're here to help.


  • To Attend A Funeral or Not
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

To Attend A Funeral or Not

Dear Didi,

Would it be improper to attend the wake of and old girlfriend’s dad whom I have not seen in forty years?

–Jason, T., Woonsocket. RI

Dear Jason, T.,

The fact that you're asking means you want to attend, but feel awkward having not seen the deceased in a long time. You would be attending his wake in support of the deceased's family and because you liked and respected him. Wakes can be a social occasion and an opportunity to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. If your gut tells you to go, then attend, because it would not be improper.


  • A Friend's Possible Suicide
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

A Friend's Possible Suicide

Dear Didi,

Yesterday I read a very, very brief obituary of an old friend who died three months ago. There was no mention of his life, wife, where to send a contribution in memory, how he died or cause of death. Only two sisters were listed as survivors. Both of whom I know and who must have paid for the notice in the New York Times. He grew up in Manhattan, but had lived for many decades in the northwest. I contacted a good mutual friend of one of the sisters to find out what she knew. She said she had called and written to the sister months ago and still had not received a response. She assumes the sister is deeply saddened.

Somehow a commercial sympathy card seems too impersonal. That sister lives abroad so sending flowers would be prohibitive as well as too late. What would you recommend?

–E.C., Newport, RI

Dear E.C.,

Had the sisters not wanted their brother's death known, they would not have placed their brother's obituary in the New York Times. Try sending a condolence message through the New York Times Obituary Guest Book. No doubt, the paper will forward messages from any signers of the guest book to at least one of the sisters. Caution. Don't be tempted to share the New York Times Obituary Guest Book or obituary on Facebook. Let the family control the news on all social media, especially because the cause of death has not been announced. It could possibly be suicide. Nonetheless, there is no deeper heartfelt expression of sympathy than a handwritten note. To outlive a sibling is a tragic loss.


  • Wife’s Family Control Funeral and Asks to Be Paid
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Wife’s Family Control Funeral and Asks to Be Paid

Dear Didi,

My brother just passed away. My sister-in-law and her family made all the arrangements without any input from us. My mother and I live cross country from my deceased brother so it would have been helpful to give us a little time to make travel arrangements. We were not asked if we needed a little time instead we were told when the funeral was taking place so we had to book very expensive flights with very short notice. My other brother wanted to contribute photos to any presentation that would occur and he was rebuffed by their family. He asked if there was going to be a video stream and he was told no. They communicated to us that as per tradition there would be a luncheon after the cemetery service and had me communicate that to my relatives then they turned around and withdrew the invitation saying it was for immediate family only. At first they said all were welcome to the memorial service then they said it was also private but after my vehement protest they allowed my relatives to attend. At the service there were photos and video stream pretty much exclusively of her side of the family. The coffin was a very expensive one. My wife and I ended up taking all of my relatives to a separate eatery and treated them to lunch. Sorry to ramble but all this was necessary to help you to help me answer my question.

At the conclusion of the family only luncheon the boyfriend of my sister-in-law’s sister approached my uncle and said that our family should shoulder the some of the cost of the funeral. My sister-in-law’s father is a multi-millionaire who owns several lucrative properties in NYC as well as overseas. My mom is living on social security and with savings she and my dad penny pinched all their lives to save. We are outraged and feel like neither my mom or any of us should be obligated to pay. What do you think based on all that went on? Thank you very much.


Dear N/A,

A funeral can be a minefield of unexploded emotions that lead to demands over money and control. Your brother's family made it clear that they didn't want any help with the funeral, then disinvited your family to the luncheon, and now they want money to defray funeral costs. If your brother's family had needed help to pay for his funeral, they should have mentioned it before making elaborate arrangements. Since you don't think they really need help, tell them that your family will be honoring your brother's memory in their own way and in their own time. In memory of your brother, find a school, charity or non-profit organization that, for instance, can arrange to plant a tree or install a park bench in his name in a park, nature reserve, or fishing location where he spent time as a child. Take as long as you like to create a heartfelt expression of your family's feelings toward your brother, and then let his wife know the specifics after it is in place.


  • Memorial Service and Luncheon Invitation
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Memorial Service and Luncheon Invitation

Dear Didi,

My mother passed away and her memorial service will be held two months later with a luncheon at a restaurant afterwards. I am sending invitations to the memorial service and a restaurant luncheon afterwards with directions and a copy of my mother’s obituary, if they did not see it.

With family and friends who live a couple of states away and some who are elderly, I want to let them know they are invited, but I also do not expect them to travel the distance to attend. I would let them know their caring is a great comfort. My intention is to let them know I would understand if they did not come. I do not want to be inappropriate. Is it okay for me to say something like this?


Dear GBW,

Most of these family and friends who live a couple of states away will have been in a similar situation before and will know how to respond. It is sweet of you to want to let them off the hook, but they'll know you won't expect them to attend your mother's memorial service. In their own time and in their own way they will mourn your mother, even if they don't attend the memorial. A way to encourage them to attend would be to find friends who would be happy to put them up in their homes, alleviating much of the expense. You have two months to work on that. In my opinion, you would save letting them know their caring is a great comfort personally for your acknowledgement for their expression of symphony, when you respond to the card, flowers or handwritten note they sent. This is all part of the mourning processes. What you can do is to send out the invitation along with information about where to stay, and simply say that you have reserved a block of rooms in a nearby motel at a discount, or you have friends who will put them up. If people would like to attend and are looking for a place to stay, they will call you for advice. Again, in my opinion, I would not be too mushy, because it can come off as sounding like a guilt trip. State the facts, acknowledge and appreciate, but don't overdo it.