Open Thread

by epi on December 6, 2013

Welcome to the Etiquette Daily

This open thread is your space to use as you like. We invite you to discuss current and traditional etiquette. Feel free to ask questions of each other and the community moderators here.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody December 6, 2013 at 5:08 pm

A friend is having a Christmas open house on Sunday, and I’ve already responded “yes.” The weather prediction is for a “wintry mix,” which in my area can mean anything from snow to freezing rain/ice. My current plans are to see what the roads are like when I go to church, then decide if it’s safe to drive to my friend’s house. I know that if I don’t show up it’s not like she has a set place at the table that won’t be used, but I still think that I should call her if I decide I can’t make it because of road conditions. What do you all think?

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Alicia December 6, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Unsafe to drive is a reasonable reason to decline an invite. However you must let your host know immediately upon your decision to decline due to dangerous driving conditions. That way the party is not ruined for your friend as she worries that you are in an accident on the side of the dangerous roads. That said if driving is safe you should honor your obligations and drive safe and slow to the party and back.

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Patricia December 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I have never been to the website before so I hope that I am entering a comment correctly.

My husband is dying. The Hospice nurse said that he has at least two weeks to live as he has a large muscle mass and he’s not eating/drinking anymore but honestly, the way he looks, it could be sooner. I am Catholic. We are having a wake at the funeral home the night before, embalming, funeral mass at the church and an in-ground burial at the local Catholic cemetery. These are my choices. The cost of all of this is about $14,000 without a headstone. I’m getting a mid-price casket and vault which are the only items that come in different prices. The rest of the pricing are standards costs. This cost does not include the donation to the church.

My sister asked me how many people were going to come to my home after the burial. I hadn’t planned on having anyone over. I asked the priest about this and he said that usually friends and family come to the home after the burial and offer their condolences. I thought that’s what the wake was for. I recall that my house was flooded with well-wishers after my father’s death and our family spent a lot of time feeding them and cleaning up after them. I was angry. It felt like a party and I wanted those people to just go home.

My childhood home was much bigger. My current home is tiny and quite frankly, it’s not in any condition to accept guests. The priest said that they open the Parish Center for two hours following the burial if we would like, but the ladies in the church who would cook a sit-down dinner for the guests need to be cleaning up by 3:00 p.m. All we would need to tell him is how many people would attend so they can plan how much to cook. The suggested donations go from $200 to $5000 depending upon how many people show up.

We are young adults and everyone but four of the people (out of about 70) work until about 5:00 p.m. Neither me or my husband have family in the area, except for my sister and her husband who live two hours away. They are the only family that are coming. The rest of the people who would be attending are co-workers. Our co-workers organized and staffed a fund-raiser for my husband because he has been sick for nearly a year. If I have the after-burial event during the day, none of these people could attend which defeats the purpose entirely. The priest also said to make the after-burial event “invitation only”. I whittled the list down to about 70 people.

The priest said that sometimes the family rents out a banquet room in a restaurant or the Knights of Columbus. Unfortunately, it is the Christmas season and we are competing with Christmas parties for a banquet room. How much am I supposed to spend on a per-plate dinner for the after-burial for guests? Does it have to be a sit-down dinner? Are buffets appropriate? Is it OK to just have a spread of appetizers? I wish I had friends with a big home that could accommodate a crowd like this, but I don’t. I can’t have this event at a loud, local bar. I don’t want to break with tradition but I’m also having to pay for all of this with a home equity loan. What do people normally do in this situation if they can’t have guests in their home after the burial? Thank you.

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Elizabeth December 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Patricia, a lot of this kind of thing is traditional but not obligatory. I don’t know how wise it is to go into debt to host a party, especially as you must be physically, emotionally and financially exhausted with your husband’s long illness.

It is true that people who attend a funeral/burial are often treated to a luncheon afterwards. I have never heard of the luncheon being “invite-only,” usually everyone who shows up to pay their respects and witness the funeral/burial is invited.

However, there are other traditions which avoid this kind of thing. You could have a public viewing at the funeral home, but then make the burial private. You could host a memorial service later when you are feeling more up to it. That way you could receive condolences at the funeral home (without any expectation of food) and then just go to lunch with your family after a private burial.

Another option would be to have the funeral on the weekend, so you can take advantage of the church ladies option. Instead of a sit-down dinner, it could be a buffet of deli trays. It does NOT have to be a sit-down dinner. I would not have appetizers (it seems cocktail party-like), but rather do something inexpensive like deli or pasta and salad. It can also be during the day on a weekend, and then you are not competing with parties.

You have my sympathies, it sounds like a truly difficult time. You have a lot of options, and you are not beholden to the opinions of your priest or others who might be more rigid in their expectations. Good luck.

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Vanna Keiler December 7, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Hi Patricia. So sorry to read what you’re going through. I would have to agree with Elizabeth on dealing with this situation. I know you want to do the right thing, but in my opinion, if you don’t have the finances to set up some kind of wake dinner, I would not worry yourself about it. I don’t know what your religion or particular town culture is, but I would imagine no one would feel you disobeyed any laws of etiquette in your particular situation. What may have been necessary/worked for your family in the past may differ for each situation. Additionally, if most of the attendees are not family and are coworkers, they may attend the funeral but not expect (or be expected) to attend any other venue. I am glad that you have the support of your sister to help you. I recommend just keeping it simple: open your home (briefly) after the funeral to anyone who feels the need to visit and just have some light refreshments available, like plates of cookies and tea/coffee/drinks. Sometimes having people come visit can be a great distraction during our times of grief, and it may offer you some comfort. But do not feel obligated to do anything you are not comfortable with.

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Antonia December 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I’m so sorry for you loss and understand your difficult situation. An alternative is to let people know you there isn’t a formal gathering after the burial but that you and your family will be having lunch/coffee/etc at a local restaurant and that they are welcome to join you and they should let the restaurant know. That way you’re not the host – you won’t have to pay for everyone. Just make sure you talk to restaurant about this and let them know everyone is responsible for their own bill.

I do like the idea of having it at your home but you must call on your friends to do the work for you. Perhaps you have a friend in whom you could confide – saying you’d like to have it at home, but it’s too much work.

Also – please don’t forget to have someone in the house during the wake and the funeral. You don’t want some robber taking advantage of knowing the house will be ‘empty’.

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Jody December 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Patricia, I’m so sorry for your husband’s illness.

As for a gathering after the funeral, all you need to do is what’s right for *you.* Nobody else can tell you what you “should” do. If you don’t want to have a gathering afterwards you don’t have to, especially not a lavish sit-down dinner. I think Elizabeth’s idea is excellent, have the viewing public so friends can pay their respects, but have the funeral/burial private.

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Katie K December 7, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Patricia, I’m sorry to hear of your husband’s illness.

Elizabeth has given you some good advice. I’d suggest that you also talk to your hospice staff to see what they might advise.

In any case, please do what works best for you, even if it’s not what is traditional in your community.

Peace to you.

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Patricia December 8, 2013 at 9:53 am

Thank you so much. All wonderful suggestions. Thank you for opening my eyes to see that there are many different, manageable solutions within my budget. Bless each and every one of you!

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Ness December 10, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Patricia, I am so sorry to hear of your husband’s illness and the difficult situation you are facing. All the above is wonderful advice – don’t feel pressured to do something you feel is too much. All the best to you.

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Clay December 8, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I am curious of the proper etiquette surrounding invitations of half-loved couples in doomed marriages. The relationship is thus: my mother has been antagonized by her brother’s wife for years. The woman is highly educated, egotistical, controlling and proper simultaneously. She has been the bread winner until recently. Now that her financial prowess has vanished the power roles are shifting and the rocky marriage is in even more shanty shape.

The the chronic situation is their marriage, or soon to be lack of one. I am not asking for help regarding that. The acute crisis is thus: my mother is renting a cabin at a ski resort and is inviting her children, brother, and niece.

I understand that marriage is supposed to make the two a social unit, but she is a social burden. How can this family reunion be both inclusive and non-confrontational? The thought of getting a second condo has arisen, but this seems financially rude since this couple is now operating on approximately one-quarter to one-third of their prior income. We also have ample space in the four bedroom cabin. How improper is it to invite the biological family and not the in-law thus splitting a married couple up? Is there any tactful way about doing this?

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Elizabeth December 9, 2013 at 1:03 am

Etiquette-wise, there really isn’t any way to do this. Does your mother even know if such an invitation would be welcomed by her brother? Any way you slice it, this will do nothing for your mom’s relationship with her sister in law, but if her brother is dying to get away (from his wife), I see no reason your mom and her brother couldn’t “agree” to go on vacation without his wife. However, there is no non-rude way to issue an invitation like that. If the brother cares for his wife at all, he will also find the invitation rude. Your mother should either be prepared to host them as a couple or enjoy her vacation without her brother.

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