AS NO ONE ever chooses to put on a funeral, you might think that leniency would be granted in passing judgment on its taste and effectiveness as apublic event. Lack of planning time could also be pleaded, and an absence of the social spirit.
Nevertheless, it is probably the most harshly appraised type of gathering held, and there is not, as after a botched dinner party, the possibility of erasing the failure by doing it over again, correctly.
The only comforts Miss Manners can offer are that the simplest arrangements are in the best of taste, and that the responsibilities may be divided among the friends of the deceased and the bereaved, with the chief mourner charged only with policy and major decisions.
For example, it is well to designate a friend, rather than an immediate relative, to make arrangements with those whose professional services are required. People in the funeral business naturally equate respect and love with elaborate furnishings and expensive fittings, and even those who know that plainness in caskets, for example, is the best taste, may not have the heart to conduct a skirmish on the subject.
Other assignments that may be made are:
Notifying people of the death: Calls are made to those who are thought likely to be affected, and public notification is made by supplying the facts of the person's life to the newspapers.
Answering telephones and doorbells: Someone with the instincts of a good lbutler, able to judge and convey with gentleness which calls are convenient to be taken when, should be on duty in the house.
Supervising the kitchen: The tradition of callers bringing food is a widespread one, and someone has to be in charge of putting things away, arranging meals for the family and preparing lesser offerings for other callers.
Acting as pallbearers: This is a position of great honor, offered only to those closest to the deceased, and cannot be refused unless one has a dire excuse, such as a plan to have one's own funeral in the near future.
Speaking at the funeral: In these days when many people's formal religious ties are somewhat casual, one encounters the clergyman's eulogy that goes, "I never actually had the privilege of knowing Jeff Perfect [groan from friends because he was never nicknamed Jeff], but I wish I had, because from what I have heard in the last few days, he was a man who loved life." One way to avoid lthis is to ahve selected people who did have the privilege say a few plausible but tasteful words at the funeral. This honor may be refused on the grounds that one is not a good speaker, or is too overcome to get up and talk. (The excuse of not having anything good to say about the person is sufficient, but must be disguised.)
Friends who do not receive assignments are responsible for sending letters of condolence, paying condolence calls, attending the funeral and sending flowers or making charitable contributions.
This leaves the chief mourner, who has designated the tasks, to set the basic style and budget of the funeral, acknowledge the services and expressions of sympathy, readjust to life and in herit the wordly goods.
He or she may be confident that one's bearing under such weights is closely and mercilesly scrutinized by all. Consolation may be taken in the fact that at least the person most concerned need not suffer under society's judgment. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. The situation is this: There is a martial family and a non-martial family. The man involved has tried to keep secret his involvement with the non-martial family. The non-marital wife all along has tried not to keep things secret. The non-martial child knows what the dynamics are. The marital children sense something amiss, but are met with denial from their father. The fmartial wife knows, but tries to ignore everyone connected with the non-martial family. There are legal and financial ties between the father and his non-marital child, plus sexual and emotional ties between the father an the non-martial wife.
What, in your view, would be the ideal social relationship between the half-siblings? Between the martial wife and the non-martial wife? Between the father and the non-martial child? Between the maternal grandparents and the martial family?
Non-marital children have equal legal rights to inheritance, child lsupport, etc., in most states now. But social recognition and cordiality between the families, the clans, involved is not clearly defined.
Please help. In this case, the fears and denials of the father are so great as to be contributing to mental-emotional problems. The non-martial child is 9; the others are in the late teens.
A. The ideal social relationship, since you ask, would be one big happy family, all gathered together at Thanksgiving to enjoy this interesting and varied network of relationships. Do you want to know the chances of that happening?
We have precedent to two opposite social attitudes towards second families, as they were called before legal second families through sequential marriage came so fashionable.
One is the royal approach, which is to establish the non-martial (Miss Manners admires your term) wife and children in recognized positions which are nevertheless subserviant in rank to those of the legal family. Making one's mistress a duchess was considered a gracious way of handling a difficult situaiton, and an effective on in mitigating any shaddow that may otherwise lie on the relationship. The princess of Wales is proud to be able to claim some of the same ancestors as the prince, for example, and never mind that her branch of that tree grew, shall we say, in the shade.
An example of the other system is that described by a non-martial child named Eva Duarte, later Peron, who cited lack of the recognized right to attend her father's funeral as a crucial factor in determining her feelings toward the landowning class to which he belonged. Her feelings were not at all nice, and Miss Manners considers a historical and social lesson to be apparent in the outcome.
In as far as it is emotially possible, she believes that tolerance and kindness should be summoned, at least to those who are non-voluntary participants in the relationship, the legal wife and all the children. That is, one does not expect her to recognize the claim socially (as a divorced wife should that of a second wife), but the children of the marriage and grandparents should make what concessions they can to the blood relationship with the other children, if they are able to do so without forgetting their responsibilities to the legal relatives.
Although Miss Manners is willing to concede extenuating circumstances in the non-martial wife's having assumed that position, she believes that recognition of the legal wife's superior social claim is part of the deal. Miss Manners is also trying to work up some sympathy for the father, but is finding it difficult, because you present him as such a weasel. It is, after all, his establishment of the second family on a non-legal basis that created the problem, and his social cowardice now that is exacerbating the situation.
As you asked about an ideal solution, Miss Manners confesses that she would be pleased if the two families got together and eliminated their common problem, namely him.
Whew. Would someone please ask Miss Manners a nice, quiet question about which fork to use?