DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend recently attended the funeral of an acquaintance. During the service, silver trays were passed with small silk bags on them, and each guest was encouraged to take one. She’d been to a funeral where everyone had been given a bubble wand, and during the service they all blew bubbles, so she figured some similar high-jinx were afoot.
Later in the service, it was announced that the bags contained the “cremains” of the dearly departed, who could now remain for all eternity with friends and loved ones.
My friend was appalled, as you can imagine. She was there out of courtesy more than affection; she was not close to the departed and knew him only through her work.
What on earth is she supposed to do with this “gift”?
GENTLE READER: Oh, dear. Miss Manners was already appalled when you got to the bubble blowing. Turning a funeral into a children’s birthday party – are the dead to be allowed no dignity?
And then comes the idea of handing out the remains of the deceased as goody bags. No doubt whoever thought of this never considered that he was forcing the helplessly dead to become an uninvited, not to mention creepy, permanent guest of everyone he had known.
This is why we have rituals: So that people under the stress that the bereaved presumably feel do not have to improvise. As anyone knows who has attended an embarrassing wedding, amateurs are not good at inventing ceremonies, even for themselves.
Let us hope that all those who were put in the ghastly position of finding out what was in the souvenirs they had accepted are too respectful simply to pitch them. Decency allows them to scatter the ashes in an appropriate place, such as a lake or forest of some significance to the deceased. They should not have to perform such a task, which belongs to immediate survivors, but they have little choice.