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Funeral attire leans toward casual

TUESDAY, AUG. 7, 2012

Q. Do people still have to wear black to a funeral or memorial service?

A. Less and less.

If the person who died was in his or her 80s, 90s or above, err on the side of wearing somber colors. That generation buried its dead in traditional ways, and it’s respectful to dress up for their last official “occasion,” though they won’t be around to appreciate it.

Just as grooms at weddings now wear sneakers with their tuxes, funeral-goers are mixing it up sartorially.

Ellen McBrayer is a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association, and her family owns the Jones-Wynn Funeral Home outside Atlanta.

She told EndNotes that as more people opt for celebration-of-life services, the more casual the attire will become.

“Funerals are designed more to tell what people were like in life. (They) may reflect a favorite hobby or lifestyle,” McBrayer said.

“People might arrive to find people in biker gear or Hawaiian shirts. We’ve had families request that people dress as golfers, no tie and golf shirts, because their dad liked to golf. We’ve had people request everyone wear blue jeans or wear pink for breast cancer if someone passed away from breast cancer.”

That said, you still see a lot of black and muted colors at memorial services, especially those held in mainline churches. So if you don’t know for sure, go conservative or call the funeral home for guidance.

And if the family of the deceased is from a distinct ethnic group, make some additional effort to find out what’s appropriate. Showing up at a Japanese-American funeral in bright colors, for instance, might be considered very disrespectful, as it is in Japan.

Finally, don’t ever let the clothes dilemma stop you from going.

“Just knowing that you are there and care is more important than what you have on,” McBrayer said.

Q. My son’s childhood friend died when the boys were 14. Now, the class is graduating. I want to remember his friend. Should I send the family flowers, take out an ad in the local paper? Ideas?

A. First, make a list of all the possibilities, perhaps consulting other families and students who were close to the child. Some possibilities include flowers, an ad in the local newspaper, a donation made to the charity or program that would honor the child, planting a memory tree, a yearbook for the family signed by classmates or a scholarship in his memory.

Many communities have special memorial gardens or walls with bricks you can sponsor, inscribing a message or name.

After you have completed your list, think about what you would realistically be able to offer. Delete what may not be possible.

Then call the family and ask if you could visit. When you meet, explain you would like to remember their child during this season of graduation and offer some of your ideas and give them a choice.

While you may think the perfect remembrance is planting a memorial tree on the school campus, if they lost a child in a car accident when the car hit a tree – a tree may represent the loss itself. Giving family members a voice in the decision offers them a bit of control. Follow their wishes.

Most importantly, your thoughtfulness itself offers kindness.

Olympia chaplain JoAnn Smith said when her son’s friend died, he went to the family’s home each year and handed the girl’s mother a single rose.

Smith said: “He did this for years. Parents just want their child to be remembered. That is what is most meaningful.”

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at /blogs/endnotes

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