MOURNING CLOAK, Nymphalis antiopa
I have a friend who has no interest in funerals. He'd been to his father's funeral, a dreary and depressing affair, and he had no interest in attending another, let alone having one himself. He didn't see the point. I was surprised then, one day, when we were talking about mementos that are sometimes given out to people attending funerals, that he got very excited. He wanted to give out 'party favors' to his friends when he died.
In the Victorian age and earlier, gifts were often given out to mourners (sometimes as an incentive for complete strangers to attend). Gloves, rings, veils and mourning cloaks were often given out, and have been stipulated in people's wills. (I take this information from Phillipe Aries fantastic book on the history of death The Hour of Our Death). While in the past, gifts may have been used to gain increased status by luring a greater number of public mourners, today, gifts are given to honor the memory, interests and personality of the deceased person. I have coordinated the distribution of many items at funerals and I think that 'party favors' can be a great way to personalize a service, and to remind us of the gift that that person was in our life.
Special foods are a popular choice. A man who met his friends at the bakery every morning made his family promise that there would be plenty of doughnuts available at his service (there were dozens and dozens.) Many people spoil their grandchildren with a certain candy and baskets of these candies are laid out at the service. I know that I always associate wintergreen lifesavers with my grandmother.
We did a service for a gentleman at the funeral home who always had a red bandanna in his pocket and always asked for one for Christmas. The bandannas were a running joke in the family and everyone got one at the service. Flower bulbs, golf tees, pine cones, fishing hooks and lures are other items I've seen given to mourners. Each is special and brings back the good memories that help to heal our grief. We take something along with us when we go, and it is a final gift from a dear friend or relative. I don't know what my friend is planning to give out at his service, but I'll be there to find out if I can- I'm sure it's something good.
Originally Published November 2008