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Who gets sympathy when loved one dies?

SHARE Who gets sympathy when loved one dies?

Not those survivors - not the people who are forever introducing themselves as if that were an occupation. "I'm a survivor" is said so grimly, with nary a trace of the cheerful relief that one might expect after a triumph over adversity, that Miss Manners is not eager to have this statement further explained.

The issue that confronts her is who should receive condolences when someone dies. Whom to comfort.Not that anyone seems to be offering comfort to the bereaved. It is now thought more helpful to explain to them how their loss needn't have happened; the bereaved should have taken better care of himself. Still, it is useful to know whom to address in this matter, and things are not so clear as they were when discretion was considered the better part of valor rather than the last refuge of scoundrels.

Should one offer condolences to a gentleman who has lost his ex-wife, considering that he went to considerable trouble to lose her when she was alive? What about the person who uses the occasion of a death to step forth and declare that she, not the widow, had been his real wife all those years?

At what point does a partner or companion become next of kin? One can't always tell whether the deceased would have married that person had circumstances permitted or it was just someone who happened to be passing through his or her life when it ended.

And what about the really hard cases?

Here is the situation with which a newspaper copy editor wrestled when weighing ethics and taste in connection with listing survivors in an obituary:

"A mother led her three children, blindfolded, into a backyard shed, then set it and herself on fire. The older of the two boys managed to escape with his brother, but the youngest, a sister, was unable to escape. She died in the shed; the younger of the boys died later at a hospital. The mother was hospitalized and is in a coma.

"In the children's obituaries, I came across this line: `Survivors include his mother, Jane Doe; father, John Smith . . . ' followed by other family members. I questioned the taste of listing the mother as a survivor, since she was the reason the child was dead.

"Various editors above me agreed but felt that the woman should somehow be included. No one had ever faced this type of situation before. (I announced that should my mother murder me, I did not want her name in my obit-u-ary!)

"Here is what we did: `Survivors include his father, John Smith, . . . ' followed by the rest of the family; then we included, `His mother is Jane Doe.'

"What is proper form for such a situation?"

Here Miss Manners had to admit to an oversight on the part of her distinguished predecessors in the field. Oddly enough, there is no traditional form for such a situation.

Nor is she going to weasel out of this by pointing out that the mother is, legally, the children's survivor, in addition to being their murderer. In terms of propriety, the editors made a good choice.

Dear Miss Manners: My wife has beautiful brown hair down to her waist and brushes it at least three times every day - only in her bedroom or the ladies' room, as she believes it to be rude to groom in public. While I appreciate that people do not brush their teeth in public, brushing hair seems fairly innocuous. Is it indeed rude?

Gentle Reader: To other ladies brushing their own hair, it is innocuous. That is why it is not rude for your wife to brush her hair in the ladies' room. To a devoted husband, it is beautiful. That is why it is not rude in the bedroom.

To those who are neither in love nor busy brushing their own hair, Miss Manners is afraid that it is evocative only of the chance of finding a strange hair on clothes or in food. That is why it is rude to brush one's hair in public.