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All who Live shall one day Die in their Appointed Time. This is a Natural Occurrence, as Winter follows Autumn, and Summer follows Spring. And yet those who are Left shall Grieve, for never again will they see their Loved One. It is sometimes said by the Learned that one’s Spirit travels on to a New Beginning, and that all will one day be Reunited. This is a Question to which no Hobbit truly has an Answer, and if an Answer may be found among the Elves, none have come to reveal it in the Shire.
Yet we may be Comforted in the Knowledge that our Kin will keep our Memories alive, and that our Blood will continue in the lines of our younger Generations.*
A Funeral is a time in which those Family and Friends of the Departed may show their Grief and may follow that Grief with a Celebration of his or her Life.
In the Normal Course of Events, when a Hobbit has come to the Fullness of his or her years, it will be Evident to the Family that the time has come to say “Farewell.” Messages are sent to those close Kin who are not nearby, and all will Journey to the bedside of the ailing one.
All of the Immediate Family--Wife, Children, Siblings and Grandchildren who are able should take their Last Chance to speak and be spoken to. There may be Last Wishes, which should be granted if possible. However, if the Invalid is too ill to speak, he or she should not be pressed, but simply Comforted by knowing that Loved Ones are nearby.
When all is Finished, then it is the Duty of the oldest Surviving Family Member of his or her Generation to assist the Healer into seeing to the Departed.
Any other Family Members who have come should be informed when the Departure has taken place, and messages should be sent immediately to Family and Friends who live too far away to have arrived in time. This task should not Fall on the Shoulders of the closest kin, but should be taken up by other Cousins, Aunts or Uncles, whose Bereavement would be less sharp.
On Rare Occasions, it is sad to say that Death may have Occurred in a Sudden or Unexpected Manner. In the case of such an Event, there will have been no Opportunity for a Gathering. Such Events are even more Distressing to the Family than a Death which takes place after long Illness, for there has been no chance to say Farewell.
Most Especially are these Events Tragic when the Hobbits whose lives are Lost are Young. The Sorrow of those Left Behind may never really be Diminished, and so Allowances should be Made for their Excess of Grief.
The Body of the Departed may be held for a few days, Laid Out Respectfully in a Sitting Room (Weather permitting). This will give a chance for News to spread, and for those who wish to come and Pay Their Respects.
Again, depending upon the Vagaries of the Weather, such a viewing may last from one to five days. Even in the dead of Winter, however, it is not Wise to take longer that that to Inter the Departed.
It is the Responsibility of those Family Members who are not so Closely Related to do as much as possible to seeing to this time. Spouses, Children, Parents or Siblings are likely to be far too caught up in their own Grief to properly Attend to the Details. If they are not Prostrate, however, they should be on hand to take the Condolences of those who come.
If one has come a great Distance to show one’s Respects, one should not arrive in Expectation of the Attention of the Close Family. One should greet them, and express one’s Sympathy for their Loss. However, this is not the time to try to Engage them in Extensive Conversation, nor to try and satisfy Morbid Curiosity as to the Manner of Death.
A simple embrace, and an Offer of Help is often all that is needed.
While it is a Sad Fact that many more Scattered Family may only see one another at Funerals or Weddings, this is not an Appropriate time for merry-making, and any Socializing should be kept Discreet and Solemn.
The Funeral will be held when the time is deemed Right by the Family of the Departed.
The Body is usually taken to the Burying Grounds by six pall bearers, who should be chosen from among Family and Friends of the Departed’s own Generation. (The Exception to this is the Burial of Young Children, who, of Necessity, would have Adult pall-bearers.) The Important Question of Coffin or Shroud is generally determined by the part of the Shire in which the Departed is being Buried--customs on this Vary. If one is from a part of the Shire in which it is Done Differently, refrain from unnecessary Criticism. In some parts of the Shire, solemn Music may be played as well.
The Eulogy is usually Delivered by the Head of the Family, or his or her next Representative. This may be a very Emotional Speech if the Loss is a close Personal one.
Those present will cast a Handful of Earth into the Grave, before leaving the Burial Grounds. A Respectful and Subdued Demeanor is Proper for the Occasion. For this reason, it is Not Recommended that children younger than the Age of Twelve attend Funerals. They will become easily bored, and are likely to cause Disruption; furthermore, they often Do Not Understand what is going on.
The Evening of the Funeral, the Family hosts a Feast, at which time it is expected that Fond Memories of the Departed may be shared, and a Lighter Spirit is not Improper. Laughter and Song will soon be heard before the Feast is ended. Speeches about the Departed are Appropriate.
It is said that the Feast is to Mark the End of Mourning--and for those whose Acquaintance with the Departed was brief and not especially close, it may very well do so. However, it is Unrealistic to believe that those who are the most Affected by their Bereavement will have put it Behind them so quickly. A Spouse or Parent, especially, may very well remain Prostrate. This is a time when one should think about how one might feel in the same situation. Do not be insistent that they “Cheer up!” or “Put it all behind them!” It is too soon for them, and such words simply make them feel Worse.
Generally, the Feast will end when the closest Family Member of the Same Generation gives a Toast to the Departed.
Unless the Family has specifically *asked* for one’s Help, it is Courteous to leave as soon after the Funeral as Possible, that the Family not be put under the strain of playing Host at such a trying time.
It is quite possible that in the early stages of Mourning, and most especially if there was a large Crowd at the Funeral, one’s Presence may not be Remembered. This is why it is well to write a Letter of Condolence to the Family after returning to one’s home.
Here is a sample:
I am sorry that I had no chance to speak to you at length during Uncle Wilibold’s funeral. However, the eulogy was eloquent, and the ceremony was memorable, and I was very moved afterwards at the feast to hear all of the fond tributes to Uncle’s memory.
Please accept my sympathy for your loss and let me know at once if I may be of any help to you in your time of grief.
Your loving niece,
Such a letter will, perhaps, refresh the Memory clouded by Sorrow, and convey one’s own Sympathy.
If one lives near the Bereaved family, it is appropriate to Call Upon them a few days later, and offer to help. Bringing a gift of food or drink is welcomed at such a time.
HOW ONE MAY HELP
An offer to mind the Children of the Smial, to assist in Writing Letters of Thanks, to help with the Sorting of the Departed’s possessions, to help Greet Guests while the Bereaved take needed rest, all are things which will help the Family as they begin to Adjust to their Loss.
THINGS ONE MUST NEVER SAY OR DO
There are certain things which are Highly Inappropriate, and in fact one may say are Rude.
Do not Gossip or Speculate about the Manner of Death. Most especially if the Death has taken place under Sudden or Unusual Circumstances, such musings are very Hurtful to the Family of the Departed. Such Gossip is Vulgar and Unbecoming, as well.
Do not Gossip or Speculate about the Disposal of the Departed’s Possessions. The Reading of the Will usually takes place very shortly after the Funeral, and all one Needs to Know will be made Public at that Time. It is Shocking and in the Worst Taste Possible, to hear Relations Anticipating a Possible Inheritance; not only does it appear Greedy and Unfeeling, but it may also prove to be a great Embarrassment if the “Anticipated” Inheritance fails to Materialize. One should Never Count One’s Chickens Before They Hatch!
Do not Use the Gathering for the Funeral as an Opportunity to Further Personal Ambitions. It is not the Proper Time or Place for Conducting Business or Attempting to Matchmake. Once again, one risks being called Unfeeling, and with Good Cause.
Do not attempt to Console the Bereaved by saying “It is All for the Best.” While this may be True, it is not something they need to hear in the First Flush of their Sorrow.
Do Not, Under Any Circumstance Speak Ill of the Departed. While he or she may have been an Unpleasant or Disreputable Person in Life, he or she is Gone. It is very Poor Taste to run someone down who cannot Defend Him or Her self.
If Someone Else violates these Dictates of Proper Behavior, Do Not Engage in Arguments. It is far more Effective to give a cold Look of Scorn, and turn one’s Back upon him or her. There is something very Distressing about Squabbles and Rows at Funerals.
QUESTIONS OFTEN ASKED ABOUT FUNERALS
What if one is Unable to Attend?
There are a Number of Reasons why one might not be able to Attend a Funeral which one might be Expected to Attend. Foremost, and most Common, is that the Distance is Too Great to arrive in Time. Other Reasons may have to do with one’s own Health, or an Illness in one’s own Family. In such Circumstances, a Letter of Condolence should Suffice. Such a Letter should be written as soon as one realizes that one will not be there; it should be Brief and Sympathetic:
Dear Cousin Lavender,
I was most distressed to hear of the passing of Cousin Wilibold. I hope that it was a peaceful end.
I am sorry that I could not attend the funeral, as there is no way I could make the journey from Michel Delving to Rushy and arrive in time.
Please accept my heart-felt sympathy and my condolences for you and your children. You will be in my thoughts.
What if the funeral is for an infant or very small child?
All of the above Advice still applies, along with this: Do Not say “At least you will be able to have more Children.” This is very Unkind, even if Kindly Meant. No Parent wants to believe that one Child may simply Replace Another. The time may come when the Parents may Rejoice in the Arrival of Another Child; this will in No Way relieve them of their Grief at losing a Previous Child.
Imagine how Scandalized one would be if someone should say to a Widow or Widower “At least you may find another Husband (or Wife)”!
What should one wear to a funeral?
While it was the Fashion some years ago in the Southfarthing, and for a while, in Tookland, for Mourners to go garbed only in Black, such things are Unnecessary, and may cause the Uncharitable among one’s Acquaintance to feel one is making a Display of Grief. One should wear one’s Best, and present a Neat and Respectful Appearance.
While most Hobbits do not like to Think on Such Things, Funerals will happen, and one should be Prepared to do the Proper Thing.
When Attending a Funeral, keep in mind the Dignity due to the Departed, and remain Sensible to the Feelings of the Bereaved. A very simple expression of Affection is often all one needs to offer Comfort.
*[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Since JRRT very specifically says that Hobbits are *not* a religious society, I have refrained, except in the most general terms, from indicating any belief in the Afterlife. However, I am sure that Miss Dora, as an educated gentlehobbit, would be aware that such beliefs did exist among other races. I think it very likely that after the Quest, such beliefs might become more common among Hobbits, but Miss Dora wrote some years before the Quest occurred.]
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