Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: After reading the letter about women pallbearers, I had to write.

We are a family of six girls. In September 1993, my sister Ethel was diagnosed with cancer. Together, we girls saw Ethel through surgeries, chemo and radiation, and then we took her home to help her through her final months on Earth. During my last visit (I live away), Ethel was planning her funeral. When the subject of pallbearers came up, I told her I intended to act as a pallbearer. Her face lit up. "What if all of you could do that?" she asked. She turned to the funeral director and asked, "Can they?"

Ethel died at home on Oct. 24, 1994, and all her sisters and brothers-in-law wheeled her coffin into the church for her service. As my mother said, "You were all there to help her when she needed it; why shouldn't you help her now?"

It's a memory I'll always treasure. It was the last time all six of us could do something together. -- ETHEL'S SISTER, BANGOR, MAINE

DEAR SISTER: Thank you for sharing such a heartwarming memory. The feedback about that letter has been overwhelmingly positive. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I'm a woman, and I have served as a pallbearer twice. The first time was for my Aunt Helen. When I asked my Uncle Tony if it would be all right, he seemed surprised, but he agreed. He said he thought Helen would be proud that her niece wanted to do it.

The second time was for my own dear dad. His sudden death rocked my world, and all I wanted was to be "with him" as long as I could.

Both times, people complimented me on a job well done and said they had never before seen a woman pallbearer. That should change. I encourage other women to do it. It was an ideal way to say goodbye. I imagine Aunt Helen and Dad looking down, smiling with pride because I chose to be me. -- RACHEL IN FRANKLIN, MASS.

DEAR RACHEL: I'm sure they were smiling, just as your letter will bring a smile to the faces of countless readers. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I insisted on helping to carry out my mother's casket. I felt that since Mother had carried me for nine months into my life, I could certainly bear her weight and carry her for the last time. I took one of the first two spots in order to be closer to her heart. It gave me an enormous feeling of peace and helped tremendously in my grieving process. -- JANE IN OHIO

DEAR JANE: I'm sure it was both comforting and empowering to act decisively during such a painful time. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: What's the big deal about female pallbearers? By the time I was 13, I had been asked to do it four times. When I was 9, a 6-month-old baby boy died. His parents asked four neighbor girls to be pallbearers at their infant son's funeral. Six months later, an 18-month-old baby boy died and all four of us were asked to serve as pallbearers again. At 11, I was a pallbearer for a 9-year-old girl from my Sunday school class.

I'm now 81, and I'll never forget those experiences from my youth. All of us were proud to help with something so important. -- HONORED IN SANTA ANA, CALIF.

DEAR HONORED: Your letter should put to rest the idea that women pallbearers are a recent phenomenon. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: The letter about the female pallbearer brought back the memory of a story my grandma told me about a woman who was planning her funeral back in the '40s. She insisted she wanted women to carry her casket when she died. Her reason: Since men didn't take her out while she was living, she didn't want them carrying her out when she was dead. -- BETTY IN FLORIDA

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