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by Abigail Van Buren

Photos of Deceased Heal the Many Faces of Grief

DEAR ABBY: Regarding the "pushy" sister-in-law who took photos of her deceased brother in his coffin against his widow's wishes: It's not all that unusual.

My weirdo aunt, now deceased, used to take rolls and rolls of film of every dead relative and put them in scrapbooks that she later showed off to people. She wanted to "capture the moment" -- the flowers, the corpse, the whole event. I thought it was dreadful. Looking back, I assume she photographed other family events, but I don't recall seeing any pictures. She was a sad, negative, pessimistic person, and I swore she'd never photograph my dead father (her brother). As fate would have it, she's long gone and no one recorded her passing in pictures -- and Dad is still kicking.

Several years ago, my mother-in-law received photographs of her late husband, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Her friend had secretly gone into the funeral home and snapped some. Weeks later, the friend offered them to my mother-in-law, saying that when her own husband died, photos of him in his coffin had been a comfort. My mother-in-law was grateful and the pictures meant a lot to her.

I guess my point is this: It takes all kinds. -- NO PHOTOS, PLEASE

DEAR NO PHOTOS: I have a stack of letters on my desk a foot high that corroborate that statement. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I work in a funeral home, and at times pictures are taken, especially for relatives who are too ill or elderly to attend the services or make a long trip. We have taken pictures, per the family's request, of infants -- this is usually the only photograph they would have of a baby they lost.

The sister-in-law should not have broken her promise, but her statement of how much better he looked dead than alive could have meant that he had a long illness and suffered, which can affect the deceased's appearance. The embalmers are artists! They can do wonders for a deceased who was ravaged by a terrible disease or who was in an accident. -- T.S. FROM L.L.

DEAR T.S.: Thank you for pointing this out. Many of those who wrote to me said they were greatly comforted to see their loved ones looking as they did before they were stricken, seemingly peacefully asleep. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: When my sister was married, in the same church as the one in which our father's funeral had been held, she and her husband had wedding pictures taken next to the marble name plate behind which our father's ashes now reside. When I first saw the pictures in the wedding album, I thought they were somewhat tacky. Later, I came to realize exactly what you advised "One Who Has Lost a Friend." Everyone grieves in his or her own way, and this was my sister's way to share her special day with our father. -- CHARLIE IN SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR CHARLIE: Right! Live and learn. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Regarding the letter from "One Who Has Lost a Friend": Who was the busybody who told the widow that the deceased's sister had taken the photos she promised she wouldn't?

If it eased the sister's pain, why not? She no doubt made her promise so as not to upset the widow. Ever heard of a little white lie? And then, there's also MYOB. -- M.S.C. IN SHERMAN OAKS

DEAR M.S.C.: I learn from my readers every day. I now know that photos of the deceased were very common at the turn of the century, and in some parts of the country the practice is still thriving. To everyone who wrote -- thank you for educating me.

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