DEAR MISS MANNERS: A very dear friend of the family has passed away. He will be cremated with a memorial service in the future. I would like to do or give something to his widow, but I'm not sure what would be appropriate.
GENTLE READER: Gift-giving in connection with funerals has a long and troubled history, tied up as it unavoidably is with the feelings of the survivors. But death should not be automatically considered a fundraising opportunity.
Until recently, gifts tended to flow from the bereaved family to other mourners. Victorian widows provided mourning clothes to their servants, who were allowed to keep them, presumably because they already fit, and in the expectation that the staff might be affected by financial consequences resulting from the loss of family income. Modern widows sometimes give personal items belonging to the deceased to relatives and friends as tokens of remembrance.
Gifts to the principal mourner raise different issues. The desperate family whose source of support died may be discreetly helped by friends financially, although good taste precludes this from being preceded by active solicitations by the recipients.
Whether or not the loss was economic, death is inevitably a loss of company and companionship. Miss Manners therefore observes that unobtrusive but ongoing attention is often the most welcome present.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)