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There is an amazing book about dealing with illness and loss, “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion, Vintage Books. In it she talks about how western culture has forgotten the rules by which we mourn. We used to have rigid codes for the passage through grief into morning and then return to everyday life (this process was allowed to take well over a year, sometimes two). We no longer have a prescribed method for mourning so every one of us is left on our own. Some mourn with grace, others less gracefully.
When my mother died last year my uncle, her brother, asked me if I would like to take care of the bereavement acknowledgment cards. My mom's family is in the funeral business and ordinarily the funeral home would take care of this. But, my business is engraving for social stationery, so, he asked if I wanted to take care of this particular detail.
Engraving for social stationery encompasses the written form for all great transitions in life. Birth announcements, christening/confirmation/bar and bat mitzvah invitations, wedding announcements and note cards acknowledging a person’s death are all part of the ritual correspondences in today’s society.
In the American tradition, bereavement acknowledgement cards are simple text, elaborations such as personal monograms are unusual. Although not proper, something in me wanted my mother’s card to hold her personal mark, so I decided to use her monogram.
Above is my mother's original monogram engraved on the occasion of her marriage to my dad in 1951. (For complete documentation and timeline go to http://www.nancysharoncollinsstationer.com/2005/timetable.) Notice the initials, “C” for Charlotte, her given name, the prominent “F” in center is her married name, Feldman, and the final “K” is her maiden name. *
In about 1990 I asked to borrow the monogram die then proceeded to lose it. By then I had been working with a hand engraver who said he could replicate it from the printed note, above. However, in the forty years since the original die had been engraved the physical acumen for such fine engraving had all but gone from commercial engravers. This willing fellow was simply not up to the task and delivered a much less refined engraving for my mother's initials.
If you compare this brilliantly colored rendition to the delicacy of the original monogram (top) you will see how course the new die was. The original was made up of four tapering, paralleling lines. The new one has none of the refinement inherent in engraving, it was just a course reproduction. So I commissioned a third using a simpler engraving style I thought the craftsman could do:
Monograms are like logos or an automobile marque only it is for a private individual. A monogram must immediately convey the very "it" or soul of a person. A really good mongram will serve a person the whole of their life–monograms made prior to marriage are still suitable for an individual's use after they wed, especially to intimates and immediate family. The married woman's monogram (above) is used for correspondence to a wider scope of family friends and relatives, it represents the couple but is written in first person and signed by the wife. In a complete bridal suite there will also be note cards appropriate for more formal use and less intimate circumstances:
Below are the bereavement acknowledgment cards engraved for the occasion of my mother’s funeral:
Now that I look at my mother's beautiful monogram in stark black engraved on such a pale background I fear it looks less like what I had imagined. It is her monogram, nontheless, and these stark colors are appropriate to cards for the acknowledgment of bereavement. The difficulty, I guess, is not the cards but that her death is still not anything that I could ever have imagination.
* In 2001 I did a survey of society stationery shops across the country to find out trends in women’s married names. At that time about seventy five percent of women who married dropped their middle name, replacing it with their maiden name. (My mother, who had been Charlotte Beth Kaufman before marriage, became Charlotte Kaufman Feldman when wed.) This statistic is probably not the same today.