The Dear Abby of Death – The New York Times

Florence Isaacs, a widow, writes online advice columns about death, which have touched on subjects like funeral etiquette and suicide.
“I guess you could say I’m the Dear Abby of Death,” Florence Isaacs, 78, said as she scanned her email queue for new questions about the subject, one recent morning in her West Village apartment.

As a paid blogger for, Ms. Isaacs writes Sincere Condolences, an advice column on death-related issues, and Widow in the World, which also offers advice.“I don’t know why I’m drawn to the dark side,” said Ms. Isaacs, who herself is a widow and whose columns follow a question-and-answer format.

“Most of what I write comes from my own life experience, because I’ve been through it.”

The Sincere Condolences column touches on subjects ranging from suicide to stationery. She writes about mourning, grief, memorial services and other topics. These might not sound like click bait, but people are interested, as the more than 82,000 views of “Should I Attend the Funeral, Wake or Visitation?” can attest.

“There’s a huge audience for this, because everyone’s getting older,” Ms. Isaacs said. “People are dying all over the place today, and the families aren’t familiar with the etiquette.”

This particular day, she was working on a post about “mourning jewelry,” she said.

“Before photography, someone might walk around with a locket containing someone’s hair because it was the only way of hanging on to part of the deceased,” said Ms. Isaacs, who grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, apparently picking up on some of the marketing skill of her father, who sold oil burners by day and deluxe knife sets to working-class people in the evening, she said.

As a writer, she could always get to the point, Ms. Isaacs said, “maybe because growing up in Brooklyn, you’re always cutting through all the crap.”

“That’s my style,” she said. “I feel like I’m writing for the person walking down the street.”

Eager to move to Manhattan, she found work in advertising, writing copy for an electronics and stereo manufacturer there.

“Even though I have trouble turning on a light switch, my father was a salesman and I think I had his sales gene,” said Ms. Isaacs, who moved on to other companies and raised two sons with her husband, Harvey, a lawyer.

She took a creative-writing class at the nearby New School and began writing health and medical articles, and at age 57 began writing books, of which she now has produced 10, mostly on health, etiquette and relationships.

She was writing a book called “When the Man You Love Is Ill,” drawing partly on her husband’s chronic illnesses, when he died nine years ago.“

I was close to deadline when it happened, and they put an extra page in the book about his death,” said Ms. Isaacs, who then tried to write a book called “The Resilient Widow,” about bouncing back, but could not sell the proposal.

“So I took my own advice and decided to make a life for myself,” she said. She began blogging.

“People are terrified of death and funerals today, and it didn’t used to be that way,” she said. “Your grandmother died at home or next door and you saw everything, and people talked about it. It was a part of the home and part of life. These days, people die in hospitals or hospices, so death is removed from the house and spoken about in hushed tones.”

In the death blog, she covers greetings (“I’m sorry”), condolence notes (Write “as little as possible”) and stationery (“Something sedate”). She touches on funeral attire (“Black is overrated — something tasteful”) and eulogies (“Five minutes is usually enough — you’re not there to torture them”).

She tells widows it is fine to display photos of one’s dead husband, and even speak to him if necessary.

After encountering a scam on a dating website, she posted a list of tips for widows to avoid such duplicity.

“How can you tell whether the great guy you’ve met online is a sleaze?” she wrote in one post, and she told readers to watch for abrupt mentions of love, destiny and fate, as well as emergency requests to wire money.

In her apartment, she looked over her latest emailed question, titled “Family Member Eulogy,” which asked if it was acceptable to choose a friend of the deceased, rather than a family member, to give a eulogy.

“This one’s sticky,” she said. “There are two other siblings, so who makes the decision?”

“A lot of people use death as an opportunity to sock it to someone, by leaving them out of either the obituary or the service,” said Ms. Isaacs, who walked to her dining room table covered with clips and notes she had collected for story ideas.

“My career saved my life — it kept me going and occupied,” she said. “Now, I wake up at night and scribble ideas. The column writes itself. Every time I get a new idea, I get so excited, I jump around.”

Source: The Dear Abby of Death – The New York Times

~ by Butch on February 21, 2016.

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