Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Giving Stamps as a “Return Gift” at Funerals


There is a funeral custom in Hawaii I haven’t experienced before. When you send or drop off a condolences card, you include some money (e.g., a $20 bill). It’s meant to be a small contribution to defray the cost of the funeral. The practice probably derived from Japan, where it is customary to provide a money envelope (where the amount depends on the type and degree of relationship you had with the deceased or his/her family) when attending the funeral. There is usually a “return gift” or a token gift offered by the family of the deceased you present in return to acknowledge the receipt of the cash gift. What is unique to Hawaii is that this return gift is usually a book of stamps.

It isn’t clear why a book of stamps, but I appreciated the hypothesis I once heard. People say nice things about the deceased at the funeral. Wonderful memories and sentiments are shared. The deceased would have appreciated and enjoyed hearing them, except that they are no longer here with us. The book of stamps to this person was a reminder to express these feelings and share these memories by dropping them a note while they are still alive.

It might feel weird to say the kind of things you would say at a funeral directly to the person. It doesn’t cost us anything to do it, perhaps except for our vanity.

I lost a dear friend last week unexpectedly. While I’m glad we’ve had conversations where we were able to express our admiration for each other, there are more epiphanies and observations to be shared I was storing up for when we were going to meet next. Maybe it’s not too late to use one of these stamps and write him a letter.

Photo: The chapel within Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark

Post script: my Facebook post that reminded me of the stamp-giving ritual

briguy, you would have been the perfect friend to call if I felt disoriented from experiencing immense sadness, memories of good times and the precious conversations, then back to disbelief… except that you aren’t here anymore.
people are posting wonderful things about you… you wouldn’t believe them and i would remind you “i told you so”… i wish you could read them yourself… except that you aren’t here anymore. i miss you. ‪#‎tongorad‬ R.I.P.


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This entry was posted on August 27, 2015 by in Culture, Funerals, Hawaii, Japan and tagged , , .
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