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Funeral Etiquette

The Differences Between a Funeral and a Wake

Wakes and funerals are both types of ceremonies that are used to honor the dead and allow survivors to mourn and remember their loved one. While the two ceremonies are similar in feel, there are some major differences between the two. For example, a wake is a more informal time for visitation and remembrance of the dead, whereas a funeral typically contains structured rituals and is often religious in nature. It’s common for a family to have both a wake and a funeral in order to commemorate the death of a loved one. In many instances, the wake is held the night before the funeral. Those in attendance at the wake are able to sit with the body, as they spend some quiet time reflecting on that person’s life. In some instances, though, the body is not present, and family members and friends simply spend time comforting one another. Though wakes vary depending on cultural differences and beliefs that the family has, it is common to exchange stories about the deceased person while eating a light meal. A wake is an important means of support for the family of the person who has passed, and is an effective way for them to grieve together. At a funeral, whether it is religious or secular, there is more structure. The service is typically led by a member of the clergy or other important community figure, who may then ask loved ones to come speak about why they loved the person who has passed. Depending on the type of funeral that takes place, a series of important religious rituals may follow. Once the funeral is complete, the body is either buried or cremated, and there may be a ceremony at the person’s grave. Funeral traditions vary widely from religion to religion, and even in different regions of the country. For example, there is a tradition in New Orleans known as the “jazz funeral,” which features a musical march through the city. A person who will be attending a wake or a funeral may want to do some research so they have an idea about what to expect upon arriving. Behavior at a wake versus at a funeral  At a wake, behavior can be more casual, as people flow in and out of the space to pay their respects to the deceased. While both a funeral and a wake require somber clothing and a fairly reserved attitude, wakes are typically the place to share light-hearted stories about memories you had with the deceased. At a funeral, there is no room for casual chatter about the person who has passed, and one person is in charge of leading the mourners through a series of prayers, hymns, or other rituals.... read more

The Rules of Writing Thank You Cards after a Funeral

The Rules of Writing Thank You Notes after a Funeral The etiquette of acknowledgement is truly a very personal and individual matter. While it may be difficult to find the energy to write a thank you note after a funeral, doing so is an important way of acknowledging the love and kindness that friends and family members have shown you during this challenging period in your life.  There is no set deadline when it comes to sending out thank you cards, though getting them out within two to three weeks after the funeral is ideal. Even if it takes some time for you to feel ready to tackle the task of writing thank you notes, it is never too late to send them out. The notes do not need to be long; they simply need to express your gratitude and appreciation.  In most cases a few sincere words are all that is necessary to convey that personal me-to-you feeling and to express your gratitude. Types of written acknowledgements commonly used. The first is a sympathy acknowledgement card with a standard verse appropriate for the situation.  The second is a simple note card of your choosing.  Blank on the inside, these informal cards allow you to write a special message for each recipient.  One can also order more formal, custom, printed sympathy acknowledgement cards particular to the deceased and her/his family.  Both types of cards can usually be found at the funeral home. Who should receive a thank you card? There is no need to send a formal thank you note to every single person who came to the funeral or sent you a card acknowledging the passing of your loved one. However, you should make it a point to formally acknowledge people who have done the following: Sent or brought flowers (if floral tributes are received from a specific group of people or specific group, you can send a card to each person mentioned in the group or send a card to the leader of the group making reference to the others in the group) Made a donation to a charity in honor of your loved one Sent personal letters of condolence Arranged for mass or spiritual bouquets Sent condolence cards (only if a personal note was included on the card) Provided tangible help like bringing food, watching children, or running errands Pallbearers and Honorary Pallbearers at the funeral Musicians who performed at the funeral Someone who did a reading at the service The clergy member who presided over the service Someone who went out of their way to share a memory or story about your loved one that was especially meaningful. The passing of a loved one creates a hectic and grief-filled situation, and you may find it difficult to keep track of who has done what in the days and weeks following the death of your loved one. To make sure that you do not forget anyone during this chaotic time, you should keep a notepad and pen handy at all times. Do not rely on your memory to keep track of what people have done for you. If need be, you can assign a friend or family member to keep a record for you, thus making the task more manageable. Another helpful way to keep track... read more

How to Keep Unwanted Guests from Attending a Funeral

Funerals are a highly emotional and sensitive time for a family, and can bring complicated issues to light. However, it is important not to let family feuds take the focus off of honoring the life of the person who has passed away. To make sure the funeral is a time to grieve and not the start of a major fight, some families choose to place restrictions on who can and cannot attend the service. While placing a limit on who is permitted to attend the funeral may hurt some feelings, it can also prevent dramatic situations from unfolding and turning the funeral into a stressful experience instead of a celebration of a person’s life. Additionally, restricting the attendance at a funeral can save a family a significant amount of money. If you are hoping to limit attendance at a funeral, there are a few different ways to do so in a tactful and respectful way. This includes: Announce the death of the person, while indicating that the funeral service will be private Unless you specify otherwise, it is implied that anyone is welcome to attend the funeral. While a large funeral service is often a beautiful thing, it can also become a source of stress if there is tension among those in attendance. When you specify that the funeral is private, you control who shows up. This means that you can prevent inappropriate incidents from happening during the service, thus keeping the focus on the person who has passed, as it should be. Announce that the person has passed after the funeral is over When you place an obituary for that person in the paper after the funeral has already taken place, it still allows you to get the word out that the individual has died, but prevents you from having to welcome everyone and anyone to the funeral. Have a memorial service at a later date If you are truly concerned about an unpleasant situation that may unfold at a loved one’s funeral, you can still honor that individual’s life without a traditional funeral service. Instead, have a memorial service for that person several months after they have died. Let only a select handful of people know about the service, and tell them that it is private. If someone contacts you asking to know the details of the event, you can choose whether or not you’d like to share the details with this person. Be honest In some instances, honesty is the most effective method. If a family member who has been at odds with others contacts you, explain that you would love to have them attend, but that you are concerned that doing so would create tension at the service. Instead invite them to spend some time with your family after the service is over, allowing them to pay their respects without worrying about issues arising. Ultimately, a funeral service is a time to honor the life and legacy of someone who has died. If an open service would cause dramatic situations to occur, it is best to restrict attendance. While some feelings may be hurt as a result, it is worth it in order to allow the service to remain a peaceful and poignant experience for all.... read more

The Meaning behind Various Funeral Flowers

While any kind of flower looks beautiful and adds a touch of warmth to a home or house of worship as you honor the life of a person who has passed, it is important to understand the meaning behind the blooms you have selected. Types and colors of flowers convey different meanings, so you want to be sure that you are choosing an arrangement that reflects the proper sentiment. Lilies Lilies are commonly associated with funerals, as they represent the innocence of the soul of the person who has passed. White lilies also signify sympathy, and convey majesty and purity. Gladioli These tall blooms can grow up to four feet tall, and create a classic and elegant look when placed in a funeral arrangement. They typically represent strength of character, sincerity, and integrity, making them an appropriate choice for a funeral service. They come in a range of hues, including white, pink, salmon, green, yellow, and red. Carnations These flowers are a popular choice, as they are both long lasting and sweet smelling. Pink carnations indicate remembrance, while white ones signify love and innocence. Red carnations evoke admiration. These blooms are a popular fixture in funeral arrangements, and work well for both male and female displays. Chrysanthemums Mums are another staple of funeral arrangements for both men and women. In some countries—such as France, Italy, Spain, and Poland—chrysanthemums represent death and are used solely for funerals. However, in the United States, these blooms have come to represent truth, and are viewed in a positive light. Roses Though roses are one of the most popular and widely recognized flowers, they also have a place when it comes to honoring those who have passed. They can evoke feelings of humility and innocence, and can also indicate feelings of love and courage. Dark crimson roses indicate grief and sorrow, while yellow roses are often presented to the family of a friend who has passed. A single rose that is present in a bouquet is meant to indicate an enduring love for the person who has died. Orchids Orchids have come to symbolize eternal love, and are an important part of sharing sympathies after the death of a loved one. Florists typically recommend orchids for those who are hoping to send a floral arrangement as a means of offering condolences. Hydrangeas The hydrangea plant is a seasonal spring plant and can be enjoyed indoors or planted outside, making it a smart choice for a funeral arrangement. The plant will continue to bloom for many years, and can become a powerful symbol of that person’s life for those who loved him or her. Daffodils and tulips These flowers are bright and cheerful, and represent a renewal or a fresh start. Sending these blooms can provide support and encouragement for those who are coping with the loss of a loved one. They make a great choice for a sympathy arrangement. If you are unsure what type of flower would be most appropriate for a floral arrangement for a grieving family, consult with your local florist. They can offer insight about the meanings and symbols behind the plants, ensuring that you make the right choice.... read more

Flower Arrangement Differences for Men and Women

When it comes to offering up flowers after a person has passed, there are subtle differences between a man’s funeral arrangement and a woman’s funeral arrangement. Though flowers have a traditionally feminine association, in reality, floral arrangements are a beautiful way to express sympathy regardless of whether the deceased was a man or a woman. They can add warmth and light to a space, and are a visual reminder that family members and friends are there to provide support. Choosing an arrangement for a man When you are trying to select a floral arrangement to honor the life of a man who has passed away, you have options that contain a more masculine motif in both the type and color of flowers that are featured in the display. A viable option for a funeral flower arrangement for a male features a simple standing spray with just a few color variations, including red or white. A simple yet elegant display is the perfect choice to honor the life of the man. Common types of flowers that are used in an arrangement for a male’s funeral include red, orange, white, blue, or yellow roses. Some people also choose to incorporate chrysanthemums, as they typically symbolize grief and come in masculine colors. Carnations are also a solid choice for a man’s funeral arrangement, though be sure not to use yellow ones, as they typically signify disappointment. Choosing an arrangement for a woman In order to express your sympathies over the death of someone’s mother, wife, or daughter, consider selecting a floral arrangement that comes in pastel or more feminine shades. An arrangement for a woman who has passed tends to be more stylized in design, and may use flowers like roses, chrysanthemums, and carnations. Shades that work well for a female arrangement include pink, lavender, and yellow. Though offering flowers after the death of a loved one is a very traditional act, the arrangement you provide does not need to feel stuffy or outdated. There are plenty of ways to modernize an arrangement using contemporary styles, designs, and ideas. In fact, these arrangements are often viewed as a form of temporary modern art. While flowers can be a beautiful way to honor a person who has passed, it is important to make sure that proper etiquette allows for such an arrangement to be delivered without causing offense. For example, in some religions, floral arrangements are not allowed. This includes in a house of worship for Orthodox Jews. In the Protestant faith, only one floral arrangement is permitted in the space, meaning that it is probably advisable not to send the flowers to the house of worship. When you understand the protocol for that particular religion, you can offer a kind gift without inadvertently offending anyone.... read more

Etiquette in Responding to a Private Funeral

While the passing of an individual may impact many different people, those close to the loved one may opt to hold a private service. If you see that a funeral or memorial service is “private” in an obituary, attendance is only limited to those invited. If a time, date and place are not listed in the obituary listing, it means that only those invited are asked to attend—it is not open to the public. There are many reasons why a family may choose to host a private funeral service, but it is important for others to understand how to properly respond if they were not invited. Do Not Take Offense It can be easy to feel offended if one is not invited to attend a funeral service of someone they cared about. However, it is important to understand that those planning the service may have many reasons why they have chosen to do so. Keep in mind that these decisions were not made to block any specific person or to make an event “exclusive.” Some funerals may be private because: The deceased legally planned a list of those who could attend the service. Financial resources are limited. Religious or cultural customs are present. Close friends and family would like to say goodbye in a more comforting environment. The deceased was a public figure who may draw too much attention to hold a respectful service. Instead of being offended that one was not invited to a private service, simply remember that these decisions were made to respect the deceased. Can I Ask for an Invitation? The decision to hold a private service is intentional—whether decided upon by the family or the deceased prior to their passing. It is generally poor etiquette to ask a family for an invitation to a private service, as the event is designed for only a few close friends and relatives. However, there are still ways to show support in a respectful way. How to Respectfully Express Condolences If a Funeral is Private If the information is available, it is typically respectful for those who wish to express condolences to place a phone call to the family of the deceased. Remember to keep these messages brief and to offer support in any way possible. Those who are not closely linked to a deceased individual may find that it is more appropriate to express condolences via mail or email. Again, brevity, compassion and support are best when approaching this type of communication. Individuals who would like to send flowers or other items to show respect for a deceased can try to contact the family or funeral home that is hosting the service. However, it is important to remember that this information may not always be available to the general public. How Can I Grieve If I Was Not Invited to a Private Service? Not being able to view or say goodbye to a deceased individual can be difficult, especially if one is looking for closure or to fully grieve the loss. Oftentimes, in situations of private services, a memorial service may occur sometime after the funeral. Memorial services generally allow members of the public to join and show respect, prayer and love for the deceased. Those who are connected to family or friends of the deceased are... read more

How to Acknowledge a Funeral When You Can’t Attend

While you’d ideally like to be able to attend a funeral in person, this is not always possible due to cost or schedule conflicts. However, there are plenty of other ways to pay your respects to the deceased, even if you are not able to be there for the funeral service itself. If you’re looking to honor the memory of a person who has died in an alternative way, consider these tips: It’s never too late to send flowers Sending flowers is a traditional and beautiful way to express your sympathies to the family of the deceased. You can send flowers or a lasting plant or dish garden to the funeral home, to the house of worship where the service will take place, or to the family’s home. Including a thoughtful note on the card is a warm gesture that the family will appreciate. Sign the online guestbook As people, we have become very used to email and other electronic means for sending messages.  Online condolences are often saved and read multiple times by loved ones and friends of the deceased. When someone is feeling blue, it’s comforting to reread sympathy messages. Even short sentiments reminding the bereaved that their loved ones are remembered and that they’re not alone in their grief can be helpful.   Many times, the funeral home will put these condolences into a small book that will be given to the family at an appropriate time after the service. Pay a visit to the family’s home If you’re close to the family of the deceased but cannot attend the funeral, consider paying a visit to them at their home. It is often helpful to bring them food, as they will likely be drained and not up for cooking. You can also offer to watch any young children who live in the home so that the older relatives can run errands and attend to funeral-related tasks. If you’re visiting the family’s home just to pay your respects, make it a point to keep your stay short. In some cases, the family of the deceased may feel pressure to entertain you while you’re visiting them, which can become a burden during this period of time. Stay just long enough to offer your sympathies, and then leave the family to spend some time together. Offer up kind words in a card If you don’t feel close enough to the family of the person who has passed away to visit them at their home, there are plenty of other ways to express your sympathies. Consider writing a card that offers your condolences and that gives insight about what made the person who died an important part of your life. Families delight in hearing stories about how their loved one helped or inspired others, so these words will be much appreciated during this challenging and grief-filled time. Make a charitable contribution If the person who has died was passionate about a particular charity, consider making a donation to this organization in the person’s name. This is an effective way to keep the person’s memory alive, while improving the lives of those in need. If you are unable to attend the funeral, try to be present at the wake if possible. A wake takes place prior to the actual service, and is... read more

How to Take Your Child to a Funeral

The death of a loved one can have a profound impact on a child, and should be handled with care. For kids who have not yet had to experience funerals or the concept of death, the ideas associated with these events can be frightening. Understand that there is no “right” age when it comes to allowing your son or daughter to attend the funeral of a loved one. If you believe that attending the service would help your child to grieve, then it is appropriate to bring the young boy or girl to the service. If you are planning on bringing your son or daughter to a loved one’s funeral, keep these tips in mind: Make sure that they will be able to sit respectfully  Many kids are not used to sitting still for long periods of time without a handheld video game or other toys to distract them. While these items might be acceptable to use in restaurants or while waiting at the doctor’s office, it is not appropriate to bring toys to a funeral. If you are not confident that your child can sit still without a form of distraction, you may want to reconsider bringing them. Brief the boy or girl about what to expect  Funerals are not easy for anyone to deal with, and can be especially stressful for young kids who do not know what to expect. To ensure that your child is prepared to handle the experience, give the boy or girl an idea about what will go on at the funeral. Explain that the occasion is a sad one, and that they may see the people they love crying. Note that this is normal, and that they are free to cry too if they are feeling sad. During the discussion, you should also make it a point to explain to the child how they will need to behave throughout the duration of the service. Unlike a regular church service, they will not be able to get up and take a break out in the hall with Mom or Dad if they start to get antsy. Make sure they are prepared to sit quietly for an extended period of time. Talk with the child about death  For many kids, a funeral is their first experience with death and mortality. This can be unsettling and confusing for a child. Help them navigate this time by explaining the ideas and concepts involved in a way that they might understand. Remember that the death of a loved one can be used as a way to talk about human biology or religion with your son or daughter, especially as it pertains to what happens when you die. You can express your own personal beliefs on these matters, and ask your son or daughter what their thoughts are on the subject. While your child may not fully understand some of the concepts that come up during a funeral, it is good for them to gain exposure to and understand this part of life. Be prepared to continue discussing the subject Funerals can have a significant impact on kids, and parents should appreciate and respect this. Your child may want to continue talking about the funeral after it is over. If it is clear that they are struggling with... read more

Keeping the Peace in a Complex Family While Planning a Funeral

Unfortunately, families are not always neat and tidy. There are rivalries, disputes, and other issues that can make the family dynamic a complex one. You may have a close relationship with one sibling and barely speak with another. However, when it comes time to honor the memory of someone who has passed, it is important that all relatives are able to put any issues aside and focus on celebrating the life of the deceased. Navigating lines of communication during the planning To keep any familial issues from detracting from the beauty of a memorial service or funeral, open communication is key. If one child has a certain vision for the funeral and yet the sister of the deceased has another idea in mind, it can cause tension. To ensure that all parties feel satisfied with how the funeral goes, make it a point to discuss issues pertaining to the service with those who were close to the person who has passed away. Even if the family is scattered across the country, there are ways to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the funeral itself. Schedule a conference call or start an email thread where people can dialogue about the arrangements. This allows everyone to feel as if they are being heard, even if they are not in the same city as the rest of the members of the family. To keep the process flowing smoothly, it is often wise to pick one person to spearhead the efforts. This individual should be in charge of assigning tasks and roles to other family members, and making sure that details do not slip through the cracks. This organizer keeps everyone on the same page, and makes sure that no one is forgotten. In many cases, it is best to choose a relative who is in the same city as the deceased to fill this role, as they can get more actively involved with the arrangements. To keep the peace and make sure everyone is equally represented during this time, the person spearheading the arrangements should find a way to incorporate other relatives into the funeral itself. Though they may not have the ability to pick out the casket and attend to other details, other members of the family can help to decide how the service itself will flow.  They may choose the readings or songs that will be performed at the funeral, and can help to make arrangements for family and friends who come in from out of town. Keep it equal  Tensions often arise among siblings when it comes to divvying up responsibility at the funeral. For many people, the service is a way for them to say a proper goodbye to their loved one, and is an extremely important time. For this reason, equality is necessary in order to prevent feelings from getting hurt. If one member of the family gets to eulogize the deceased, the others should be given the opportunity to pay their respects in their own way. Perhaps they recite a poem or perform a song that the person who died loved. Allowing everyone the chance to contribute in their own unique way helps all of these people to grieve, and prevents them from feeling left out and hurt. Though funerals... read more

The Proper Etiquette for Photographs at Funerals

Since everyone has a smartphone with a built-in camera, it’s possible to photograph any event or person at any time. While this can make for some great family memories, it’s important to have some discretion when it comes to what you’re photographing. When attending a funeral or a memorial service, you may have friends and family members in the same room who haven’t seen each other for many years. However, it is important to remember the reason you are gathered and to show tact when it comes to taking pictures. In general, it is wise to avoid taking pictures at a funeral or a memorial service unless you have been specifically asked to do so by the deceased’s family. Deciding to snap a few candids of the cousins gathered together can create tension and ruin the mood at the service. If you truly must get a picture of relatives at the service, do so outside of the building either before or after. Should the family of the person who has passed ask you to take some pictures, be sensitive as you do so. This means photographing people in natural light instead of using a flash when possible. Your ultimate goal is to take the necessary pictures without disrupting those who are mourning at the service. You should also avoid making loud announcements about needing to photograph people. Instead, quietly circulate throughout the room and take your shots. Do not disrupt the experience so you can grab a picture. Also bear in mind that many people will be crying and distressed at the funeral. Respect the difficulty of the situation and give these people privacy. There is no need to snap a shot of someone who is clearly in mourning. Those in attendance should be allowed to have their private moments. In almost all instances, photographing the person who has passed is considered to be in extremely poor taste. Only do so if the family specifically asks you. If you are asked to take a picture of the person who has died, do so discreetly and without using the flash. If you are in attendance at a funeral or a memorial service and are tempted to use your cell phone camera, think twice before you do so. Snapping cell phone shots may be seen as an extreme invasion of privacy. If you think that you have a valid reason for needing to photograph the event, you should still check with the family of the deceased, the funeral director, or a member of the clergy prior to beginning to take pictures. They can provide guidance about what they feel is and is not appropriate at that time.... read more

What is the Proper Etiquette for a Memorial Service?

A memorial service is a service held without the remains present, usually occurring within a week of a loved one’s death (although this has the tendency to vary based on individual circumstances). The memorial service itself is more informal than a funeral, and guests can exchange stories and other personal tributes to celebrate the life of the deceased. Individuals planning or attending a memorial service are encouraged to learn about proper memorial service etiquette, as many people have varying opinions on what the service should look like. For example, you may want to consider how to make it appropriate for all in attendance who have many thoughts and religious beliefs. If you are holding a memorial service in a house of worship, you will most likely need to consult with the pastoral staff for guidance. If you choose not to hold the service in a house of worship, you have a variety of other options in which you can structure the service. Behavior at a memorial service Attendees are advised to arrive to the venue early – at least 15 minutes before the memorial service starts. Once you arrive to the funeral home or house of worship, death and grief experts recommend finding a seat right away or briefly offering your condolences to the family should they be available. It is important not to overwhelm the family, especially if they are accommodating a number of guests. Memorial service attendees are encouraged to socialize with others after the ceremony as much as possible, and to speak to the family after the service as well. It is also advisable not to bring small children to a funeral service who may not comprehend what is happening. All attendees should have an understanding of death and should not be surprised by the funeral process, as that could result in inappropriate disruption. How to show respect The abiding rule at memorial services is to be respectful at all times. Avoid eating and drinking inside the church or funeral home (unless food and refreshments are offered) or answering phone calls during the service. Whether you are attending a memorial service or traditional burial service, consider sending flowers (or a plant) with a sentiment card at least one day prior the event.  Usually, the funeral home website will point you to a reputable florist that works directly with the funeral home or an online store to connect you with one. An important role of flowers at the funeral service is providing comfort and warmth. Flowers also play a functional role after the funeral. Flowering and foliage plants appear to be more than a keepsake from the funeral; they are a living memorial to the deceased.... read more

Tips on Dressing for a Funeral

When attending a funeral, it is always important to show respect for the deceased, as well as the other loved ones mourning his or her passing. As such, it is essential to make sure to wear respectful attire that is aligned with funeral service etiquette. While funerals often come as unexpected, it is easy to plan an outfit that is both simple and tasteful. Here are a few guidelines for those looking for guidance on what to wear to a funeral. Color Color may be one of the most important aspects of funeral attire, as it should reflect the mourning atmosphere of the event. Typically, black is considered a standard for funerals; however darker, neutral colors may prove appropriate depending on the situation and nature of the service. Men will generally wear black suits, black dress shoes paired with a white dress shirt and a neutral tie. Similarly, women wear black dresses, or darker blouses and pants accompanied by formal black shoes. Simplicity It is important to remember that a funeral service is an event designed for loved ones to say goodbye to the deceased and to reflect on his or her life. As such, it is important to make sure that any outfit worn to a funeral is neither flashy nor detracts from the attention of the service. Following the color guidelines above, both women and men should make sure that the jewelry and other accessories they wear are tasteful and blend in with the entire outfit. Since women often choose to wear black dresses, they often have many more choices on how to dress for a funeral. However, attendees should make sure that their dresses are not too revealing and follow a simple shape. While hats and veils are often seen at funerals, it is important to wear those that are not ostentatious or large. If in doubt, keep it as simple as possible. Clean and Pressed Although funerals may come as a surprise to some attendees, it is important to make sure that outfits worn are presented in a tasteful, crisp and conservative fashion. It is suggested to make sure that all selected pieces fit appropriately and are dry cleaned ahead of time for optimal appearance. Weather Considering that many funeral services are followed by outdoor burials at a cemetery gravesite, it is also essential to plan outfits that are tasteful and reserved, yet comfortable and conducive to seasonal weather. Services held in warmer weather may encourage attendees to wear lighter fabrics, so they do not reveal too much skin to stay comfortable. When attending a winter service, it is appropriate to wear conservative black coats, gloves and scarves to protect one’s self from the cold.... read more

 

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