Acquaintance passed away. Do I donate to his preferred charity, despite my concerns?
November 28, 2012 8:26 AM   Subscribe

An acquaintance has passed away, and in lieu of flowers, his family is requesting a donation to a religious cause that gives me some concerns. What to do?

A co-worker has passed away. He worked in a different office, and I did not work closely with him, but in my 2.5 years at my company working with him we had a couple good conversations, and in the rare times we worked together we got along well. He was a very nice man, passed away much too soon (in his 50s) and will be missed by all.

He left the company for a new job about 2 years ago, about the same time he was diagnosed with lung cancer. I didn't know he was ill until I found out he passed away this week.

He was a devout Jehovah's Witness, and his family is asking for contributions to Watchtower, which makes me uncomfortable. He never discussed religion with me, but I know he had an uncomfortable run in with a colleague who was divorcing which made her quite uncomfortable. I identify as an atheist who celebrates the cultural aspects of Judaism.

A side note: I do not know if his religion prevented him from getting treatment for the cancer or not, and have read mixed things online about whether this would happen. However, even the possibility of this disappoints me, although I know it is his choice to live by whatever religious code he chooses.

So, do I make a nominal donation to Watchtower, which I know he and his family would have wanted? Or do I make a donation to a cancer charity, which may be viewed as a slap in the face by the family? Or, since we weren't particularly close anyway, should I just not make a donation, as one likely isn't even expected of me anyway? Thoughts on these or any other options would be appreciated.
posted by evadery to Human Relations (23 answers total)
You could make a donation to something relatively non-controversial. How about a local food bank?
posted by Jahaza at 8:27 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a request, not a demand. If I were in your shoes, I'd just send a heartfelt sympathy card.
posted by HeyAllie at 8:28 AM on November 28, 2012 [49 favorites]

You can send a sympathy card and not make a donation at all and that is within the realm of okay for a former coworker.

If you want to make a donation, however, that's a different question.
posted by zizzle at 8:29 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't send any money. You're not obligated to do so.
posted by inturnaround at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just send a sympathy card. Donate to a charity with him in mind, but you don't need to let the family know.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

which may be viewed as a slap in the face by the family?

Send flowers. It is not a sign of disrespect to express your condolences in the usual way. In lieu of flowers is a request, not a command.
posted by three blind mice at 8:33 AM on November 28, 2012

Is there some third option, say a hospital or hospice that was looking after him?

The suggestion of Watchtower is just a suggestion. You're free to make whatever donation you want (or not). I'm sure there's some other charity you could choose -- related to him or not -- that would be perfectly acceptable, because any donation is a nice, good-hearted gesture. The family isn't going to complain if you make a donation to, say, little league baseball in co-worker's name.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:36 AM on November 28, 2012

Maybe I'm an outlier, but I would be sending a card and not flowers anyway for a never-close, left-two-years-ago former coworker. I think you're totally off the hook if you want to be.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:36 AM on November 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

Don't send flowers. What if someone in the immediate family has allergies, for instance? This is 99.99999% not the reason they asked, but the fact remains that they suggested an alternate. Jahaza has the best suggestion, because what I really think they want is to know their relative was a good, decent man who inspired other people to be good and decent. Donate to something non-controversial that does not explicitly go against their tenets.
posted by thelastcamel at 8:38 AM on November 28, 2012

You don't have to send flowers, or make a donation.

Sending a donation to a charity of your choice, when the family has stipulated a different one, would be making a point at their expense.

Just write a condolence letter, attend the funeral if you can, and ask if it would be all right to pay them a visit (people usually say no IME).
posted by tel3path at 8:42 AM on November 28, 2012

Since your acquaintance with him was a bit removed, you certainly aren't obligated by etiquette to send either flowers or make a donation in his name. If I were a family member in that situation, I would love to receive a sympathy card with a personal note concerning some aspect of my loved one's work life, maybe a funny story, or just kind words about what a helpful and knowledgeable coworker he was. Our loved ones work situations are often a bit of a mystery to us and it would be really nice to have a little window into that world and see that he was a valued member of his office.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 8:44 AM on November 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

The level of obligation for the relationship you describe has you completely off the hook for anything more than a card, and you could even skip the card if you wanted to. No one will miss a contribution you do not make. You only have to satisfy your own need for expressing condolences, and so you can do whatever you think honors your memory of this person best.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:46 AM on November 28, 2012

A sympathy card and nothing else is exactly what's called for, etiquette-wise. Not every friend is required to send flowers, even when the family is okay with flowers. The request for donations is just a suggestion to those who would feel obligated to send flowers.
posted by xingcat at 8:46 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, just the card, with a sentence of personal thoughts if you're so moved.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:51 AM on November 28, 2012

It's really okay to not donate to anything, and to just send a card.
posted by rtha at 8:57 AM on November 28, 2012

A card with some personal memories from you of him means a lot.

If you really want to donate in his name, I'd suggest picking one of the charities that raises funds to fight cancer. Whether you notify the family of this is entirely your decision. It is very easy to donate on line in memory of someone without sending notice to their family that you did so.
posted by bearwife at 8:59 AM on November 28, 2012

posted by apparently at 9:10 AM on November 28, 2012

A sympathy card is appropriate. Write something personal and sweet. (Harold and I used to compare the contents of our lunch boxes. We often traded sandwiches, because he didn't have the heart to tell Tilly that he didn't like tuna.)

If this person's passing inspires you to donate to a cause, then fine. Their request can be viewed simply as their wish to have something good come from their loved one's passing, rather than accumulate a room full of flowers that will be thrown away.
posted by mule98J at 9:47 AM on November 28, 2012

There's absolutely nothing to do with the religion that would have made him not get treatment for cancer. The only thing that would trip that up is there's some thing with blood transfusions, which he wouldn't have needed I presume. The family would have no problem with or feel any slap in the face for a cancer donation. Is that something you've read somewhere?

Personally I wouldn't donate to the cause they asked you to, your beliefs don't align with it and you have no obligation to do it. Emphatically religious people can be quite pushy with trying to get others to support what they do (though agreeing they might be trying to feel like something good is coming from his passing), you don't have to do it & frankly, you sound uncomfortable with it. Especially since the two of you never discussed religion, I really wouldn't. Even more so, because you wouldn't in the first place.

Do what you think would be a good fit to honor his memory the most.
posted by readygo at 11:44 AM on November 28, 2012

They specifically said the donation was in lieu of flowers, so if you were not inclined to send flowers (and I think you would be well within your rights not to) you dont have to make a donation either.
posted by Billiken at 12:26 PM on November 28, 2012

You could just send a card. But between you and me, many funerals here in town say in lieu of flowers and people still send flowers anyway, and no one gets mad. (I work for a florist.)
Also, since your background is Jewish, I understand (from Jewish friends) that Jewish funerals traditionally do not get flowers, but in my experience JW funerals do.

You are under absolutely no obligation to give to a cause you find objectionable.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:29 PM on November 28, 2012

If you feel the need to make a donation to somewhere else in his name, there's no reason the family has to know.
posted by Ashlyth at 3:26 PM on November 28, 2012

Think about WHY you feel the need to do something.

Do you want to let the family to know that other people cared about their loved one too? Send a card with a personal note that includes a specific memory of your co-worker. They will really appreciate it - far more than a simple card or donation.

Do you want to honor the memory of your co-worker? Make a donation to a place that honors your mutual interests (his and yours) such as a cancer society.

Want to do the socially correct thing? In the general US society, you aren't required to do anything at all so anything you do is above and beyond. In Judaism, it is a mitzvah to comfort the mourners (send a card) and it reflects on the merit of deceased if he inspires people to do good in their memory (depends on the relations if you would want to make a donation for this reason.)

Personally, I would not send flowers - the family doesn't want them, they are very short-lived and then forgotten (unlike charity which can make a difference in the world).

Bottom line: you should free to do whatever feels the most comfortable for you.
posted by metahawk at 6:53 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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