Q. My father died recently, but I did not learn of his death until weeks after the funeral. He lived with his second wife, who caused a family rift after their marriage, and kept me out of the loop. (I live halfway across the country.) I feel angry and bereft at the same time. Are there any words of comfort you can offer? Also there is no head stone at the grave. Can I put one up?
A. I can’t imagine how painful your situation is. You’ve been denied closure and the chance to say “goodbye.” Unfortunately, such things happen more often than any of us realize. A death in the family can connect people. The funeral (regardless of the religion involved) is a ritual that helps bring families closer and makes it easier for the bereaved to process grief. The “gathering of the clan” can be a tremendous comfort, even if you haven’t seen family members for a very long time.
Unfortunately, however, a death can also be used by some as an instrument for revenge, expressing resentment, etc. For example, estranged siblings may reunite at a parent’s funeral—or continue to play out unresolved rivalry and other issues that go way back. Family members may disagree about sharing funeral costs or about picking out a casket. One mourner wants the top of the line model; another insists on the economy casket. Actual brawls have broken out over other issues, where one side of a family attacks the other at a funeral or memorial service. The point is, some people are able to say, “Let’s forget the past and make a new start” or “Let’s be civil for this occasion.” Others can’t or won’t let go of grievances.
I would doubt that you could put up a stone yourself in this scenario, although you can call the cemetery for information. If you feel strongly enough to focus exclusively on getting what you want, you could call or write your late father’s wife and offer to pay for the stone—without any discussion of being left out of the funeral. This would mean putting aside understandably angry, painful feelings and refusing to get into any arguments. Not many people could do this, and there is no assurance the widow would agree. Only you can decide whether this is worth a try. This is a very complicated situation. I wish you luck.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons/MishBradley