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 fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


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.  



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Comment by Sarah E. Grove on February 24, 2013 at 1:53pm

One of my brothers has been long estranged from the rest of us (we have four boys and one girl, me.) the rift between my brother and myself was a huge one, dealing with issues that had happened regarding his use of my mother's' money (unbeknownst) to the rest of us, and downright crappy things that no son should ever do to his Mom.  I was the only one living in our hometown, therefor the only one to take care of my Mom on a daily basis.

He had even walked out of her room with her hearing aids when she was on her deathbed, because he can't afford devices of his own. . . .due to his own choices in life.  I knew she was dying, and I bought her those hearing aids knowing that she'd be gone in a few months; I only wanted to be able to communicate with her in her last days. I wanted her to understand what was going on, and he robbed his own mother of her ability to hear. I rushed out and ordered another one, and she died about a month after I provided it.

When she died, I called him. I mentioned absolutely nothing about the bad things he's done, but just told him to come to the funeral. He was about a 3 hour drive away, and said that he "didn't think he could make it."  I insisted that he come, and he finally did. I didn't treat him differently than any other of my brothers. He attended, and went back home, never to speak to me again.

I've accepted it. although we grew up very close. People choose their own paths in life, but my point is that the past is the past. I think he's embarrassed that I'm the only one left that knows all the crappy things he's done, and that's his problem, not mine.  I just had to let go.

Comment by Connie Lynn Huntling on February 4, 2011 at 1:50pm
Sadly, our family has been estranged for 10+ years.  Our Mother has passed and some of my siblings (6 total) have started a list of "WHO CANNOT ATTEND" our Mother's memorial.  The message was delivered via another sibling stating "I do not want ???? there".   The contentious behavior of these siblings almost makes me not want to attend my Mother's service because I know the chaos that will present itself.  I, for the life of me cannot comprehend this behavior.  Any suggestions how do deal with these siblings?   
Any information would be greatly appreciated.

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