Q. The mother of a friend of mine died and his aunt has hijacked the funeral. She made all the funeral plans on her own. Afterwards she called and told him when and where to show up for the services. The mother had earmarked money to pay for a funeral, so there is no cost to either party. But my friend feels so angry at being left out of all the decisions that he talks about not wanting to attend the funeral. Why would someone hurt him this way at such a sad time? I’m trying to persuade him to go anyway.
A death in the family can bring people together in shared grief. But sometimes it may create divisions. Everyone feels vulnerable, stressed, on edge, and raw. Tempers may erupt at the slightest (or no) provocation. Deep-seated issues, such as sibling rivalry or jealousy, can emerge, leading to bad behavior. I’ve recently heard of several instances where a mourner excluded other next of kin from planning decisions or otherwise taking an active role in the funeral or memorial service. Even worse, some bereaved deliberately did not notify other survivors of the death, or omitted them from the obituary as if they had never existed. The excluding may be done by a second family that feels threatened by the deceased’s children from a first marriage (or vice versa). Those left out wind up in a sort of limbo. It isn’t pretty, but it happens.
I don’t know why your friend’s aunt kept him out of the loop. She may be a controlling person or simply grossly insensitive. Some people don’t understand that their actions confuse or hurt others. She may even have thought, misguidedly, that she was doing your friend a favor by handling all the details for him. It’s understandable that he feels angry and has doubts about attending the funeral. But a key question for him is: “Will I regret staying home?” A funeral or memorial service is a time-honored ritual that serves an essential human purpose. The gathering of mourners has a cathartic effect, provides emotional support, and helps bring closure. If he stays home, he denies himself the comfort of this experience and the opportunity to honor and pay his respects to his mother.
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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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