My sister has written to me asking if I’d be a pallbearer at her funeral. She is terminally ill with only a few months to live. I love her and have, over the past few years, travelled to see her, really to say good-bye.
I’m an emotional person, not very strong, and I’m afraid and the thought of travelling 12,000 miles round-trip to attend a funeral does not appeal to me. How on earth do I say no without hurting her feelings whilst she is still with us? Please help me — even if to say I should just be strong and attend the funeral. – S
I’m so sorry you’re losing a sister you love. That alone is enough of a stress to handle, let alone dealing with the decision to attend and be a big part of the funeral. I’ve personally always felt that, outside of honoring a person’s final requests, that funerals were mostly for the other people in their life, to mourn and find peace. There are certainly family and community politics that might affect the decision, but mostly not attending a funeral is a personal one that requires no judgment from anyone but yourself.
We heard from some readers in this post about explaining why you’ll not be attending a funeral. Here is some wisdom we culled that may be helpful…
I feel like one of the great things about being an adult is figuring out when we need to explain ourselves to others and when we don’t. Learning to make that distinction is a great exercise in setting boundaries. – Karen
There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to attend a funeral. I feel intensely uncomfortable at them, usually, and often it does nothing to help me heal. I attend, not for myself and my personal closure, but often to be there to support other family members/friends for whom this will help…. In any case, [if you decide not to go] I’d just apologize and say that you’ll be unable to attend, and if somebody pressures you for a reason why, say that the time/travel costs are too much for you right now, but you’ll be saying goodbye as well, from a distance. If anybody continues to pressure you, just apologize and say you’ve made up your mind, and you’d rather not have to continue discussing it. – Carolyn
Give as much or as little information as you would like, since there are many factors involved, but sometimes you just have to be “that guy” and say “no, not doing it.”
You can be as delicate about it as you choose to be. “I won’t be able to afford the journey,” or “I don’t feel comfortable mourning this way,” or “I don’t want to see X,” but, at the end of the day, someone may get huffy and that’s on them. You make your own decisions and live with your own consequences; family often forgets that people become adults and make adult decisions. – Rorsun
You’re an ocean away. I think this is one instance where you can say “I can’t make it” and no one will question you on it at all. I don’t think there’s much to gain from pointing out that you don’t want to attend, aside from hurt feelings. Gut-check who may need your support right now and give them a call. Let them know your heart is with them. Because funerals aren’t for the dead. – Dootsie
More responses here:
Normally, you could opt out of the funeral for any reason after the person has passed, but in this case, she is planning ahead and needs an answer for her pallbearer list. Here are some options with varying degrees of morality:
- Buck up and attend as a pallbearer, knowing it might be hard to do and an inconvenient and very long trip.
- Lie and say that you’ll be a pallbearer, then line up someone else to fill in for you after your sister is gone.
- Say you’ll attend, but cannot be a pallbearer for some reason (too emotionally hard, for example).
- Be honest and tell her you may not be able to attend at all, but will mourn her in your own way at home. If she knows how emotional you are, it will likely be understandable.
I’m not suggesting any of these necessarily, these are just the ways I can see this playing out. None of us can tell you what to do because families are complex and grief even more so.
Sage advice giver Captain Awkward has some wisdom that may also be relevant:
You can’t solve death, or aging, or dysfunctional families, but you can carve out some boundaries for yourself… First, I would like you to give yourself… permission to not decide about whether to go to the funeral until [your loved one] is gone. Give yourself permission to say, “we can’t really plan that right now.”
There are some circumstances where you don’t have to decide now and can say so. It may mean that she’ll have to line up a backup pallbearer, but you can offer your help in other ways while she is still around.
I put it to our readers to help…
Have any of you been in a similar situation where a dying friend or family member needs an answer? Can you offer any sympathetic advice?