I moved one ocean away from my family recently, and my grandfather is about to pass. Here is my dilemma: social convention has it that you should attend a close one’s funeral, but what if you don’t want to?
I don’t plan to attend for several reasons: time, money, but above all, I really want to avoid all the funeral-related drama, and hypocritical celebrations of how “great” a man he was. All the public and intimate displays of mourning are icking me out. I don’t feel I can handle it.
But just because I’m skipping a funeral, doesn’t mean I will not honor what good memories I have of him in my own way, on my own, or that I will not support my family as much as I can.
So how do you explain you don’t want to attend a close relative’s funeral? Any ideas? Thank you! -Elodie
I’ve thought about this topic a lot over the years as I lost each of my grandparents in turn (I hate the term “passed”). It is such a complicated issue. For me, the logistics never changed; I never could afford to travel the six hundred miles. It was always a financial burden, so there’s the “control” in this argument. But, as my feelings for the four of my grandparents spanned the spectrum, I offer my experiences up to illustrate my varied reasons for attending. Maybe the reasons I found will help someone else to sort it out for themselves.
When my grandmother died, I was devastated. Even typing this out has me choking back the sob that instinctively rises in my throat. It’s been nineteen years and I still miss her. She was the only member of my family who ever made me feel worth or love. I made the sad and mournful trek back for her funereal because there is nothing in this world that could have kept me away. I wrote her eulogy on a napkin in the backseat with my seven-year-old son beside me. It is no exaggeration to say that I would have hitchhiked to be there. She meant the world to me and I knew it was my last chance to show her how much I loved her. At the last moment, after the pall bearers had been called in to move the casket from the funeral home, they stopped. My brother turned and nodded to my son who then walked over and grabbed the front handle, leading the five grown men out into the sunlight carrying my grandmother to the church. Everyone who saw what happened gasped. My tiny son in his little double-breasted suit was bearing as much of the weight of the mournful crowd as his little body could stand. No matter what would happen to our family afterward as the world and time and distance moved us to separate corners, that moment was one that everyone remembers. I’m not a religious person, but I still believe that it is also the one moment that I know for sure my grandmother could see.
And then the other side of the family began to die. When my grandfather on that side died, I attended his funeral more as an obligation. I really had no connection to the man other than blood. I can’t recall more than a smattering of sentences passing between us during my whole life. I just felt like I was supposed to go. Even though he was essentially a stranger, he was a decent man, and so I went. I was sad that a man who had lived such a full life was gone. I certainly respected him as a provider for his family, but I didn’t really know him that well. I’d only seen him a handful of times during my lifetime.
I should interject here that my participation in these ceremonies is not an expectation that couldn’t have been stalled. My brother has not attended a single family funeral. For him, it hasn’t been a matter of being opposed to the concept of funerals. He has attended funerals of friends. He just doesn’t, um, feel like he has to go. He believes the question is more about his own feelings rather than the feelings of the mournful. I’ll say, people were definitely shocked when he skipped the first funereal. But now no one even expects him to show. On the one hand, he made a decision for himself and he doesn’t care what other people think. On the other hand, he doesn’t care, which I find exceedingly sad.
My last grandparent to die was my mother’s mother. This grandmother was not a nice person. End of. I have little to no feelings for her, even today, and not a single good memory. But I still attended her funereal. Am I a hypocrite? Some might say so. Certainly, everyone was shocked when I appeared. But, I’ll be honest, I didn’t do it for her sake. I went there to support my mother, even though my own mother and I also do not have a familial relationship. At best, we’re tolerant of each other. But the thing is, I had empathy for her and didn’t want her to feel like no one cared that she’d lost her last parent. It’s not her fault that she’d inherited her mother’s parenting skills. At least, in the case of my own mother, she is cognizant of her failings. That recognition means to me that she was a crappy parent simply because she was never parented, not because she was a sociopath like her own mother. So I went. I stood there and I was respectful. I watched my cousins cry and I wondered why they were shedding a single tear, but I kept my feelings to myself. And then I went home knowing I had done the right thing.
I described these four very different funerals and my reasons for attending because, at the end of the day, I think it’s about doing the right thing for someone at the very last opportunity you have to do so. If money, distance, logistics of any sort are not the reason for staying away, consider going. The funerals I attended of people I loved and respected and will miss until my own last breath were a place and a moment in which I could quietly honor them and all the love they created. For the funerals I attended for people I didn’t necessarily respect or care about, I attended to show support for people that did love them because those people needed to feel comforted and, in my mother’s case especially, needed to feel validated. Let’s be real: Bad people are mourned, too.
Funerals are ceremonial ways in which to honor those who’ve died and/OR the people who loved the dead. It doesn’t have to be both. I guess my point is: It’s not about you. [Please don’t read that as a jab.] Just think of it as your last opportunity to be a good person for the deceased or their loved ones, even if you don’t care much for the person that the deceased proved to be.
So how do YOU handle the idea of skipping the funeral of a family member?