Every family has its disagreements, some more serious than others, but when it comes to saying a final goodbye to a loved one, there should be no better time to put those differences aside.
The trouble is that at times of grief, when emotions are running high, it can be the trickiest time to make amends or draw feuding family members together. So what happens when a family member struggles to let go of a deep-rooted dispute? How should you go about arranging everything from invitations to burial or cremation plans as a united family, if some family members refuse to even speak to each other?
One problem many people may face is deciding whether to attend the funeral of a former spouse or partner, especially if the relationship ended on difficult terms or the person isn’t on good terms with their ex-partner’s family.
The situation only becomes more complex if children are involved. If you have children with the deceased person, you may not want them to attend, believing they’re either too young. Or you may wish to attend yourself to support older children who are attending the funeral.
According to online estate planning platform Everplans, there is no “right” answer to any of these problems regarding a former spouse’s send-off. It recommends you make contact with their immediate family in advance to talk it through, and discuss your plans as amicably as possible.
Wevorce, a site that offers advice for divorcees, meanwhile, offers some points to consider before having that conversation: Will your presence be an important source of support for your children? If your ex-partner remarried, will your presence be upsetting for that person? Have you remained friendly with your former partner’s family and friends?
“The bottom line is that if you feel that your attendance at the funeral would be respectful and supportive and that you would be welcome by family and friends, there is no reason for you not to go,” Wevorce advises. “If your presence is not needed by your children (or if you did not have children with your ex-husband), and/or your attendance would create tension or conflict, you might consider just sending flowers and a sympathy card to the family.”
It’s not just feuds with former partners and their families that can re-emerge during such emotional times. Long-running tensions between family members often escalate as well. From blocking difficult relations from the funeral or memorial service, to going against their wishes for the deceased relative, it can create a highly-charged situation for everyone involved.
Funeral planning platform mysendoff.com advises relatives to accept help from an outside mediator or funeral planner in these situations, allowing them to take over arrangements and take the pressure off warring families to come to a joint agreement.
Mysendoff said another option was to force a connection again, as “family disputes thrive due to lack of communication” – the only way to resolve them is to communicate with each other, the site notes. While that is a great suggestion, of course, it’s not always possible – and in that situation, Mysendoff recommends putting your feelings aside for the day, to focus on your mutual grief and remembering the relative as they’d wish.
Gail Valentine Taylor, who runs Woods Valentine Mortuary in the US, even offers some practical strategies to ensure underlying disagreements don’t spoil the funeral. “Agree to table all conflicts until after the funeral, hopefully weeks after,” it recommends, adding that it’s wise to “maintain a safe distance to avoid conflicts”.
It’s not only old feuds that can prove a bone of contention, however, because fresh rows can arise when grieving family members are discussing funeral plans. Whether you’ve had a distant but civil relationship for a while, or you’ve been close all your lives, there’s never such a big test – and everything from planning hymns and readings for the church service, to deciding whether to have a burial or cremation can cause disputes.
Communication is key in this case, listening to each other’s views and talking through the pros and cons of each idea before coming to a mutual decision. Remembering the importance of honouring a loved one’s wishes rather than scoring a point against a rival
Valentine Taylor notes that this is where pre-planning a funeral is key, because it allows the deceased to ensure all of these decisions are taken care of to their satisfaction, leaving nothing behind for their family to agree, or disagree, on.
“When a loved one dies and a family feud surfaces, everyone loses. Emotions among family members run deep. We should all count the cost of feuding during such a difficult time, and choose the better path,” she says.