Many times, we are unable to reconcile disagreements, estrangements, and relationships before a loved one passes away. It doesn’t matter whether you spent years not talking to one another, or if the disagreement is recent and still very painful – it’s never easy to deal with death when there are lingering emotions that haven’t been sorted out. And in cases where the emotions are negative, there are even more considerations to keep in mind during the funeral planning process.
Some of the key questions to ask yourself before attending the funeral of someone you have been estranged from include:
Can you (and the family) put aside any bad feelings for the day? Most of the time, a funeral is considered something of a neutral zone, in which everyone is allowed to bereave and pay their respects as they see fit. If this isn’t the case in your particular situation, it might be better to find a different way to say your goodbyes.
Will going to the funeral help you work through your feelings with the deceased, regardless of what you might feel towards him or her? The same can be said of family members and how you will most likely interact with them. Funerals are typically a time to say goodbye and begin a long process of grieving. If attending will help you in this process, it might be a good idea to go.
Will you regret it if you don’t go? No matter how difficult it may be to attend the funeral, this is your only chance. In some circumstances, regret at not attending can be worse than facing your fears head-on.
What will be gained or lost by your attendance? Think of this in terms of personal growth as well as what the family and friends of the deceased might feel. If your presence will help you gain perspective but cause considerable harm to the family, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons carefully. The same is true for the reverse (e.g., if the family asks you to attend, but you’re not sure it’s a healthy step for you to take).
What is the length of time that you’ve been estranged? Time has a way of lessening many types of negative feelings, and you may find that sentiments you harbor aren’t shared by family members after all this time.
Would it be better to attend the viewing, but not stay for the funeral ceremony? Can you enter quietly and in the back, without drawing attention to yourself or the fact that you are there? The logistics of the funeral plan can have an influence on whether or not you go. If you’re not comfortable asking the family member in charge of planning the funeral about these issues, phone the funeral director and explain your situation.
The decision of whether or not to attend the funeral is one that only you can make, and based only on your particular circumstances. While a long- or short-term estrangement with the deceased means that you’re not likely to play a role in the funeral planning process, your presence at the ceremony and/or burial will have an impact – not only on your peace of mind, but also on other family members or friends who may have taken sides in the estrangement.