Attending a funeral of an estranged parent
October 14, 2011 6:17 AM Subscribe
My estranged father passed away. Should I attend his funeral? Lengthy, snowflake details inside.
posted by kitkatcathy to Human Relations (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My relationship with my father is complicated. Growing up, he was neglectful and emotionally abusive to my mother, my sister, and myself -- when he was around. In practical and emotional terms, I consider myself to have been raised by a single parent - my mother. We (mother, sister, and I) consider the three of us, minus our father, to be our family unit. My happy memories of growing up and parenting moments involve my mother and not my father.
It was a huge relief to my sister and I when my parents finally divorced 10 years ago. The divorce was acrimonious on his end - he left believing my mother only married him for his money and spent her life turning her children against him (We have heard that he's told friends that my sister and I "don't care about him at all"). Since the divorce, we've been completely, mutually, estranged. He has made zero attempts to contact with my sister, mother, or I, nor have we reached out to him during this time.
I have long accepted that my father was, simply put, a toxic person with a lot of demons. He was bitter and resentful, and often alienated people. We are not his first estrangement. He has broken off relationships with friends, colleagues, and his entire former family (wife and two daughters from a previous marriage). I have also made our peace quite some time ago with the idea that he could pass away without any of us knowing if it happened, when it happened, or where (he moves frequently between several countries). He is who he is and I seek neither reconciliation nor closure.
However, in an odd twist of events, a few weeks ago we learned through word of mouth that our father was in an end-of-life hospice in our home city. He did not ask to see us and we had decided at the time to not see him. I do not regret this and firmly believe it was the right choice for our emotional well-being.
Yesterday I learned that my father passed away on Wednesday. Upon hearing news of his passing, my first reaction was sadness in the humanist sense of "this person did not live a happy life and will never get a chance to redeem himself" and also relief for him that he no longer has to carry his emotional burdens. Mercifully, my father had presumably named his old secretary as his executor as she has made the funeral arrangements. She sent emailed details of his funeral.
My sister and I feel some obligation (cultural? filial? -I am chinese) to attend this funeral but honestly, we do not want to go. We have accepted the departure of this person from our lives years ago and have zero interest spending a few hours plastering on a smile, remembering him, and putting forth platitudes about his life (I belong to the "if I don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything" school of thought). Particularly with a group of people we've never met. From what I can tell, the funeral will be small - other invitees are a handful of old work colleagues who I have never met, or last saw over 15-20 years as a child - so my sister and I will not be able to hide in a crowd. I am hugely attention adverse to begin and the idea of sticking out as the Estranged Children in this situation is incredibly stressful.
Mefites, I am stressing out over what I should do/ what I'm obligated to do/ and what I want to do. Should we attend this funeral or not? Is there any etiquette if we don't go, do we tell anyone or just not show up? Is there anything else about this whole situation I haven't considered?
The irony is that we were fully prepared for his death to happen far away, without our knowledge, but we never thought it would happen, literally so close to home. It feels like a chapter in our lives that we thought was neatly closed has suddenly, messily, blown open again :(