Help me get over being excluded from my father's funeral.
January 24, 2012 1:06 PM   Subscribe

My father passed away recently. We were estranged and I feel really strange about how his family handled his passing. I'm looking for advice about contacting them, or just leaving things be. Help!

My parents divorced when I was 5; per the custody agreement, my father saw me every other weekend until I was 15, where they let me then choose the frequency of my visits. My parents had a messy divorce, involving infidelity on my father's part and a lot of anger and bad blood that carried through most of my childhood and adolescence. This led to me distancing myself from my father as I grew older, because of the emotional toll it was taking on both myself and my mom.

My father married his mistress and had two children shortly after my parents finalized their divorce. As such, I often felt as a child that I didn't belong. My mom handled this wonderfully by giving me tools to articulate my feelings through therapy.

Over the years, I have tried to re-establish or maintain contact with him in some way. I wanted to give him a chance to get to know me as an adult. I left for college and spent most of my adult years away from my home state - so most of our contact was through letters and e-mail. I attempted to keep him up on what I was doing, how I felt, and other things I thought he might be interested to know. Usually, I would receive a short response, and I often felt my efforts were in vain. When I expressed interest in visiting, he would say things like "You're always welcome." but when I would try to pin down a time to visit, I would receive no response.

About 6 years ago, I gave up completely. I decided that for whatever reasons, despite my attempts, he didn't want to put the effort into having a relationship with me as an adult. In speaking with my mom and other who knew him well, they said that this was typical of his communication patterns in the past. I feel like I did my best to make it known that I wanted to have a relationship with him.

My father unexpectedly passed away in late September. His family (wife and children) did not notify me of this until a month after it happened - preventing me from attending the funeral. They did not acknowledge me in any of the obituaries, either. I do not know why this happened, and yet, I cannot stop thinking about it. I have thought that perhaps it was his wish that I not attend or that I not be included in any memorial information.

I mourned privately, and have done my best to accept his passing as a normal course of being alive. However, I wonder if I should try to send his widow a letter, expressing my sympathies and also letting her know that I very much wanted to be in his life, and tried to make that happen. I want to ask her why I was excluded from his memorial and funeral. At this point, it seems fruitless, but I can't help but be human and wonder why I was excluded from the events around his passing.

Has anyone else been in a similar situation? My gut instinct is to let things be - for whatever reason, the family does not care for me, and I have a feeling my letter, no matter how kind or sincere would be looked upon with disdain.

Thanks in advice for any advice.
posted by carmenghia to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry for your loss.

A very dear friend of mine was in exactly the same situation, to the letter; right down to being left out of the obituary. I'm trying to remember whether he sent his stepmother a letter or not. I think ultimately, he realized that it wasn't his father wanting him to be excluded, it was more likely his stepmother, with whom he didn't get on well; so he figured there wasn't much point.

But don't apologize for wondering why you were excluded; however, my hunch is that this is more your husband's widow's idea rather than your father's.

This hurts, and I'm sorry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Arg -- that should have read "this is more your FATHER'S widow's idea".

Well, I hope maybe you got a chuckle at my gaffe, at least....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:12 PM on January 24, 2012

Your father's wife acted atrociously. You should have been informed immediately and been allowed to go to whatever service there was. Also included in the obituary. However poorly she has behaved, I would not shut this door entirely. You have two siblings that are young adults now as well? Please try to open some kind of communication with them.

Are there other relatives on your father's side that you can get contact information for? Aunts, uncles or cousins?

Don't count on any resolution with your father's wife. You can only move forward, and do what you can with the living.
posted by readery at 1:17 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm very sorry to hear about your dad, and about how things between you weren't as you would have wanted or rightfully expected them to be.

Listen to your gut. You are understandably hurting at the moment (I would personally be furious not only with the stepfamily's failure to extend you the basic human courtesy of a call or note to let you know about your own father's death but also with the father who showed so little respect to you as his daughter that they felt they could treat you like that) and now is not the time.

I'm not saying your letter would be inappropriate in tone but I doubt you would get any sort of decent response, so it may leave you feeling worse for having extended any sort of invitation to a conversation to them. Write the letter, then put it away and re-read it in a month or so.

There have been times in my life when I have tried to engage with others on deep-seated personal issues in an attempt to help them understand me / my feelings and have been rebuffed or worse, ignored. You don't need the additional heartache.

They are at best rude and insensitive and at worst - well, you don't need to be in contact with people like that.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 1:20 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, unfortunately. I was very, very close to my dad, but no thanks to his second family, who did all they could to estrange us, and who were excluding in the extreme when he died. I also have several full siblings to whom I have always been close, which gave me a family group with whom to mourn instead, and I wish you did too.

The uphshot of all the unpleasantness, which made all of us first family people feel dissed at best, was to create what I think is a permanent rift with my dad's second family. It is certainly permanent for me.

I'd suggest turning to your own friends, lovers, and, if there are any, first family members. I wouldn't worry about the second family or sending them letters. Take care of your own grief and more ambivalent feelings like -- I'd assume -- some understandable anger at your dad for not doing more to stay iin touch.
posted by bearwife at 1:20 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Never being in a situation like this I only can say what I might do, and I believe writing your father's second wife a letter with your points sounds like the best option for all.

You're able to get off your chest what you need to, and in the same time your not over imposing yourself on these people that you don't have a relationship with. I would include in your letter include something stating "If I don't hear back from you I will assume that it was your choosing and not my father's wish to not include me in his memorial..." and how that makes you feel and how you would have preferred to have been given the opportunity to be included. This isn't to make them feel bed (if that is actually the case), it's an opportunity for you to let these people know your true intentions.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by doorsfan at 1:23 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't been in this situation, but if it were me, I would write the letter because then I could at least say I gave it a shot and possibly find a little peace. If they look upon it with disdain, you are not responsible for that reaction. You only wanted to know something that was completely reasonable to know. Also, I would reach out to other relatives who might be able to talk with me about it.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:23 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nothing is going to change you being excluded from the funeral arrangements. I would doubt that in asking, you would get the explanations you are looking for.

That said, I would send notes of condolence to the widow and your half-siblings, without mentioning anything other than the basics of 'I'm sorry for your loss'. (If you do need to bring the exclusion up, perhaps apologize for the lateness of your response, as you didn't know until just now.)

It's the classy thing to do, and may open a door for you later on in the future, in casting some light on the dynamics currently in play.

Good luck.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:24 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Almost precisely the same thing happened to me (except that I snuck in to the funeral anyway). My siblings and I, and our late mother, were not mentioned in any way. It is a painful thing to me still, but time makes it seem less important. I did not attempt any contact with his second family after the funeral, nor did they.

Ask yourself what you would like the outcome to be, and what will satisfy you. Ask yourself if you will regret not making contact, and what making contact would do for you.

For me, I turned the whole situation over and over for years until it was just a thing. I can't get my dad back, and his life was complex as is everyone's. I can't be sure if he was angry or if things were being withheld from him at the end, but I have the time we had together when I was growing up, and some of that time was great.

Hug your kids a lot if or when you have them and do right by them.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:34 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Same story with my father.

I wasn't left out of the funeral (memorial, since he was cremated), but I was not invited or told about their scattering of the ashes... nor if he even got a head stone in the family plot.

I drank a lot of tequila and cursed a lot and eventually I just forgot about ever having a father. Note, I am not recommending my remedy ;)

I guess you can take some comfort in knowing that this is way more common than it should be.
posted by LeanGreen at 1:47 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your father married an awful woman. I'm so sorry that she did that to you. Is there an estate that she is worried about holding onto? If so, don't feel the least bit bad about throwing someone as horrible as her out on the street. She slept with a married man, destroyed your family and then didn't bother to tell you that your dad died until a month after the fact. Find a lawyer and sue for your inheritance. That is the only contact she deserves from you.
posted by myselfasme at 2:31 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

First, know that I don't want you to be hurt by what I am about to say, but I believe that since it is such a frequent issue, it should be stated.

Sometimes, mistresses put conditions on their lovers once they get married. Sort of a preventative measure against him trying to get back with his ex-wife or another woman (remember, he has shown he that he is a willing cheater).

It could have come in the form of "I am you new wife, these are your new children, we are your family now." In other words, she could have expected a "complete divorce from his past life", and pushed him to remove you and your mother from "their" life completely.

Basically, she may have wanted to remove all remnants of baggage from him, which to her you are a product of.

I am not saying that this is 100% what is going on, but it would be worth considering that she may see you as "baggage" not "my departed husband's dear daughter".
posted by Shouraku at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: First, my condolences. My father died last month and it still hurts.

Write the letter.

Then don't send it.

I mean, what can she tell you that will make you feel better? That your omission was inadvertent? That she did it on purpose? If you want her to know you were hurt, I think you're barking up the wrong tree. If she cared, she wouldn't have been such a dick about things when he died.

Even if you sent it, she'd likely ignore it and you'd get no response. Don't give her the satisfaction of knowing that she got to you.
posted by inturnaround at 2:54 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

How will you feel if you send the letter and receive no response?
posted by bq at 3:18 PM on January 24, 2012

Sorry for your loss. I have a similar familial situation so I'm reading your post through that lens. What I may say may or may not be the case for you.

> However, I wonder if I should try to send his widow a letter, expressing my sympathies and also letting her know that I very much wanted to be in his life, and tried to make that happen. I want to ask her why I was excluded from his memorial and funeral.

This is kind of a strange sentiment to me. Reading between the lines, it sounds like your mental model is that during your life you wanted to contact your father, but he made things difficult?

It seems more likely to me (given that you were excluded from the the memorial and funeral, of which she had sole control) that the widow is fully aware that you tried to establish contact with your father and that she put up the obstacles.

I don't think there's any point in sending that letter, offering condolences, or trying to maintain contact with her or her children. What happens when someone dies? You obviously notify people for whom it's important, and I fail to see how the man's children are not important. No, she thought of you and dismissed you. I'd be very extremely upset if I wasn't told that my father died for a whole month.

> My gut instinct is to let things be - for whatever reason, the family does not care for me, and I have a feeling my letter, no matter how kind or sincere would be looked upon with disdain.

Exactly. I'm sorry.
posted by losvedir at 3:33 PM on January 24, 2012

Expressing yourself to people who obviously behave as if you do not exist is wasted effort in the extreme. Getting things off your chest by unloading on such people is ill advised. If you communicate at all, do it as Capt. Renault suggests:

". . . send notes of condolence to the widow and your half-siblings, without mentioning anything other than the basics of 'I'm sorry for your loss'. (If you do need to bring the exclusion up, perhaps apologize for the lateness of your response, as you didn't know until just now.)

It's the classy thing to do, and may open a door for you later on in the future. . ."

Make such notes very brief and formal as you would to any family you don't know upon the death of someone you did know. The purpose is to do the right thing, however foreign that concept might be to the widow, with the possibility in mind that one or more of those children might grow up someday to be the kind of person you are happy to get to know as a sibling.

Life goes on and all the moving forward is invariably accompanied by a nearly equal amount of letting go. Keep the precious few pleasant memories you might have of your father and of your own wish to know him as an adult and let all the rest go. The widow is of no concern to you but the children might one day be as you were, wanting to make a connection with a relative.
posted by Anitanola at 4:05 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with others that you should probably let sleeping dogs lie.

In terms of trying to get over your own pain at having been excluded, if I were in your shoes, I'd try to imagine my step-mother and half siblings as being so overcome with grief at the time of the passing that they lost all ability to think about notifications and other proper etiquette. It does happen-- sometimes grief is so overwhelming that everything else goes out the window.

Whether it is true in this case or not, *thinking it's true* might ease your pain to imagine that you weren't left out on purpose.
posted by paddingtonb at 4:10 PM on January 24, 2012

Please talk to an attorney you trust, and tell the attorney what you have told us. Let the attorney take it from there.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:42 PM on January 24, 2012

10 years of every other weekend, you must have some relationship with this woman, your father's hussy. And, you must have some relationship with your half siblings. I would contact one of your half siblings if you have a decent relationship with them to simply ask about the funeral and about the nature of his death. They may volunteer information that is important to you.

If you are upset about not being mentioned in the obituary, I would consider writing your own and publishing it in a local paper to you and in the one near where your father lived. Then I would send a copy to your step-monster.
posted by AugustWest at 4:44 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ouf. That's a crummy situation, and I'm sorry.

I was in a similar situation (mom, not dad). Something really nice that has come out of it is a close relationship with a cousin who was close with her. Are there other family members (if not half-sibs like AugustWest suggests) that you might want to be in touch with? Or maybe a friend of your dad's?

It's been 14 years for me, and my response is still evolving. My experience leads me to two pieces of advice. 1) Take your time. At this point, you're probably not missing any opportunities that will go away. Write the letter and see how it makes you feel. You don't need to send it if you're not sure you want to. 2) As time passes, the fundamentals of my situation have become more self-evident to all involved, and I suspect they will for yours, because not notifying a child of their parent's death can only be a poor decision.
posted by manduca at 7:57 PM on January 24, 2012

Best answer: Seconding the suggestion that you write the letter and not send it. (or write a letter to your father, then burn it and watch the smoke rise to the heavens). Writing the letter, actually putting words on paper will help you figure out what is really going on for you. It might also help you to tell your father what you didn't get a chance to say in person.

At the same time, I can't see anything positive coming out of sending the letter and a real chance of a hurtful response or none at all. Why set yourself up to hurt by your father's wife?
posted by metahawk at 9:09 PM on January 24, 2012

Response by poster: Hi there, OP here. I just wanted to thank everyone for their responses. All of them have helped me gain some perspective on the situation, and have given me much to think about. I also appreciate your kind words about my loss.

I had a very chilly relationship with his wife growing up and all of the communication I had in my adult life was between myself and my father. I also get the impression that my half-siblings are not interesting in forging any relationship with me going forward. My gut tells me that they'd be happy if I never contacted them and dropped of the face of their earth. Also, I do not want to be in their lives - his wife was a destabilizing influence in my childhood and his children know nothing of what really happened (or if they do, it's a much rosier version.) between their mother, my mother and our father. It's hard for me to try to establish contact with his children, as I do not think I could hold back in telling them the truth. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

I don't think he has much in terms of an estate (a home and a business); a will was filed, and I've requested a copy from the Registrar of Wills more for my curiosities sake. As far as I understand the law, as a child, estranged or not, I do not have any rights to the estate. I also I am not comfortable in getting involved in legal affairs with his family at all.

These factors, combined with your advice have led me to attempt to write a letter, expressing some of my feelings. I will not send it, as at the end of the day, it doesn't bring my father back, doesn't repair our relationship and allows his wife to know that she hurt me. And honestly, like inturnaround said upthread, I don't want her to know she got to me. I've always prided myself in not being baited by her actions and words, and this situation should be no different.

Perhaps the letter can help me start to sort through my feelings and let me start to heal.

Thanks to you all again for your sincere and thoughtful advice. Please know I take it all to heart.
posted by carmenghia at 9:56 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

This may sound a bit odd, but why not write your own obituary for your father? It might give you a bit of closure and just the attempt could be cathartic. You might choose to have it published, or not. This is not a suggestion for revenge or one-upmanship. Just a factual acknowledgement of your place in the genetic relationship with someone who has died. It doesn't have to be long, or flowery, or sappy. Just matter of fact, a marker, a milestone.
posted by jeanmari at 12:42 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I dunno. She sounds horrible. She deserves to get a mean letter from you. Send it, then drop it.
posted by yarly at 8:18 AM on January 25, 2012

There is a reason that we have funerals and memorials - it helps us start to deal with overwhelming feelings of loss, anger, sadness, etc and have a forum to share that with other people connected to the loved one. And I think this is especially important with a parent that was estranged. When they are alive, you can have the hope that someday things may improve. Death takes away that hope, leaving you with a lot of unresolved feeling. Your stepmother shamefully deprived you of this and my vote is that she is a horrible person. However that may be, now you are left to deal with what to do.

Have you considered having your own memorial? Perhaps some time set aside with a close friend where you can remember the good things, but also talk about how hurt you feel by your father's abandonment and the fact that you're left holding a big bag of emotions on your own. Maybe you can write a letter to your father, just to get it all out.

I hope you can heal over time. I am so sorry for your loss, and for the pain added on by your stepmother. Take care of yourself.
posted by witchstone at 1:20 PM on January 28, 2012

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