Should I go to my aunt's funeral?
April 19, 2013 8:39 AM   Subscribe

My beloved aunt was ill for a long time; I spent time with her over Christmas and said goodbye expecting not to see her again. She passed away the night before last in my home country in Europe, and her funeral will be in Monday. I am in my final year of grad school in Halifax, Canada. If I leave this afternoon/evening, I can be there by mid afternoon tomorrow, and I can just about afford the airfare (about $1500). I was thinking of staying until, say, Wednesday, to be with my parents and support them as best I can; but they told me yesterday that there would be no point in my coming. I'm torn.

She was very close to my dad, who did most of the caring for her in her last days, and he does not have any close family there other than my mum. I spoke to my parents yesterday, and they told me that it was silly to come back just to look at a coffin, that my aunt had been happy to see me over Christmas and that it would not benefit her any more for me to come for a short tome now, especially given the travel time and jetlag involved; and that they would be better able to appreciate a visit some other time (given where I'm at in my PhD, which I have been struggling with recently, that may not be for some time). I miss them; I would like to be with them and comfort them now, and if I were sure that they were only telling me not to come because of the tiring travel arrangements, then I would go. At the same time, they have had to deal with all of the emotional and practical arrangements of dealing with my aunt's care over the past months, and now her funeral (I will not be able to return in time to help them with arrangements); if they are overwhelmed, I don't want my visit to be another source of stress that they have to deal with.

I haven't spoken to my supervisor about this yet, and there isn't really anyone here that I feel I can talk to about this, but putting my thoughts into words is helping a bit, and perhaps seeing different perspectives/hearing from others who've been in the same boat will also help. I'm a bit afraid that the wording of this will sway interpretations one way or the other, when the truth is that I've spent the past day swinging back and forth between absolute certainty that I should go anyway, and absolute certainly that I shouldn't.
posted by jlibera to Human Relations (22 answers total)
Your parents are probably telling you there's no point in you coming to save you a long, expensive trip, but if you feel like there is a point for you, you should go. There isn't really a right or wrong answer here. Nobody is going to be mad at you either way. Try to think about what you actually want for yourself, in the absence of family pressures in either direction.
posted by something something at 8:44 AM on April 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

When my mom was in the hospital last November, my dad called to say that overnight she'd been put on a ventilator. I asked if he wanted me to come; he said, "That's not necessary." I got off the phone. And a few minutes later, I thought, "Screw it. Whatever he says, I feel like I should go." And I did. My mom died a few days later. I think my dad was glad to have me there that day. I was certainly glad I made my own decision based on what felt right to me.

This is by way of saying, your parents may be trying to spare you the trouble and expense--I think this is part of what was going on my for my dad. But it's perfectly OK for you to make this decision based on what you want to do. If it feels right to you to be with your parents right now, and to be present at the funeral, and you can make it work financially and with school, go. There is something about being together with family at a time like this that isn't like any other time. I'm not even close to my family (my dad followed up on my mom's death by disowning me a month later) but I wouldn't have missed the days we spent together in the hospital when my mom was dying for anything.
posted by not that girl at 8:49 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've missed funerals of loved ones because time and money constraints would have made it incredibly difficult.

It sucks, but you said your goodbyes and if your parents are okay with it, then you can stay home, perhaps sending a nice tribute or contributing a small sum to one of your aunt's favorite causes.

I can speak to my parents honestly and get an honest response back. If they tell me, "we're fine, stay where you are, save your money" I can take the statement at face value.

Do what you feel your Aunt would want for you. Or do what's right for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:51 AM on April 19, 2013

Funerals are for the living. Meaning you and your dad. You should go. It sounds like you would regret skipping it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:54 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

You've said your goodbyes to her and your parents have told you that there's not much point in attending. They'll probably feel more comforted knowing you're safe in Halifax and not travelling. You can still be a support by talking with them over the phone in the weeks to come.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:57 AM on April 19, 2013

My grandmother died last year in march, in Australia. I was in the US but had seen her at Christmas. My mother told me not to come on her account, and I decided that spending two days travelling and two days jet lagged just to be at the funeral would not make me feel better (money was not an issue). I don't regret that decision now at all, I think it would have been an awful trip.
posted by jacalata at 9:08 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here to add to the "go" vote.

One of my siblings was gravely ill a few years back. When my mum called to tell me, she said don't worry about coming down yet and played it down. I made a snap decision to go based on my gut instinct, and was SO glad I was there to comfort my folks and other siblings (and to be there when we got the all clear!). I'd have kicked myself if I delayed. I think my parents were just trying to make things easy for me if I couldn't come.
posted by greenish at 9:26 AM on April 19, 2013

I have chosen not to go to funerals of close relatives when the opportunity cost to me personally was too great. It was fine. But I would ignore someone telling me not to go for them and decide whether to go or not depending on my own instinct. Your parents sound like they'd understand either way. Go if you want to for yourself.
posted by plonkee at 9:33 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

My parents talked me out of attending the funerals of both my grandparents who died within weeks of each other just as I was moving across the country in the middle of my divorce and was nearly broke. They were almost certainly trying to save me the time, money, hassle, and heartache. I really wanted to go, but in the end, I let my head rule my heart and so I stayed away. Nearly 13 years later I still not-infrequently wake up in the middle of the night consumed by sorrow, guilt, and regret.

If you feel you want to go, go.
posted by scody at 9:35 AM on April 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

I feel for you. Your thoughtfulness around the possible burden on your parents is moving. All their arguments are rational, and correct: your aunt is no longer here; I imagine it's true your parents would prefer to see you at a less sad time, maybe for a bit longer; and it's probably true you would be of no great practical help... It's terrible that distance forces families in this sort of situation into pragmatism.

But you want to be there. You want to take your place with your family now, to stand with them. It's not selfish. I think you have a right to grieve in your way.

FWIW, I personally very much regret not having been able to go the funerals of dear, far-away family members. I think actually being there for the ceremonies - to hear the rites, grieve with loved ones, see the ground - might have made their deaths feel less flimsy, imaginary. Or given weight to other memories, or helped pull them together, somehow. But I don't know.

Would it make sense, if you went, to stay a bit longer, maybe? Could you talk again with your parents, or other family members?
posted by nelljie at 9:36 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I were in your dad's place, I would be comforted by the knowledge that you truly loved my sister and that you had visited with her over the holidays.

I suggest that you take them at their word regarding the funeral. They will be very busy with arrangements. And, as you mentioned, your visit could add to the stress, e.g., they won't be able to spend as much time with you as they would like, they'll worry about the cost and the time you are taking away from work and school.

Let others help/comfort them through this. When you get to the place where you can take some time away from school without stressing about what you "should be doing", plan a nice "quality time" visit.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by she's not there at 10:01 AM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by TheHollowSeasThatRoar at 10:11 AM on April 19, 2013

I'm going to echo the sentiment that you have to make the decision for yourself and only yourself. A funeral is really a 'closing ceremony' to help the living say goodbye. If you feel like you've already said goodbye, then there's no need to go. I'm sure you can find other ways to comfort your father that don't require you to travel. On the other hand, if you feel truly pulled to be there for your father, pick your time carefully and consider being there after the funeral because that's when the quiet settles in.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:12 AM on April 19, 2013

"My beloved aunt"
I think you should go. There are all sorts of reasons you could use to talk yourself out of doing this, but from the way you write, it feels to me like your heart knows what's right.

There's a lot more to a funeral than "just looking at a coffin". Simply being with your family at a time like this is far, far more important than money, or a few days of school.
posted by ZipRibbons at 10:17 AM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

When my grandmother died 2 years ago, my Mom insisted that there was no point in me coming just for the funeral (I'm in Toronto, my Grandmother was in Germany). I didn't listen.

The day I arrived, my mom told me how thankful she was that I came. She said she didn't realize how important it was to her that I was there until after I'd arrived.
posted by caroo at 10:38 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you haven't already, look into bereavement fare.

As others have said, you do these things for the living and not for the dead. Being with your family, helping with meals, hugging people at random, riding along on errands, writing thank you notes -- those things help them and also help you, IMO.
posted by bunderful at 11:03 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was in college, I had a relative (an beloved aunt, actually) die and getting to the funeral (also overseas) was going to be a massive expense and a multi-day trip at a fairly critical point in the semester, and I went through the same back and forth and twisting and turning, and my mom said to me, "She wouldn't have wanted you to miss school for her funeral." And I realized, that was true. Education was important to her, she was proud of me for my academic achievements, and she wasn't the sort of person who ever needed a fuss made over her. She wouldn't have cared how many people came to her funeral as long as we remembered her fondly. So I decided not to go, and I definitely mourned longer than my family members who did go, because I didn't have the funeral to say goodbye, but I don't regret it. It was the right decision for me and significantly reduced my stress, and my mom was 100% right -- it is absolutely what my aunt would have told me to do, which helped me be at peace with it. I did seek some spiritual counseling with my religious leader and we had a little private prayer for her, which helped too. Not going WAS hard, but I don't regret the decision.

What would your aunt have wanted? Would it be really important to her that everyone come to give their last respects? Would she have been insistent you stay home and study? That may help you make peace with whatever decision you make.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:52 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding the bereavement fare suggestion. They will probably ask for your aunt's name and the name of the funeral home to check that you're above board, but it may save you some money.
posted by telophase at 12:02 PM on April 19, 2013

If you want to go, go. It's your choice, definitely. Because you can't truly know what your aunt would have wanted, do what you want to do - what you think is right.

When I asked for a bereavement fare in my uncle's recent death, I was told I needed a copy of the death certificate, for half off the full price ticket. YMMV.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by k8lin at 1:12 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I missed the funeral of my paternal grandmother in Taiwan as I had to stay in the US to look after my mother, who was sick at the time. She and I missed the funeral but the rest of my family went.

I missed the funeral of a beloved great-aunt in Taiwan as the weekend of the funeral was the weekend of an all-hands on deck big move and no one in my immediate family was able to go.

I have always regretted not going to both because I have found it really difficult to find closure with not having gone.
posted by raw sugar at 2:31 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think anyone here can really answer this question for you. Everyone is different, grieves in different ways, and needs different things. My father died a month ago, and I would have loved to have skipped the funeral - it's just not for me, or how I grieve. Obviously, I went. Heck, I delivered the eulogy!

But just cause it's not for me, doesn't mean it's not for you, and vice versa. Go if you want to go, in the long run 1500 bucks isn't a lot. If it's not going to plunge you into bad debt or anything.
posted by smoke at 4:51 PM on April 19, 2013

Best answer: I'm really sorry for your loss. Decisionmaking in situations like this is terrible and I bet the PhD limbo doesn't help either. Once I had a similar terrible decision to make, and a wise friend advised me that whatever I decided, I needed to plan time to create and do a thoughtful, meaningful, ritual, which would help take the place of the traditional rite I'd missed. It was great advice, and I felt very at peace with my decision thereafter.

I can't hear clearly if you're deciding what's best for you, or your parents- but I heard this:

"I spent time with her over Christmas and said goodbye expecting not to see her again." ......."they would be better able to appreciate a visit some other time"......(but)"that may not be for some time" ....."if I were sure that they were only telling me not to come because of the tiring travel arrangements"

1) you've said goodbye, 2)your parents might be expressing that they would prefer to _enjoy_ a visit with you, rather than _enjoy_ the benefit of your comfort, 3) perhaps a (summertime) date on the calendar- with some time for a meaningful memorial would reassure you- I wonder if you (as many PhD's) aren't allowing yourself, and perhaps (especially in this case, you should), & quote 4) you could just ask them on this specific point.
posted by iiniisfree at 10:11 PM on April 19, 2013

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