Need help processing social/familial obligations for funeral
June 16, 2013 6:14 PM   Subscribe

My mother is 75 now, has Parkinson's, and is likely not going to be around in another year or two. I will feel no personal need to go to the funeral, when that time comes, and would like help processing that. The following information may or may not be pertinent and may be a summer blizzard.

I have a distaste for ceremony in general. I feel nebulous familial/social obligations to attend.

I am not close to either of my parents or to any of my siblings. I am one of 6 children. We grew up in a provincial midwestern town (US). Four of the children and mother and father still live there. I live 1000 miles away in the west in a town known for being left of center and I fit in well. I am an atheist and in a number of ways an unconventional thinker, but not freakishly radical. I guess its all relative though, to my family being an atheist is radical. The other sibling lives in the east and nobody has heard from him in years.

The family is a semi-dysfunctional, midwestern, suburban, catholic, white, conservative. Parents are divorced, my father having left my mother (about 10 years ago) after 30 years of marriage. His leaving did not surprise me. By age 16, I was wondering why they were together as they were so different (my father adventurous, my mother afraid of her own shadow). All the other siblings were shocked due to the family practice of sweeping problems under the rug. I had no preference in what he did. At least 2 of the children refuse to speak to our father. I speak with my father once every few months and we are on cordial terms, but hardly close. He was a workaholic, not around a lot, but a good provider. I talk to my mother on the phone once every month or 2. I talk with 2 of the other siblings maybe once a year. I go back to visit about once every 5 years. I exchange emails with one brother every so often. When I get the news, it will likely be through him and he will have difficulty understanding why I wouldn't attend. Despite the conservative/provincial thing, he's a good guy. He married basically a clone of my mother, has 4 kids. I think he and one other brother are closer to our mother than the other offspring.

Is it unreasonable that I would not attend the funeral?
What would be the best way to phrase it to whomever I say this to?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total)
This is a situation where you suck it up and go. I understand your sentiment, more than I can go into, but it's important. If not for you, then for your siblings. It will be stressful enough for them without also having to explain why you aren't there. It may end up actually being helpful to your grieving process. It was for me.
posted by missmerrymack at 6:29 PM on June 16, 2013 [13 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you came from so much a dysfunctional family as to want to upset the apple cart with your remaining family by missing the funeral. It's one day of your life, and there will be many times in your life where you have to do something you don't want to do because it's the right thing to do.
posted by xingcat at 6:34 PM on June 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

One goes to funerals for the living, not the dead. I would anticipate that not attending would permanently cripple what relationship you have with your father, and possibly other family members. Even if that doesn't seem like a big negative now, this is the sort of thing where it will be far, far easier to not burn the bridge in the first place; there won't be an easy way to undo such a significant snub.

Despite the conservative/provincial thing, he's a good guy -- yes yes, takes all kinds. You're probably a nice person despite all the sophistication evidenced here -- atheism, goodness, what will they think of next? There is quite a lot of you in this and not so much with the 'How can I make others' lives better?' The 'ceremony' is not for or about you and your island.

It's difficult to see how one could end up regretting going, and easy to see how not going could place you on a path you may find unpleasant and/or embarrassing in ten, twenty, thirty years.
posted by kmennie at 6:34 PM on June 16, 2013 [40 favorites]

Are you not planning to attend so that everyone else can see how special and different you are? Because, if so, it's not worth it. This is the woman who gave birth to you, raised you, and set you on your path in life and I really think that in later years, you very well might wish you'd gone. And of course, if you don't go, there's always the off chance that you won't be discussed as much as you think you might be.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:45 PM on June 16, 2013 [14 favorites]

Considering your family 'provincial' doesn't seem to me like a particularly good reason to skip out on your mother's funeral, no. Seems like it would cause a lot of hurt and confusion for your family in a difficult time and damage your relationship with them.
posted by geegollygosh at 6:47 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is a thing you have to do out of respect and aknowledgement for your kin and community -- even if you don't respect them personally.
posted by Jode at 6:48 PM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

The problem isn't your phrasing. Not going to a funeral of a parent is a big, big statement in itself, and it will not be heard as "hey, I don't feel the need and I don't like ceremonies," even if that's what you say.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:48 PM on June 16, 2013 [17 favorites]

Is it unreasonable that I would not attend the funeral?

posted by Broseph at 6:49 PM on June 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

Given your description of the situation, I would say it is fairly unreasonable--or at least not well justified--to miss the funeral. Of course, you can do what you want, but as a family member, I would not understand your absence and would be hurt by it.
posted by whitewall at 6:49 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

As a general rule: she was nice enough to turn up at your birth, you are obligated - barring all out family war, history of abuse, your own debilitating health problem or other extreme issues - to turn up for her death.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:53 PM on June 16, 2013 [26 favorites]

Not going to a funeral of a parent is a big, big statement in itself

This. And I definitely believe that there are times when it's a statement worth making, but not in your case. Skipping a parent's funeral isn't a reasonable thing to do on the basis of not being big on ceremony and not having been especially close.

You care about your siblings, even though you're not close to them. You remain in touch, at least occasionally, and feel that one brother in particular is a good guy. You'll need to decide whether you're willing to seriously harm your relationship with your siblings by skipping the funeral.

I don't think there's a way to explain this to your siblings, particularly the brother you're closest to, that won't be confusing, alienating, and hurtful.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:02 PM on June 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

Be aware that whatever you decide now is subject to change when the time comes.

And yes, barring abuse as a child or young adult, it is hard to come up with a reason not to go.
posted by elizardbits at 7:03 PM on June 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was expecting something horrific in your description of your conundrum. I braced myself to read it, expecting a story like my own. My story doesn't matter a whit in your case, but even I can imagine attending my mother's funeral if my eldest sister wants me there. You go to funerals to gather around and support the folks left behind. You go to your mother's funeral to prop up your father and whichever siblings were closest to your mother. You go to funerals to get whatever closure can be had for yourself there.

You do not go to funerals to win points, and you certainly don't skip funerals to make points about how progressive, atheist, and disconnected you are from your family of origin. Especially not when it would confuse your family. Funerals are skipped when it is not safe to attend them, or when one is not invited.

Skipping this funeral would be perfectly within your rights. But it would not be considered reasonable by any stretch of the imagination unless attending would cause you enormous financial, mental, or medical hardship.

If you decide to skip the funeral, please lie and say that you have an out of the country business trip that simply cannot be postponed. A month long business trip in China. You're so sorry, you wish you could be there to sing your mother over, but you cannot. Send the biggest flower arrangement that is reasonable in the setting of the funeral. And remember always that you have told this enormous lie, guard it fiercely because if it comes out, your whole family will be even more confused and pissed than if you showed up at your mother's funeral and were drunk.
posted by bilabial at 7:04 PM on June 16, 2013 [15 favorites]

The family is a semi-dysfunctional, midwestern, suburban, catholic, white, conservative

Which one of these would be a good reason not to attend your mother's funeral? None.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:06 PM on June 16, 2013 [14 favorites]

A 'distaste for ceremony' and [feeling] no personal need' to be there are not good reasons for skipping one's own mother's funeral.

Funerals are about showing some respect for the living, as well as the dead. Contrary to the tone of your question, it's not all about you.
posted by Salamander at 7:17 PM on June 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

If funerals are for the living, doesn't that include the OP?

Personally, I would go. But my oldest friend didn't go to her father's funeral. She had recently spent two weeks with him (the longest she had spent with him in years as he often disappeared for years at a time, then reappeared with a new name - a strange but likable guy). When I asked her why she didn't go she said 1) she had already said good-bye, in person, while he was conscious and aware, and 2) she didn't want to see her crazy sister.

Like I said, I would go, but I fully understood and supported my friend's choice. That said, she knew it would be end of her relationship with a number of members of her father's family and that didn't bother her. If it doesn't bother you, don't go.

BUT, don't avoid the funeral just because you have unpacked baggage from your family experience. Unpack it now while your mother is alive, talk and spend time with her while she is alive. Ask her how she feels now knowing you might not go to her funeral. Be honest with yourself about your reasons. Really honest, not just acceptable excuses. Then wait till she is dead and decide then.
posted by Kerasia at 7:18 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

In reference to my point above about baggage, it doesn't sound like you respect your mother very much, or your brother's wife for that matter. Please unpack that. A woman of her time with six kids cannot fuckin' be 'adventurous' especially if she was under some sort of economic or emotional control of your father. I doubt she had the opportunity to be adventurous like your father, therefore it is not fair to compare them equally.
posted by Kerasia at 7:27 PM on June 16, 2013 [37 favorites]

I think the real thing here is that you don't feel close to your family. Maybe they don't really grasp why you would want to leave the midwest, or why you're not a believer anymore.

Those aren't reasons not to go. And showing up is such a meaningful gesture. When someone close to me died a group of distant cousins showed up - they drove several hours to be there. I was deeply touched. And when everything else is crazy and baffling, it's comforting to have some people there who are less profoundly impacted by grief (it sort of sounds like you might handle your grief differently - if so, consider how this might allow you to help your family).

Another thing to consider is that the funeral is not just the business of showing up in a suit at the church. It's picking out the casket, dealing with the funeral home, making sure people who are stressed and grieving are actually eating, writing thank-you cards for all the flowers, picking folks up to the airport, taking phone calls, etc etc. It's insanely busy. Even if you don't need the funeral, your family might need you for that. And it might help you to do it - more than you realize now.

It may also be the last time you see all of your extended family in one place.
posted by bunderful at 7:31 PM on June 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

Here is something I wonder: Are you bad with dealing with strong feelings? I ask because I have a tendency to get all flat and "oh, I don't like ceremonies and I don't have a lot of close connections or strong feelings" about all kinds of stuff, and it took me a long time to realize that I got this way precisely because I was not able to handle the strong feelings that I really did have. I had a habit of skipping out - I skipped out on the last few months of a project I really, really cared about and had worked on for years, and literally did not realize until afterward that it had been because I was very deeply underlyingly upset and had been using the skipping out as a defense mechanism. I'd told myself it was because I was lazy and tired of the project anyway, but it was really because I could not handle the sadness of watching the thing and the community around it fold up. And I've done that same kind of thing in other areas of life where I had strong, painful emotions of loss and helplessness.

So anyway: do you think that somewhere under there you actually have, maybe, a lot of feelings about this? You don't need to be close to your family or admire the way your mother lived her life to have strong feelings of regret, sorrow, fear, anger, etc - hell, maybe it's scary to you to contemplate your mother's life ending because it's scary to look at someone close to you and realize that they got themselves into a situation where they lived out their last years alone!

How do you usually handle strong feelings or situations that are typically expected to provoke them?

Honestly, I'd go to the funeral unless it will break the bank or get you in trouble at work. I have always regretted skipping out on major sad life stuff later on. If you do in fact tend to bury your feelings, it will be easier later (because feelings do out eventually) if you've gone.

Oh, and here's another thing: you grew up in a family where they sweep everything under the rug. That's a powerful pattern that probably reasserts itself in certain ways in your own life, no matter how hard you've worked to beat it. (My family sweeps everything under the rug.) So what are you sweeping under the rug to yourself about this?
posted by Frowner at 7:32 PM on June 16, 2013 [22 favorites]

What would be the best way to phrase it to whomever I say this to?

Your mom has but a short time left on this earth; you've cited no abuse or other grievous harm done to you by your mom; and your concern is how to word your choice to not attend her funeral?

Basically, you're offloading the responsibility for the handling of her passing to your siblings and father (assuming he lives that long). All because you seem to think you are above participating in this death ritual.

You OK with living with that for the rest of your life?
posted by nacho fries at 7:33 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I really agree with Kerasia. Your post has a lot of contempt in it.

I don't think it will be possible for you to have a relationship with your surviving fam if you don't go to the furneral. I can't tell if that matters to you, but it's something to think about.
posted by spunweb at 7:33 PM on June 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

The writer Nicholas Nassem Taleb says that he refuses to wear ties, except at funerals. I myself do not like ties (and I wear suits regularly)-- they serve no real purpose and it was such a revelation to hear someone who is successful and "important" that he just decided not to wear ties. But note the exception he made for funerals. This is a place where his personal preferences and freedom that he has are things he puts aside out of respect for the dead and those in mourning rather than reminding everyone how he is a special-snowflake-tie-hater.

There are times to assert your individuality and times to be dutiful. Your mother's funeral is time for the latter. But maybe that's what you're afraid of? If you show up to the funeral, you run the risk of having your family look at you and think, "our atheist black sheep of the family who ran off to the west coast is actually a good person and pretty normal." And, on some level, I have a feeling that this is what you're afraid of. By not going to the funeral, this is a chance for you to "let" your family confirm every bad thing they have ever suspected of you.
posted by deanc at 7:41 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

my oldest friend didn't go to her father's funeral. She had recently spent two weeks with him

That's not the case here. A recent visit combined with a significant distance would be a practical, low-risk and nearly blameless combination of reasons not to go back for a funeral, but that is not the situation the OP is describing here.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:50 PM on June 16, 2013

You don't actually say why you don't want to go. Boredom? Distaste for ceremony? There will likely be extended family there, and you may be surprised to find that some of the semi-dysfunctional, midwestern, suburban, catholic, white, conservative people there are actually worth the trip. If you can be polite and gracious, go. If you will be cold and visibly uninterested, send flowers.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

She carried you in her belly for nine months, presumably took care of you as an infant, and presumably fed and clothed and tended to you for many years after that. It seems she has earned your attendance. In fact, I don't see in your posting any good reasons to treat her any other way but with this kind of respect and gratitude. Issues with other family members should be of secondary importance. If you don't go, you might seriously regret it years later but will not be able to undo what is done.
posted by Dansaman at 8:33 PM on June 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

A recent visit combined with a significant distance would be a practical, low-risk and nearly blameless combination of reasons not to go back for a funeral, but that is not the situation the OP is describing here.

Yeah, I think I was hinting, poorly, that this could be an alternative course of action for the OP.
posted by Kerasia at 8:44 PM on June 16, 2013

You don't have to go. Of course you don't have to go. No obligation. Leave the decision until it happens, but continue to give it thought now, like you are. And when the time comes, and your brother calls, you don't have to tell him right away what you decide. That phone call will be difficult enough. You can tell him the next day and explain your reasons to whatever extent you'd like.

This is one of those monumental decisions that can end relationships, which you are totally within your rights to do. But take that into consideration. Your tone is pretty distant and vague in this post, which makes sense given your family's history, and the limitations of anonymous AskMe. You don't have to be a part of their lives at all. By not going, you're making that choice. After the funeral, I think you should expect that the occasional phone calls and few-and-far-between visits will stop unless/until some other monumental event comes along.
posted by juliplease at 8:57 PM on June 16, 2013

Quite recently my cousin didn't show up for his father's funeral. It was really a pain for his siblings, having people ask why he wasn't there, and it hurt their feelings too. There is a lot of work to be done, emotionally and otherwise, when someone dies. At the very least, turning up and trying to pitch in would be decent.
posted by BibiRose at 9:01 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're an adult and part of that is you get to decide for yourself what kind of adult you are. Do you want to be a person who skipped their mother's funeral?

I'm not being snarky. You might be OK with that. You might have other priorities and interests. That is a valid choice - you certainly have reasonable reasons.

For me, when I got to my 30s I started to have a sense that I wanted to be a person who, although quite "unconventional" in many ways, prioritized other people in many ways. Maybe it's because I'm a parent. I don't know, for me I'd go, because it probably means something to others in your family. And in this case, their "need" for you to be there might be greater than your "need" to not be there.

Another way of thinking of this is as a decision for your future self to have to live with. It's unlikely that in 20 years you would regret going. It's possible, but highly unlikely, that you would regret NOT going. You don't really know what your values will be in 20 years. But maybe do that self a favor and just go, in case that self will wish you had?

Just some thoughts - there is no real right answer.
posted by latkes at 9:08 PM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think I said the regret thing backward (darned double negatives!) but you get the point.
posted by latkes at 9:18 PM on June 16, 2013

You say your mother was "scared of her shadow" and I hear a whole lot of contempt there that may be toned down a bit when you learn just a little bit about Parkinson's. Most people who are diagnosed with Parkinson's have had it for at least twenty years - the symptoms (tremor, shuffling gait, slowness of movement) don't really show up clearly until over 60% of the dopamine receptors in the substantia nigra have been destroyed. The other thing you should know is that the personality of the typical Parkinson's patient leans toward being conventional, SAFE, definitely lacking in risk-taking behavior - in many cases, they've been "rigid" in their personality for many years before the body rigidity becomes apparent.

I had a miserable childhood with a father who punched and a mother who was vicious and back-stabbing, but I'm glad I was there to help both before each of them died and for the funeral activities. I'm glad I don't have to carry disgust with myself for the rest of my days over something that it's too late to change.

Your atheism means nothing at all in this context.
posted by aryma at 9:41 PM on June 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

I don't think it's unreasonable, and in your position I would not go to the funeral (I certainly won't be attending any funerals for my own blood-family). I think the best way to phrase it is a simple, uncomplicated "No, I won't be coming, but thank you for letting me know." I wouldn't get into any further detail than that. But in your position, I would also have already explicitly cut ties with all of them, so I think you should be prepared to have this conversation be your last one with these family members. And really, why not estrange yourself? It doesn't sound like their involvement in your life brings you any happiness.
posted by RedRob at 10:54 PM on June 16, 2013

Basically, you're offloading the responsibility for the handling of her passing to your siblings and father (assuming he lives that long).

Suppose you had no siblings at all and that your mother outlives your father and her family of origin (parents, siblings). Would you leave her body unclaimed at the morgue?

Whatever your cosmological beliefs and code of ethics, I find it hard to believe this would sit well. I'm reminded of Joan Didion's essay "On Morality," where she talks about how claiming and caring for the bodies of our dead is so fundamental, almost primitive, that it scarcely qualifies for the abstract term "morality."

By not attending, you would leave others to carry out the basic human obligation of ensuring her body is properly honored and buried. If not carefully handled, it could send the signal that even in death, you don't claim her as your own family.

It could also send the signal that you do not care enough for any of your siblings or your father on the occasion of their mother's death, their wife's death, that you would want to attend to offer them support.

While it is your choice to make, I would think very carefully before not attending. I am sorry about your mother's illness.
posted by salvia at 10:55 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why dont you ask your mother what kind of funeral she wants, and respect her wishes? If she wants her family to be at her funeral, please be there. If she doesn't care about that sort of thing, it's not that important.
posted by windykites at 11:04 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go to the funeral.

My mother didn't get to go to her mom's funeral. It wasn't like they had a close mother-daughter relationship, but she still wanted to go. She couldn't because of logistical/financial constraints. This was 20 years ago. She says it still hurts.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 5:44 AM on June 17, 2013

The death of a family member changes all the remaining relationships in the family. If you go, your existing relationships may actually improve, because, hey, 'he did a nice thing by showing up'.

Be nice, and go to the funeral.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:30 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm no fan of funerals and I don't honestly know who is, but it's not like your family has done you greivous harm. I see no reason to stay away.

Going to the funeral honors your mother and supports your siblings. For those reasons alone, you should go.

Not going says more bad things about you than it does about your family.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:32 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it is totally reasonable not to go. You'd have to take a trip to something that is not meaningful to you, for the benefit of people you're not close to.

But as you can see here, many people feel strongly about funerals, so be prepared to have your family (and maybe others) react negatively, but you aren't close to them, and it's really none of their business. And it seems pretty obvious that whether you go or not, you wouldn't be involved in any of the funeral planning, so you're not placing any undue burden on the rest of your family.
posted by catatethebird at 7:10 AM on June 17, 2013

There are plenty of times people choose to do something we personally feel meh about in order to do the right thing, help someone out, maintain connection, gain some future advantage, whatever. If the biggest objections you have are not liking ceremony and not feeling like you fit in with the family - let's even add traveling is a pain - I think it's a no-brainer. Go. People take funerals very seriously. Unless you're a lot more estranged than you sound, not going will be painful for your siblings and may cause an irreparable rift.
posted by expialidocious at 8:01 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you had deaths in your immediate family before? I wondered how I would react in the event of my father's death-- and specifically to stuff like the funeral-- precisely because our relationship had been limited for a long time, and before that it was abusive. Like your mother, he had been predicted to die any time for a while. Maybe because of all that, my feelings when he actually died came as a big surprise to me and the funeral was actually very moving, when I had expected it to be a day of pressure. Having a parent die does not have to be a big deal but it may be a bigger deal than you think. The funeral may prove useful for you; it may not. Or it may just turn out to be interesting. I happen lately to have gone to the funerals of a lot of grandparents, aunts and uncles and, depending on my involvement, have seen and heard and experienced some pretty interesting and sometimes profound things. You talk to people who knew that person in unexpected ways and to people who have been affected by death and need someone to share it with. I would really think twice about missing all that.
posted by BibiRose at 9:14 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

My uncle couldn't attend my grandmother's funeral for reasons outside of his control. Right before they closed the casket my mom, aunt, and other uncle stood over and looked at her for the last time. It was so obvious and sad that my uncle wasn't there, and I'm not even close with him at all. Based on what you've written I really think you would regret not going to your mother's funeral.
posted by girlmightlive at 9:23 AM on June 17, 2013

She's your mother, not ours. If you don't feel as though attending her funeral is necessary - for whatever reason - then you are under no obligation to do so. I feel a little sad for you, that you feel so disconnected from your family, but you're an adult and you get to make your own decisions.

The atheist stuff is irrelevant. I'm an atheist, and I went to my mother's memorial service.

So to answer your original question, I think the best way to phrase this would be the truth. "I'm not going because I don't want to." Don't try to make excuses because people will just try to "help" you figure out a way to be there.
posted by lyssabee at 11:14 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would like to add, though, that you cannot know how you will feel when the time comes. Of this I am sure.
posted by lyssabee at 11:16 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't know if anyone else mentioned it, but perhaps you also visit your Mom before her death, which you describe as maybe a year or so away. Make your peace, hold her hands, tell her you love her and are thankful she loved life enough to give you life. That's a priceless, forever gift you can give her and yourself. You will be proud of yourself for doing so. That's an act for a person of integrity and humanity. Then, yeah, give her a day or two when she dies.
posted by Lornalulu at 12:28 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've already decided that you do not want to go. If that is the case, have you thought out and are you ready to deal with the repercussions? Those family members you stay in touch with might not speak with you after; they will probably be hurt, confused, saddened, and even angry at you for not coming. They might refuse to speak with you after. Are you OK with that?

If the answer is yes, then by all means, do not go.

IF there is any small part of you that wishes to remain in contact with your family, then go. It's a small price for you to "pay" to maintain those relationships that would otherwise be destroyed by not going.
posted by absquatulate at 2:48 PM on June 17, 2013

Always go to the funeral.

"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.

posted by ColdChef at 3:13 PM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

Having said that: do what you want to do as long as you understand the ripples that will come with it. I am not a big believer in doing the things "you have to do." Typically, I'll only go visit my wife's family if they're cooking something good. Does that make me a bad person? Possibly. Do they resent me? Likely. Do they sometimes serve boiled crabs just because they know that will make me visit? Absolutely.

In this case, though, and because of the reasons you've named, I think there is a real benefit for you to attend your mother's funeral and a lot of negative reasons why you shouldn't. Go, if for no reason than (as someone has already stated) it's likely the last time in your life you'll be able to see all of your family at once.
posted by ColdChef at 3:19 PM on June 20, 2013

You say you visit with your family every five years or so and talk with family members on the phone so you do more or less stay in touch. What I am understanding from that is that you are not specifically estranged--she was not an irredeemably abusive parent who damaged and alienated you--you are simply emotionally, socially and geographically distant pretty much by your choice. In this case, I think there is no way to reasonably explain not going to your mother's funeral unless you are literally prevented by medical, financial or logistical circumstances.

Still, if the ceremony of a religious funeral is unbearably tedious for you, you could possibly make the situation easier for yourself by explaining that you must fly in to be with the family and pay your respects the day before and probably can attend the visitation or whatever similar pre-funeral gathering is customary that day but must schedule an unavoidable early departure for reason X (whatever pressing business you have to manufacture in order to justify the quick turnaround). If you opt for this subterfuge, be sure the funeral date is firm before you come up with your early departure excuse; otherwise they might hurry things to make sure you can be there. I sympathize and feel you really don't have to do the whole nine yards of ceremony but I hope you will try to show up and be counted. I think that afterward you will think better of yourself for having done so.
posted by Anitanola at 1:38 AM on June 22, 2013

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