Estranged parent’s funeral
October 7, 2019 4:50 PM   Subscribe

I haven’t seen my father for 10 years, he died last week. Family relationships are difficult. I don’t know what to do re attending his funeral.

I’m kind of the family black sheep and scapegoat. Both my parents were abusive, mother dished out really bad verbal abuse, and my father enabled and supported her, failed to prevent her horrific behaviour and was sometimes physically violent to me. I cut off all contact with my mother nearly 20 years ago, I tried to keep other family relationships but there was a closing of ranks and they cut me off. I did attend my mother’s funeral 10 years ago - since when I’ve met one sibling once.

That sibling and I text occasionally, they told me the news last week and I think would be fine with me being there. I’ve been trying to repair my relationship with this sibling who I love dearly and am afraid if I don’t go or at least offer to go, it will damage things again. I did tell sibling a few months ago that if my father wanted to reconcile that I was willing but I guess he wasn’t interested.

My other sibling was extremely close to both parents and as far as I know is still furious at me. They openly blamed me and say that my father didn’t hit me and if he did it was my own fault. I think that sibling would potentially go crazy if I turned up.

Our family were extremely good at keeping this stuff behind closed doors and well hidden. In fact, we didn’t even acknowledge it to each other - we all pretended that things were normal and ok. I think that’s a big part of why they cut me off - I spoke about it very openly and got called a liar / over dramatic etc.

I’d also find it very hard to face seeing father’s and family friends. I’m sure there has been gossip/speculation re my disappearance and having only seen the nice happy family exterior, they probably think I’m some cold hearted monster. I am extremely introverted and unable to cope with confrontation or scenes so the whole idea of attending terrifies me.

I live 450 miles away so I have to decide pretty soon. Funeral is Friday afternoon. Ever since I heard I’ve been struggling with grief, guilt, isolation, etc. I’ve felt pretty intense shame about my situation and routinely lie to avoid anyone knowing about this, so I haven’t been able to talk about it. I guess in my heart I kind of want to go, but I’m afraid to.
posted by ElasticParrot to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you call the friendly sibling and talk this through with them? Are they willing to support you if the unfriendly sibling behaves inappropriately? It sort of seems like you need an ally there- but if you have one, it seems like it's worth going to for closure, if nothing else.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:00 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can you talk about this with the sibling you have a relationship with? Tell them you'd be inclined to go, but that you are aware that your presence may be very disturbing to some and that you're no wanting to create drama for the people who are there to mourn and are not ready to consider that the family member they are there to mourn perpetrated family abuse and violence. Let your sibling know that reestablishing a relationship with them is the most important thing to you, so you're wanting to let them know how you're thinking. Maybe you can make arrangements to see your sibling and do something together to remember your father? That may be the better option for you both.
I'm sorry for your loss and all of the traumatic history it's brought to the surface.
posted by quince at 5:08 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Could you go to be with your closer sib and maybe do something privately with them on Thursday, without necessarily planning to attend the official funeral but leaving the possibility open until you have a better sense of things?

I'm sorry this is so hard. I 100% understand habitually lying about all this and therefore not feeling like you have anyone to talk to. If you can get through the "confession" part with even one person and just have a chance to talk this all out, it might make a world of difference in your emotional state, but if that's not possible on the spot like this, that's completely understandable.
posted by teremala at 5:09 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I would not go. Why go? Because it was your father? He did not want to reconcile when he had the chance. The funeral is for the living. You have had no contact with these folks other than the one sibling for decades. Let them mourn the man they want to believe he was. You can mourn the man you knew him to be with your circle of close friends.

I would call the sibling with whom you get along and talk to them about the death. Work on a time that you two can get together and just talk. I would consider writing to the other sibling a condolence note of sorts, not conceding anything but offering to get together with them too if they want sometime in the future.

My parents recently died within 4 months of each other. They were divorced and not together for the past 30+ years. I am still trying to sort through my feelings and I got along with them both in their own way.

This is so new. You do not have to sort through your feelings by Friday. Do what you think is best for you.
posted by AugustWest at 5:22 PM on October 7, 2019 [18 favorites]

From a member who wishes to remain anonymous:
When my estranged, abusive father died, I didn't attend his funeral. I didn't feel I had any responsibility to. I had said I'd go with my mother to support her if she wanted (they were divorced), but she didn't go, either. Some time later, I can't say I feel any regret about this.

You may find it helps rebuilding a relationship with friendly sibling if you offer to come see them at this time (but only if you feel you can handle it). However, I agree with those above who say that you should first sound out with them whether they'll be able to handle negative reactions from unfriendly sibling.

Unfortunately, people will talk shit about you whether you attend or don't attend. I now have a nice list of extended family members who don't realize that when they made pointed remarks to the one immediate family member who did attend the funeral, they would be relayed to the rest of us. Do what feels best for you; don't worry about anyone too ignorant, cruel, or deluded to recognize what your dad did to you.

Also, give yourself some space to feel your feelings. With any death, emotional reactions can be unpredictable; with complicated grief, even more so. I don't mourn my father at all as a person, but every once in a while I find myself missing some aspect of having had a non-malevolent father that most people get to have and I never will. Be gentle and nonjudgmental with yourself at this difficult time. All the best.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:24 PM on October 7, 2019 [21 favorites]

If I were you, I wouldn't go.

Reading through the lines, I'm getting the feeling that one of the main reasons you want to go is to please the sister who still likes you/ prevent her from becoming upset with you. At the same time, going has a good chance to be re-traumatizing for you and to bring up a lot of stuff for others there, too.

So, unless you truly want to go to have the chance to say goodbye to your father at the time of the funeral and specifically in the company who is likely to be there for the event, I'd stay put, and maybe have a memorial at his grave or elsewhere at a later date.

About the sister you have contact with - I think allowing her approval of you to hang over your head is not beneficial long-term. Does she acknowledge the harm that was done to you during your childhood, or do you need to be silent about it to retain her approval? I'd be cautious before I'd allow someone else's preferences to push me into a situation which might be severely distressing to me and potentially disruptive of a moment that should maybe remain undisturbed for the other mourners.

Back to your sister - I would get in touch with a therapist to discuss the emotions your father's death and contact with your sister bring up. I think there is a danger you deny yourself to please someone else here.

Apologies if I'm wrong, and sorry about the complicated and difficult situation you find yourself in.
posted by doggod at 5:24 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

We have some complicated issues in my family. I was able to go to Mom's funeral but not Dad's, nor my brother's. The funeral happened anyway, without my presence. I did feel some guilt, yes, but not enough to make me spend a lot for airfare.

Having been to many funerals, and wakes, etc., I'll say you're not missing much, unless you want a family reunion. The person you loved is dead now. You can grieve them alone, or you can go and grieve them with your family members. It's up to you how you wish to grieve, and nobody else.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:26 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can't relate to all of your specific points, OP. I can tell you my quirky and dysfunctional family has a story of our own to lend perspective... For many reasons over the years, I've had one daughter (out of two) speaking or not speaking to me or my immediate family. Then, out of eternal circumstances (fucking opiods) my other daughter "ghosted" my family and me.

None of us has ever regretted the joy of reuniting with the other side. Usually after tragedy, sadly.

Being family in my experience is like a rubber band. Flex in, flex out.

Whatever you do is the right way for you. Wishing you the best. You obviously care by posting this question.
posted by kiwi-epitome at 6:10 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

How would it directly benefit YOU to attend? Not maybe hypothetically benefit you later, but immediately and directly.

I don't see the benefit.
posted by medusa at 7:05 PM on October 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I guess in my heart I kind of want to go, but I’m afraid to.

It is pretty easy to basically go-without-going in a few ways. I'm on team "Don't go if you don't want to" but if you think you really might want to go for various reasons I think I would

1. Connect with the sibling you get along with reasonably and just say you'll be there. I wouldn't make a plan to get together with them unless that's something you really want and think you can negotiate. Funerals can be hard for different people for different reasons.

2. Arrive late, leave early, don't stay and mingle. Pay your respects in whatever way feels appropriate. If there is an option, bring a friend, someone who does not know your family. Assume people may not even know who you are if you haven't seen them in a decade.

3. Have a nice thing you'll do for yourself when you get home, a thing to look forward to in case anything is unpleasant.

4. Practice a script in case someone decides to be a jerk about this (and that is a terrible thing for someone to do but again everyone deals wlth grief in different ways) "I did what was right for me at the time" No recriminations on other people, no assertions they have to refute or manage. You know your truth and it's not a great time to bring it up so just refuse to engage.

And at some point, tell someone. It doesn't have to be a friend, it could be a counselor, someone from a church, or just a person at the other end of an employee assistance help line. But it's useful (I found, as someone who dealt with neglect but not much abuse and a parent who swears they never hit me and that I was making it up basically to spite them) to talk about it so that you can have a counter narrative to other terrible people's version of events.

Yours is valid. You know what happened. It wasn't your fault and I'm so sorry people were terrible to you. It's worth telling yourself a little bit "The people who hurt me are dead. These people hold no power over me the way my parents did when I was a child" This is not to say their words can't hurt, but it is to say that you can go 450 miles back to your own life and never deal with them again. Best of luck whatever you decide.
posted by jessamyn at 7:32 PM on October 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

If you don't want to go but feel like you should go, know there is no obligation. If you don't want to go, you don't have to, and I don't think you'll regret missing the funeral. If you've been estranged for so long, you might not need more closure, or that type of closure.

But maybe you do. If you do want to go, but are hesitant about your family causing drama, go. Don't let them stop you. Take care of yourself and only do as much as you can take, but go. You have a right to be there if you want or need it. Your sibling has a right to have you there with them. You're mourning, and the rest of your family should be able to respect that for a few hours.
posted by Garm at 8:10 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

it sounds like you do want to go, for your own reasons. You say your sibling would be "fine" with you being there but you don't sound like they're pressuring you.

So examine what those reasons are. Why do you want to go?

Some reasons I can think of:

* making the point to others that you are there, not erased
* you are hoping your estranged sibling will be decent, so you have a better, new most-recent interaction w them
* you want to see your on-good-terms sibling

Those are reasons that could work. On the other hand, it could just be embittering to hear your dad eulogized in a way you surely won't feel is truthful. And seeing him dead is unlikely to give you closure, if that's what you're hoping for.

Be honest about what you are hoping to achieve by going. Then you can step back and assess how likely it is you'll get what you want.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:14 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

This happened with me. Estranged mother died, two onside siblings, one evil one. I went for me, and it helped. Evil sibling and I sat as far from each other as possible and I left straight after. Mother had said that she didn't want a deathbed reconciliation, her choice, but it hurt. Anyway, if you think it will help you to come to terms with everything, go. Let good sib know you'll be there discreetly (maybe up the back) and offer to catch up before you head home. Explain that you don't want to cause any complications or extra distress for the rest of the family. My sympathies are with you.
posted by b33j at 11:24 PM on October 7, 2019

Our family were extremely good at keeping this stuff behind closed doors and well hidden. In fact, we didn’t even acknowledge it to each other - we all pretended that things were normal and ok. I think that’s a big part of why they cut me off - I spoke about it very openly and got called a liar / over dramatic etc.

I see two possibilities vis-a-vis your siblings now that both of your parents are dead: a) as a defense against reality, they remember your parents as saints who could do no wrong and presided over an idyllic family life, and/or b) cracks slowly begin to appear in the facade of parental perfection as it becomes safer and therefore possible to confront uncomfortable truths. Your presence could be a catalyst for either scenario.

So I think you should go because scenario b might happen some day. And when it does, the fact that you attended the funeral will be evidence that you might be approachable when your sibling(s) decide to do the work of unpacking their childhood. Consider whether you want to help them some day or if you don't want to revisit that unhappy time: either is a completely valid response.

B may happen eventually for another reason. It's also possible that you weren't the only kid abused, but the other victim(s) didn't have the strength to look at it squarely. Deciding you (or they) "deserved" it is, for some, preferable to the the idea that one's parent delivers unjust cruelty instead of love. You might not even know of your siblings' abuse since your family was good at hiding it. In my family, two siblings recently learned that they were both abused, where each thought they were the only one. Talking about it to the third sibling revealed another victim.

Peace to you, OP.
posted by carmicha at 5:19 AM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

This happened to me too. Estranged father, two siblings, one fairly hostile, and one extremely hostile 4th wife. I went, and I regret it. I regret having gone because being estranged doesn't mean you're not grieving; in some ways, it's even harder, including because it's a kind of disenfranchised grief. Grieving while not being "entitled" to grieve is awful even without people verbally attacking you and making it otherwise clear that you're not welcome. So, being there was harmful for me. But also, I think that my being there was harmful for them because of the friction it caused. If you're worried about future relationship ramifications of not going, you could write a heartfelt letter explaining your reasons. It will probably fall on deaf ears, but you never know.
posted by HotToddy at 6:20 AM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I always think of the saying, funerals are for the living. It sounds like you really won't get anything out of attending, and if this was me, I would not attend. I have some similarities with your story and when my father dies, I won't be attending any services. I wish you well.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 12:20 PM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

You absolutely don't have to go. One of the truly wonderful things about being an adult is that you are the boss of you. But if YOU want to go, you should go, because funerals are important markers for the living. My aunt's funeral is tomorrow and I know it is what will make her death a real thing to me, I can't say I "want to" go, because funeral, but I will be very glad that I DID go, because I nearly called her yesterday to ask how my cousin (her daughter) is coping with her death...

My best friend didn't get a funeral and I still don't quite accept that he's gone.

If you don't go (and it's ok not to go!), I would really suggest you do something yourself to mark that your father is dead. I read somewhere after my parents died that losing ones parents can be a renaissance. Maybe look at this death that way, whether you go or not.

I would reach out to the sibling you have a decent relationship with and talk this through with them if they are amenable to it. I also get the feeling that part of why you'd go is because of this sibling, maybe ask them if your presence would be a net positive or negative for them. And as been said, people who are going to talk shit about you, are going to talk shit about you whether you go or not (assholes are going to find the negative in everything, whichever choice you make will be wrong according to those people). Ignore them.
posted by biscotti at 6:32 AM on October 10, 2019

Update: I didn't go. I couldn't have dealt with it. He hadn't wanted any kind of reconciliation while alive. He was not sentimental or caring, his estranged sister was in a nursing home with dementia and wanted desperately to see him, her daughter tracked him down and begged him to visit - he refused.

I marked carmicha's answer as best, my siblings are dividing into "they were SAINTS!" and "not so much" camps as you say. I met nice sibling last year, 9 years after my mother died, during which time they'd realised how bad things had been. They totally agreed with everything I'd ever said about my mother, which meant a lot after years of being told it didn't happen. Maybe in another 9 years we'll have the same discussion re my father.

Anyway, my thanks to everyone who replied..
posted by ElasticParrot at 8:31 AM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

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