How Do I say No to a Family Funeral
November 7, 2020 9:13 PM   Subscribe

A relative died, and now I have to figure out how to navigate the "No, it's a Global Pandemic, and I can't come..."

This relative who lives in a currently hot-COVID zone has just died. This is not a close-close relative, but on the second tier outside nuclear family. I too live in a zone that is peaking-COVID. They have been dying for a while now. I care for them because they are outwardly "nice people" and family, but this is despite the fact that they are racist right-wing Trumpers. We have avoided political talk for decades now and who knows? But I know... I just do... and the whole bunch of my family, including my parents, have lost the plot when it comes to COVID. They've been traveling all summer, their kids are in school, and....

It means that saying no, there will be all kinds of subtext attached to it. I'm the "black sheep" who ain't having their racist bullshit, and has been demonstrably over it for some decades now. This they know, but also, I feel like shit because I don't just realize that ... what? I'm supposed to love family even though they don't respect me all that much? Even though any holiday I've been there for was fraught with Any Moment Now I'm Going to Have to Argue Politics or listen to "jokes" that make me flee for long walks in the dark and drink too much.

On Tuesday, I stared down a racist Trumper who went out of his fucking way to threaten to run me and about sixty of my friends down in his semi for being all "Black Lives Matter" the morning of the election. I'm still processing how that felt.

Honestly, I just need a coherent way to say no. I'm trying to conjure up a sore throat and cough so I can say I have symptoms. I'm trying not to feel like a shitheel. I am torn between "I can't come home because we're in the middle of a Global Pandemic" and realizing that my mother is pissed at me because she knows I don't really want to come.

Also, I keep thinking about showing up, staying masked up, and then realizing that if I go and don't hug anyone they're going to look at me like I'm an asshole anyway.
posted by RedEmma to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: People may be pissed at you, but that’s not something you can control. They may be pissed if you do show up and are masked the whole time. Or if you social distance. Or if you do anything that isn’t act as though there isn’t a pandemic.

You don’t have to go. You don’t have to give a reason. But if you need one “there’s a global pandemic and it isn’t safe for me,” is more than enough of one. There’s also the classic “that won’t be possible.” I’m sorry you’re getting pressure and I’m sorry for your loss.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 9:23 PM on November 7, 2020 [31 favorites]

If you need an excuse -- would you have to fly? could you plausibly claim that flights are too expensive/difficult/there's not a flight you can make that fits your schedule, since the airline industry is so messed up right now?

Also, as a measure of goodwill you could consider asking whether the service will be streamed online -- though based on your description of your family member's political leanings I guess that might not help.
posted by mekily at 9:35 PM on November 7, 2020

Response by poster: Two things:

The service location will be restricted to under a couple dozen people. When I mentioned that I didn't want to impose on numbers, the spouse of the deceased said that "You are family," which ... implies they're going to ignore restrictions? I can come anyway?

I will be driving and peeing in the woods on the side of the road on the way, so no flying. I would have to stay with family in a way that keeps me relatively separate from everyone else. But I know full well that will be nigh impossible.
posted by RedEmma at 9:38 PM on November 7, 2020

One thought I find helpful is to realize they all have their own dramas going on that don't center on me. So "Oh I'm so sorry I can't make it, let me know if the flowers arrived and how they looked! I will pray for you/hold you in my thoughts/burn a candle/whatever is customary in your cultural or religious tradition." And that is enough. You don't need an excuse or a reason. You won't be there (true). You feel bad about that fact (true).

Even in non-Covid times, people miss funerals because they are typically planned at the last minute. My MIL's funeral was a week out from when she died - surprise surprise not every distant family member could drop everything to be there.
posted by muddgirl at 9:57 PM on November 7, 2020 [24 favorites]

I’ve attended four long distance funerals since March. Funeral homes these days are all getting aboard the Facebook streaming train, it’s really good for elderly folks who can’t make it and the last minute super quick Jewish funerals most of my family has had. Can you be enthusiastic about “attending” online? Ask about what they’ll be doing for long distance viewing/streaming, and if they are confused ask if you can email the funeral director with questions, and make sure to be there online and send condolence texts/video chat at the right times, etc. Basically, act like you traveling to attend is so not even a thing that you don’t even bring it up, and that of course you will be engaging with it online and that that’s what is expected of you.
posted by Mizu at 10:10 PM on November 7, 2020 [18 favorites]

Can you lie and say you can't get off work or your car is out of commission? I would go with that angle myself. I do that sometimes if people ask me to do something that would require taking off work. I could take off work, but we Americans get so few days off of work as it is, I usually have some sort of plan for them. I wouldn't feel guilty about missing the funeral. The deceased won't miss you.

As an aside, please don't pee on the side of the road. It's gross and it can't be good for the environment. Wear a mask and go in rest stops. You're in the building for what? 5 minutes tops? Everywhere is being cleaned more often than even before. More windows are open more than even before. You can get a good hand washing in, which you cannot do on the side of the road. You need prolonged exposure to catch covid. If you wear a mask and don't dilly dally, your likelihood of catching covid in a rest stop is very very low.
posted by DEiBnL13 at 10:23 PM on November 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

Depending on your work situation, your workplace might not give you bereavement time off for a "second-tier" relative. And even if it's not strictly true, "Sorry, I can't be there because Work" is a pretty coherent way to say no.
posted by doift at 10:23 PM on November 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Are you employed? Throw it on your work, I really want to come, but if I travel I can't work for two weeks and that's just not possible. (Even if you work remotely, HR policy!) Emphasise how much you want to be there and blame your work. Over and over.

Other good reasons, car broke down your mechanic said two weeks to get part, you want to do go (on preview with the above).

I'm sorry I can't with no reason is okay. Express your condolences, apologize profusely and ask if there is an online options.

Your instinct is right, do not go.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:27 PM on November 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

You are an important but very kind person. It's generous of you to even consider going, considering how complicated and important your life is. I'm sure you will be gracious when you say what you need to say, you will make the hearer feel good about his or her life and dedication, and they will be so comforted by your words that they will be happy to have talked with you for the 10 minutes of your call.
posted by amtho at 10:27 PM on November 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Whenever I have to have discussions like this, I try to really lay it on thick, empathy-wise, for the other person, while still maintaining my boundary.

For you, maybe that’s “Mom, I really wish I could be there to support you and the rest of the family, I know how close you were to Uncle Dave and how much you meant to him. Remember [happy memory of you and relative and mom together]? Gosh, I sure will miss him. But I was [“exposed to someone”?] recently and I just wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I brought the virus to Uncle Dave’s funeral, our family has been through enough tragedy already. Maybe the funeral home can do a distance option for those of us who can’t come? I know Uncle Dave’s buddies from the golf course would love to say goodbye too”.

YMMV but this is probably what I’d say, maybe in an email followed by a phone call. Stick to your guns, you definitely don’t need to be going to this funeral. Condolences to your family.
posted by stellaluna at 11:12 PM on November 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I would act as if I am going. Then, the morning you need to go, you woke up with something, a bug, stomach flu, something. You're all packed up and ready, but don't think you can make it. Then don't go. Send flowers and send a long note.

Don't bail with enough time to give your family time to argue or question. I would even say that you are looking forward to seeing everyone but wish it was better circumstances. Then bail hours before.

If you are in the right mood, when you bail at the last minute, tell them you caught something at the Biden celebration rally you attended.
posted by AugustWest at 11:17 PM on November 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: So you're already a black sheep and would get shamed if you went and didn't act like there was no pandemic? Well, sounds like they will be mad at you no matter what anyway, and it'll risk your life to go. If no matter what you say, you're wrong, then it doesn't matter what you say because nothing will make it okay with them. Say anything.

Though if you want an excuse, these days you could say "oh, I just found out my coworker tested positive for Covid, I have to quarantine now" as an excuse as well, of course.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:56 AM on November 8, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Mizu has it. Act like it’s a given that you’re obviously not going to be able to be there because number restrictions what with covid. But you’ve checked with the funeral director and it’s live-streamed so they can expect you there and hey did you get the flowers? You’re looking forward to paying your respects so you’ll be logging on at 1.30pm and you’ll see them all there.

Say it with all the confidence of a white middle aged guy mansplaining period pain to a woman, like of course this is how it is! If you don’t invite questions and lay it down as fact , you’ll be surprised how much people will just accept what you say.
posted by Jubey at 1:19 AM on November 8, 2020 [10 favorites]

I don't think you should make up an excuse (work, illness) as to why you can't be there. That seems to me to be almost indulging your family's ignorant behaviour around COVID. I find as I get older that each time I make an excuse for something which compromises my own integrity, a little part of me dies inside.

It's likely there'll be a live-stream, so give a clear, non-negotiable explanation that you can't attend in person due to the pandemic but that you'll be attending online. Any pushback gets the Miss Manners' response of "I'm sorry, that won't be possible".
posted by essexjan at 2:18 AM on November 8, 2020 [23 favorites]

Best answer: I can't come home because …

Where you live now is home: you've got a group of friends here that you were willing to die for.
posted by scruss at 4:21 AM on November 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The excuses people have suggested above are all good if you really feel you need one.

But when it comes down to it, I don't think you do. "I love you all. I miss [name of deceased relative]. I wish I could come. Can you get me the funeral home's info so I can check with them on their remote setup? Gosh, this is so sad."

And just to be really clear: you are not a shitheel. You, like so many of us, are doing the best that you can, and making the most responsible choice, in the middle of a pandemic that's being horribly mismanaged and putting so, so many people in the middle of impossible situations like this one. It's not your fault and you're not doing anything wrong.
posted by pie ninja at 4:49 AM on November 8, 2020 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Perhaps most would disagree, but I'd argue there are times when lying may be the thoughtful solution, for both you and the people you're interacting with. That is, when you don't have a future relationship that depends on genuine trust and when doing otherwise has ugly consequences.

If your goal is also to possibly convince them that they shouldn't be holding the event also without being dismissed entirely, I'd be tempted to exaggerate or invent a very personal and specific story about a vulnerable person that you are worried about. "I don't want to kill my elderly neighbor/co-worker/building-manager who has emphysema" invites fewer objections than "I don't want to kill you" or "I don't want to die." Best of luck!

(Also, remembering that one can love people without respecting or caring about their opinions is a personal mantra that I find useful at times.)
posted by eotvos at 5:21 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I support you whatever you decide, but you could always say you feel like you're coming down with something and wouldn't want to expose anyone - and then a week later reassure them that you are so glad you didn't expose anyone, but it was a cold after all. Maybe that way everyone saves a little face - the famous "compromise" that seems so politically elusive.

And send flowers, make a donation, whatever that part of the family requests to partially appease your decision.

I'm sorry for your loss. I recently lost someone in the same sort of category of both family and political leaning. It still felt like a loss, if only of the potential to heal the relationship in the election aftermath.
posted by citygirl at 6:09 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

You don't need an excuse, but trying to prevent another funeral due to COVID is good enough. Send flowers, sign the guestbook, attend remotely if you wish. Family judgement is overrated.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:20 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The framing that has worked well for me is “I just couldn’t live with myself if I got [most frail and universally-beloved family member] sick.” People may think I’m a fool, but at least they think I’m a kind fool, and haven’t said it to my face.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:21 AM on November 8, 2020 [19 favorites]

I think keeping it simple is important. There is no way to say no that's going to get them to be accepting and nice about it. They may judge, quietly or not. You don't have to listen to it if they're not quiet. But manufacturing illness, when they already know you have's not going to help.

It's hard, I get it. My local father-in-law died this summer, and my grandmother a few states over died a few weeks ago. I did not go to either funeral. I did not make up excuses. I just said no.

I actually don't feel like a shitheel at all. I am still deeply grieving both losses, and I lack the closure that ceremonies provide. I never got to say goodbye to either of them. I don't need other people's judgement to make it worse. But I do have the knowledge that I didn't contribute to the spread of a pandemic. I know two people personally who got COVID from attending funerals. So in a way, it was a super easy decision to make. I try to remember that the people who may feel hurt or judged by my choice are grieving a loss themselves, and also that it's none of my business what other people think of me.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:13 AM on November 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Don't offer them excuses they can argue with. "I won't be able to go, thanks for reaching out to me. You guys be really careful, okay?"
posted by Lyn Never at 7:38 AM on November 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

I find it helpful to write out a script for myself for difficult conversations like this.
posted by heatherlogan at 7:48 AM on November 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you need to set aside the fact that you don't want to go to the funeral and refuse to engage on that issue. It's irrelevant. Even if you wanted to go, even if this relative were someone whom you respected and deeply admired, you wouldn't be able to go, because we are in the middle of a pandemic, and this is exactly the sort of event that is spreading it. (And I wish that weren't true, but funerals are pretty much classic super-spreader events.) It stinks. It's unfair. But you wouldn't be able to live with yourself if you were involved in spreading this disease that is killing people, and so you won't be able to go. Rinse and repeat. Refuse to discuss how you feel about your relative and the other people who will be there.

My mom died in late July, and we weren't able to have a proper funeral for her. We had a graveside service that was immediate family only, and we had a Zoom memorial service for everyone who would have come to the funeral if that had been possible. And that fucking stinks. But a lot of things about this shitty situation stink, and we're all going to have to live with it. You're being responsible, and if your family-members insist on holding that against you, that's their problem. You can only control your own behavior and reactions, and you are going to behave in the way that doesn't put other people's lives at risk.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:51 AM on November 8, 2020 [9 favorites]

People with a small world view can't be convinced of anything, so don't bother risking your mental and physical health for a funeral you don't need to go to (need as in it would help your grief, or the grief of a loved one if you went). If it's an appearances only thing be the city person who sends flowers and zooms. You're alien to them, might as well stop trying to live in both worlds.
posted by jello at 9:59 AM on November 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think you need to set aside the fact that you don't want to go to the funeral and refuse to engage on that issue. It's irrelevant.

Yeah this trips me up every time (often getting roped into things I don't want to do because I think my "I don't want to do it" feelings don't and shouldn't matter) but I think you just lean on science, say you can't because of science (if you are in a science-y state that has travel restrictions) or you lean on work or something else. You do not have to be honest with people who are awful. And if your mom is going to probably be pissed at you anyhow, maybe have her be pissed at you from a distance. Send sincere apologies, send flowers, write cards to the appropriate people and stay the fuck home because that's the smart play and the safe play.

People feel terrible because someone they love has died. This may splash on to you. It's worth remembering, as mudgirl says, that it's mostly not about you and maybe that will help make the grumpiness that you deal with easier to manage? Remember, you're an adult and no one can MAKE you do anything. Line up something nice for yourself, whatever that is, once you tell the family that this just won't be possible.
posted by jessamyn at 10:21 AM on November 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

For weddings etc: I am have said "While I deeply love you/[who ever], I know that I am not the most important person there. I love you (all) enough to not attend, to make it safe for those higher risk people for whom it is more important that they attend."

Then try to include some uplift: "I'll try to visit X", "I'll be there on Zoom if you can set that up", "So stoked you're getting married!" etc. Insert the right funeral sentiment here, "I'm here if you need anything."
posted by rubatan at 11:48 AM on November 8, 2020

I’m sorry you’re in this situation! I think you are right not to want to go, and I think you should not go.

Also, I keep thinking about showing up, staying masked up, and then realizing that if I go and don't hug anyone they're going to look at me like I'm an asshole anyway.

Yeah, that’s the thing. If the only reason you’d even consider going is to avoid your relatives’ disapprobation, well, you will not be able to avoid it even if you do go. They want to feel normal, so their way of doing that is to pretend everything is normal (ie there’s no COVID). Anything that disrupts their denial fantasy will make them upset—and at this point—given their recent bereavement plus political loss—they’ll be itching for a fight. The fight will not be about you.

I feel like shit because I don't just realize that ... what? I'm supposed to love family even though they don't respect me all that much?

Not coming to a super spreader event is an act of love. You love your family enough to not contribute to them possibly getting COVID. But no, you don’t have to love people who don’t respect you. You’re not a bad person if you don’t. (You’re also not a bad person if you do. You’re just human.)

my mother is pissed at me because she knows I don't really want to come.

My brother, like the rest of my family, lives far away from me in a hot COVID zone. He’s not exactly a COVID-denier, but unlike the rest of my family, he complains about the COVID restrictions constantly and can’t understand why the rest of us don’t. What I feel like saying to him is, none of us likes this situation, you dumbass. Everyone is scared. We just think it’s important to follow the rules and we don’t rail against it all the time because what is the point? He is very frustrating to talk to sometimes, so what I’ve started to do is employ a “Brother Translator” in my head. So when he says something guilt trippy and irresponsible like, “Don’t you miss us? Don’t you want to visit us? When are we going to see you guys? Mom and Dad miss you. The kids ask about Auntie and Uncle all the time” I choose to translate it as my brother saying, “I miss you. I hate not seeing you, and I’m scared about COVID making it so our family can never visit each other again. I just want some reassurance you feel the same way.” And I respond: “We sure do miss all of you a lot! I can’t wait until we can all visit each other safely again. I’m really hoping they find a vaccine soon.” And the wild thing actually works really well on him, and he responds very positively to it, every time. It helps me feel more charitable towards him, instead of feeling angry, and we have had much better conversations lately. YMMV with your mom, but it’s worth a try.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:50 PM on November 8, 2020 [8 favorites]

hurdy gurdy girl is completely correct on the denial fantasy. Anyone who is trying to pretend this is over will indeed be very angry when their denial fantasy is ruined. You can't be safe and in denial about this since it's a communicable disease. The only way to win is to not play.

And not playing means not going to the funeral. Send flowers and a card.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:44 PM on November 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

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