COVID & not attending a funeral. Defining what is not a “selfish act”.
March 24, 2021 9:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting some serious and inappropriate pressure from my parents about deciding not to go to my great uncle's funeral because of COVID concerns. Although they are upset, I am not doing anything selfish. I am not acting against anybody to their detriment and my personal gain. I’m not denying anybody of their rights or needs. My decision is a neutral one based on my informed risk assessment and personal comfort level with attending church with anti-science, antimask/vax conservatives, Qanons, all that stuff.

I’ve written here in the past about family conflict and accusations of selfishness. when telling my parents “no”. This time I am trying to tactfully avoid a funeral that I’m not comfortable with. The extended family members at the funeral will be very MAGA, Qanon, anti-mask, and anti-vax. Not the safest place to be. I should be getting a vaccination in several weeks and like so many of us, I have been really careful about being exposed for an entire year. After a year of prudence and caution, I’m not going to be any less vigilant about safety.

Yesterday, after explaining that I would not be attending, my mother aggressively tried to coerce me to attend through guilt and threats. Unfortunately, for the last year, I have been without work and staying with them. I really appreciate that. When I told her I wasn’t going she lashed out in a way I’ve never seen from her before. She instantly said if I didn’t go to the funeral that I would be kicked out of her house. Yes, I'm a grown-ass adult. She said this was about family and that COVID was not an excuse to neglect family. As could be predicted, she played the “you are selfish” card and “You are not the center of the world”. I said, “I know. I certaintly don't want to be at the center of any of this.” and excused myself. She sent me a text later that said, “You need to show respect for your great uncle! He was a wonderful man.” That is true, he was an outstanding individual. I don't think he is ever going to know that I wasn't there. If they even notice, most other extended family members won't care if I don't show.

Based on an informed assessment of risks and benefits, I am acting in my own healthy self-interest. She’s trying to turn this into a win-lose situation. I’m not playing that game. I just want to be left alone to my own devices in peace and not do anything that unnecessarily makes me uncomfortable or at risk. Although she may perceive it that way, I’m not trying to gain anything at another’s expense. I am not infringing upon anybody nor am I just casually disregarding their needs. This is nothing personal, there is no disrespect, this is merely a neutral decision involving nobody but myself and my personal health. This is not selfish behavior. It's not altruism, it just is a neutral decision.

I checked and there is no outdoor service. I should also note that my father and her have not taken this global health crisis seriously at all. They have barely altered their lifestyles. We are two completely different pages about the pandemic that do not mesh.

Because my personal discomfort is a perfectly appropriate response, without any further explanation, I am just going to say that, “There are 6 billion people right now who are really disappointed about living with limitations and minimal family contact for an entire year. A lot of those people are also missing funerals, either by choice or legal restriction, so I am not doing out of the ordinary. I am not doing anything wrong. I'm likely not the only person deciding not to go to this funeral. I’m not acting against anybody or taking anything away. There are no winners or losers. I’m just acting on a neutral decision. I understand that you are disappointed. I love you.”

I can tell she's really upset. If she goes nuclear, she goes nuclear. At that point, I will deal with that. I doubt I will be kicked out. I wish I had somewhere to go, but I'm stuck at the moment.

Thoughts? Additions? Subtractions?
posted by Che boludo! to Human Relations (62 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I should also note that while these kinds of conflicts happen in our family, they are not very frequent, but what is unusual is that I have never seen an emotional outburst like this one before.
posted by Che boludo! at 9:37 PM on March 24


The term selfish has also been used against me. I’ve worked to turn it around and affirm a lot of my beliefs and values that oppose those who call me selfish. On a podcast once upon a time I heard a woman say, “If that’s selfish then so be it. Selfish as a mother fucker.” I know that doesn’t help you right now in this instance, but over time, it’s helped me a lot.
posted by nathaole at 9:42 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


(To clarify: That’s a personal mantra for internal dialogue. Not something I’m suggesting you say out loud to anybody, certainly not your mother!)
posted by nathaole at 9:43 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Seems to me that after this funeral, the house she's threatening to kick you out of will be in no way COVID-safe anyway. In your shoes I'd be doing my level best to find somewhere else to live before the funeral.
posted by flabdablet at 9:46 PM on March 24 [43 favorites]


“If that’s selfish then so be it. Selfish as a mother fucker.” I know that doesn’t help you right now in this instance, but over time, it’s helped me a lot.

Sure. It helps in a certain way and yes. I understand the internal dialogue.
posted by Che boludo! at 9:47 PM on March 24


They have been COVID unsafe for an entire year. They just came back from a road trip with a birthday party big enough they needed to rent out a hotel party space. I'd say it's the third unsafe road trip of the year for them.
posted by Che boludo! at 9:49 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Ugh. I'm getting upset on your behalf just reading this. Here are some tactics; please find the part of your mind and heart that makes these genuine, focus on it a lot, fan those empathetic embers into flames, then talk or write:

- Being neutral is not going to make anybody feel better but you. You have to tell your mom and show her how sad you are that your great uncle is gone, how awesome he was and how much you loved him. You also need to show emotion to let her see that you care about her sadness, that you feel her sadness, that you love her and would do anything to help her feel less sad that wouldn't endanger you or her.

In short, death makes people feel alone and scared; one way to counter that is funerals, but you can and should counter that with displays (yes displays in this case) of emotion.

- Your family needs to be strong as a unit. You staying healthy, and your parents staying healthy, will help your uncle's family, which he would want. Also: you need to stay healthy and alive so you can be there for your parents later. You need to feel this -- to feel a desire to take care of them -- before you talk about it, otherwise it won't make much of a difference to your Mom.

- Try to find people writing passionately about their regrets and wistfulness at missing important family events, and maybe send that to your Mom.



Being "neutral" is kind of a bad arguing strategy -- and not really very nice, although I totally _feel_ you on this -- so you really need to find the strength to engage emotionally, sorry.
posted by amtho at 9:50 PM on March 24 [17 favorites]


Sorry to hear it. Personally, I think it’s selfish of them to prioritize the inferred wishes of your dead relative over the health of your living body, but of course if they’re covid deniers they don’t see it that way.

Is there another gesture you could make to pay your respects without attending in person—a donation in his honor, gathering photos and memories from relatives for an album, etc.?

Anyway, I just wanted to validate that you’re doing the right thing, in my opinion, and I’m sorry your parents are acting like this.
posted by music for skeletons at 9:51 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


>I am acting in my own healthy self-interest.

Covid waits for pathways to appear between people. And then it travels, and it kills people. By declining to supply it with pathways, you are acting not just in your own interests, but in the interests of everybody. It is in fact the opposite of selfish.

>“You need to show respect for your great uncle! He was a wonderful man.”

Reckless disregard for human life isn't a good way to honor anybody. Dead people presumably don't need respect any more than they need protection from viruses. Alternatively, if we're imagining that there are spirits to commune with, surely they are freed from physical constraints and can be communed-with from wherever you happen to be, without there being any need for you to attend an event.

Sorry for your loss, and sorry to hear you're dealing with this. Hope you're able to find a better living situation, if it comes to that.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:57 PM on March 24 [9 favorites]


They have been COVID unsafe for an entire year

Then for as long as you share a house with them, so are you.
posted by flabdablet at 10:00 PM on March 24 [52 favorites]


They need to make you the bad guy so they can feel better about their own selfish choices.

"I'd very much want to be able to go. Unfortunately, it looks like there's no safe way to attend. If I go and get infected, I can pass the infection on to someone's elderly relative.

I wear a mask and socially distance because I care about our community. I sacrifice my need for socializing so that I can make our community that much safer."
posted by M. at 10:05 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


I agree strongly with amtho. I think you need to be visibly bereaved about your uncle in front of your parents, and engage with it emotionally. I think you could also display emotion about all the other people who have died during this pandemic, rolled into it. That is something that might communicate to them how strongly you feel, and that your feelings are something to respect. Funerals are not the only way to mourn. Expressing mourning will show that you do care about family, just on your own terms.

I also agree that their house is unsafe pandemic-wise, especially once they travel and return. Do you have any way to leave? I wonder if you might have some friends you could form a pod with, after spending some savings on a temporary solo stay and a COVID antibody test if you can get one. After you’re vaccinated you can revisit your options and how your parents have reacted to everything.
posted by Mizu at 10:07 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


This might sound pretentious, but I (normally) work in science, I evaluate science and am held to certain ethical standards about using science. Following empirically based-best practices are a kind of personal worldview, orientation, and identity. That's where a lot of my motivations and thought processes come from. It's a personal standard that I should hold myself to.
posted by Che boludo! at 10:12 PM on March 24


I am really sorry you are in this situation and that your family is behaving so irresponsibly while guilt tripping you about your responsible behaviour (!!).

Have you read through this previous AskMe thread ? It may give you some strategies or at least might make you feel better knowing you’re not the only one dealing with this.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:43 PM on March 24


The using communication to try and bridge some emotional feelings option:

I'd at least engage in wanting to see the funeral over video conference or something. Like Mom, I miss so and so. Is there going to be a teleconference option? I'd love to be able to log in and see the ceremony and get a chance to say goodbye in a way that I feel safe doing so.

the passive option:

Decide you want to go and suddenly get sick and decide for the safety of others you cannot go.

Other thoughts:

Grief comes out in many many different ways, try to frame your mother's response as mostly grief with some foundational coping skills thrown in (deflect choices, sticking with her world view ). There are lots of options for talking to someone with grief from the stereotypical to more personal. You could gift your mother some flowers, make sure you ask her if there are extra things you can do for her right now if there are things she needs. Because you know this person well, you could ask her to tell you stories about him, share stories with her, just try to find ways to connect with her to emphasize this person is important to you, but the funeral is out.

You may also want to call and ask the funeral home ahead of time if there are specific restrictions - will they force family members to wear masks, will they only let so many people in at once, etc to deflect that way- they only allow 10 people at a time and I think so and so should be able to attend the whole thing. It will give you a framework, and maybe even possible excuses to not go.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:46 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Following empirically based-best practices are a kind of personal worldview, orientation, and identity.

Yes yes yes. This is very important, and I'm grateful for every person who is like this.

You need to do this _and also_ show that you care about people. Otherwise, how can they trust that you are using those evidence-based strategies for things that will ultimately be beneficial to other humans? Your parents need to trust that you feel all the feelings, and then use your mind to choose a course that will ultimately, in the long run, bring the most happiness -- because they can perceive the involuntary/complex evidence of the emotions you are feeling. That way, they will recognize that you actually understand how important this is to them.

It's absolutely correct to distrust people (in this case you) making decisions about other people _without_ understanding the depth of their feelings. How can you weigh the costs/benefits of any course you choose if you don't really understand the costs (in this case, the pain your parents and the other people involved feel, and the increased pain from your absence, and your own pain or detachment)? By showing that you _do_ understand the costs -- and emotional costs are real -- you show that they can trust that your decision is an informed one.

And: you cannot be effective if you just coolly explain that you understand how they feel. It's easy to say "I understand". They can only trust that you really understand if you are clearly feeling pain similar to their pain, and they can only really trust that you care about their feelings if you show, non-verbally, that you do care about their feelings.
posted by amtho at 11:22 PM on March 24 [15 favorites]


Your decision is not neutral. You're prioritizing your own health over the wishes of your family and certain cultural expectations concerning the commemoration of death. I agree with your decision. (I didn't attend a relative's funeral last year.) You're absolutely entitled to make it. But it isn't neutral, and conceiving of yourself as being the "objective" one won't actually help the situation. I agree with everyone who says you need to show whatever grief you feel for your great uncle. Can you send flowers to the funeral, or food to his immediate family? That way you can show your mother you're still respecting your great uncle. Now, if these are very MAGA people, it won't matter, and there's nothing you can do to soothe them. But it's worth a try, especially as it's appropriate anyway.
posted by praemunire at 11:35 PM on March 24 [26 favorites]


You might wish to consider visiting the subreddits JustNoFamily and JustNoMIL (also includes mothers) on Reddit.

You aren't alone, and lots of people will have advice, support, and commiseration, I promise.
posted by stormyteal at 11:43 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


You said no. If there is nothing they can say or do to change your mind, there is really no sense in or upside to discussing it further. Just tell them your mind is made up.

If they actually throw you out, while that would be an issue, know that it is for the best in the long run because they clearly do not respect your right to make decisions as an adult.

If you want to avoid further conflict, would it be possible to go with them, wear a double mask, go in and pay your respects for as long as it takes to go in and out and wait in the car until it is over?
posted by AugustWest at 11:47 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


To me, the first tell that you've left the realm of reasonable discussion and entered the realm of emotional manipulation and verbal bullying is the minimizing of your (entirely valid and prudent) reasons as "excuses". The PE coaches in school were fond of this: demand why you did or did not do a thing, then dismiss any possible explanation offered as an "excuse". Maybe they learned this in the military, I don't know.
posted by thelonius at 12:25 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


This is not an argument about facts. Is it possible to consider validating your mother’s emotions without bending to them? In Al-Anon, we often talk about how feelings are not facts—but that does not make them unimportant. I’m wondering if it might be more successful if you acknowledge the loss to your parents. Things like, “I really miss uncle X. He was so wonderful at Y.” Things like, “I know the funeral is deeply important to you. If I had a magic wand and I could make the pandemic disappear, you know that I would be by your side at the funeral. I so wish that were possible. I know this is heartbreaking for you.”

Sometimes people are pissed because they don’t feel heard. They want their emotions acknowledged. They want to feel seen. I can’t promise taking this approach will make your parents less hostile or upset. But it might. You’re doing the right thing to care for yourself, but lots of people react badly to loved ones who make different choices than they themselves make. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:01 AM on March 25 [12 favorites]


You could take seriously the part about respect, and write a sort of eulogy for your great uncle, or a heartfelt letter for his immediate family, and make a donation in his name to some organization he would want, and have food delivered for the family. Maybe you have pictures of him you could pass on too.

That may or may not speak to your mother, but the thing is it's also a decent thing to do in any case. And it's a way to pay your respects safely and seriously.

Not going to a funeral during a pandemic is the opposite of selfish; if everyone had stopped doing those things a year ago, the pandemic could have been long over.
posted by trig at 2:45 AM on March 25 [14 favorites]


Seconding writing a reading to give to your mom that honestly expresses your admiration and feelings for the man; you can also express regret at the circumstances that prevent you from attending.
posted by benzenedream at 2:56 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that this isn’t really about grief or respect at all, but about the possibility that your absence could draw attention to your disagreements over COVID? Your principled stand could set your mom up for all sorts of awkwardness if she feels some duty to defend you to others who will be there. Maybe she resents the embarrassment, the being put on the spot, but is playing the guilt/respect/family card because that framing is more comfortable for her?
posted by jon1270 at 3:18 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


You seem really convinced that you've made the correct decision (and I agree with you). That doesn't mean you will be able to convince the rest of your family that you've made the correct decision. They have all made a different decision. Making it about who's "right," "wrong," or "neutral" - that's a losing battle. Accept that they are making different decisions based on different values.

Try to be comfortable with the decision that you've made and accept that not everyone will agree with you. You don't get to control what others think of you.
posted by mskyle at 4:21 AM on March 25 [9 favorites]


I mean, being honest, your question itself frames this as a tribal conflict between identities and values, doesn't it?

You bring in all sorts of personal and political factors that aren't relevant to the strict empirical risk of COVID transmission, but are relevant to your personal sense of contempt for and contamination by this culture. You've also willingly cohabited with your parents for a year while they "barely altered their lifestyle," and you presumably plan to still live there during the two weeks after they return from this funeral, so it seems like you're willing to take on some personal COVID risk when it's financially beneficial. Scientific evidence may show that there exists some health risk from attending this funeral, but your values are what rank personal finances >> health risk >> family observances in the list of important considerations that guide your behavior.

Under those circumstances, this will inevitably be a mixed conflict, partly about genuine health concerns, but also in large part about those values of respect and regard for your family. It doesn't sound like you do particularly respect them, and that's entirely fine, 100% your right. However, it's also pretty natural for your mom to be aware of that, feel defensive and hurt over it, and connect it logically with your non-attendance of the funeral, a ceremonial observance built around showing respect for the deceased and their family.

I think others here are spot-on that the one way to lessen the breach would be to address the emotional conflict separately, by elaborately doubling down on expressions of your respect and love for your mother, her family and your uncle. But it might also be fine to be honest with yourself that you just... don't like or trust these people, and consider sticking to your own principles by moving out.
posted by Bardolph at 4:31 AM on March 25 [40 favorites]


She sent me a text later that said, “You need to show respect for your great uncle! He was a wonderful man.”

So funerals are FOR THE LIVING. Sorry to yell, but I am really annoyed on your behalf. It's obvious to me that your presence at the funeral is not about "respecting your uncle" but about displaying support for your mother and extended family.

Your mother and extended family have not displayed any support for your basic health, so I have no idea why there's any expectation for you to attend the funeral.

Also, grief is complicated and every person experiences it in their own unique way. I'd like to gently disagree with the suggestions that you need to feel or act as though you feel a certain way.

I'm sorry for the loss of your uncle.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:09 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


> Unfortunately, for the last year, I have been without work and staying with them.
> ...
> She instantly said if I didn’t go to the funeral that I would be kicked out of her house.


but your values are what rank personal finances >> health risk >> family observances in the list of important considerations that guide your behavior.

Eh. I'm reading this as "How dare you try to protect yourself while living under your abuser's roof!" while also slagging the victim for being out of a job.

> This is not selfish behavior. It's not altruism, it just is a neutral decision.

I'd say it's actually compassionate to not contribute to a super-spreader event.

I'd talk to the funeral parlor and see if you can attend a private viewing immediately before the wake/funeral occurs, citing avoiding covid as a reason.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:24 AM on March 25 [8 favorites]


I'm sure you value science and objectivity, and I agree with you that not attending this funeral is the right thing to do, but you've been sharing a house with two people who have been acting in a Covid-unsafe way for a year, so you've been acting in a Covid-unsafe way yourself for the whole of that time (unless you have a self-contained annexe to yourself or something).

I think you should stick to your guns and not go to the funeral; I also think you should be compassionate to your parents, since you've been behaving somewhat like them while also being quite censorious of them. It might be best all round if you could move out as soon as you can.
posted by altolinguistic at 6:27 AM on March 25 [6 favorites]


I agree with Bardolph. I have similar relationships with close family, although I don’t live with them. If she’s like my family, your mom is reacting to your opinion of her, not to what you are saying to her. I think that statement you have prepared is likely to make this argument worse. And is it a text? No, please don’t text! You’ll make your point when you’re not at the funeral. Why double down now and continue the argument now? Do you think she’ll suddenly understand, after a year? She’s not going to understand. You can try to show her how you feel about your great uncle. There’s some nice ideas here on how to do that. This is not a “neutral” decision you made. I hear what you mean that it should be, that you should be able to look at facts of disease transmission and decide objectively, but it’s not. What’s neutral about MAGA and QAnon? I think pretending to be objective and the “above feeling” science based thinker is exactly what these kind of family object to. They take it as a value judgment and let’s be real, it is! People react with anger and emotions when they are feeling defensive. Does your mom resent you’re living there and simultaneously judging her behavior? Probably. Wouldn’t you? That doesn’t mean you should change your behavior, but it should give you better perspective on her reaction. I think all you can do is find ways to honor your great-uncle so that you know you did that for yourself and for his memory. (And make plans to move out, but I’m sure you know that already).
posted by areaperson at 6:28 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]


First, sorry about your Uncle's passing.

You are allowed to decide to do what you do or don't feel is safe. But, as others have pointed out, living with folks who do not avoid covid risk means you are taking some of that risk. And, I don't think it is a neutral decision, there is such a wide range of variables, it is a judgement call. I'm not saying you are wrong to opt out, but not knowing the details (wake? church funeral? burial?), I think there may have been some kind of middle ground--you could have decided to wear double masks, avoid all contact and show up late/early, sit in back, go to mass but not the reception, etc...

It sounds like you could have been a bit more conciliatory-- "I'm intelligent and making the correct decision, they are a bunch of MAGA dummies." shows a lot of disdain for your family, I don't think you lecturing them about how right you are and how wrong they are has any value.

I'd also try to infuse your thinking with some kindness towards your Uncle's sibling (which I think is your mom?) and other loved ones. Is there a way you could help with logistics, prepare food, etc. so you don't seem so cold hearted?

Lastly, it is probably too late at this point, but you could have just gone along with the plans and bailed at the last minute. Not ideal, but why argue over something neither of you will ever agree on? And, yes, find another place to live when possible.
posted by rhonzo at 6:30 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]


It's been about a year of a pandemic with people having all sorts of differing opinions about what appropriate individual responses are. I've been called selfish. There are people who I think are selfish - on both ends of the response-to-covid spectrum. I don't think any amount of looking at the facts can determine who is and isn't selfish because I don't believe there's a valid way to evaluate that here. If someone thinks I'm selfish - which I've met a good many people who do - then I'm selfish. I'm out here acting in a way I think is most responsible based on facts and my reasoning to the best of my ability - whether others consider me selfish is not a factor.

I also kinda think you have an abrasive "I'm right based on facts and logic and they're too dumb to understand" attitude going on and maybe you could be a little more understanding. I like to think of myself as fairly informed - I mean I've been listening to a virology podcast for the past year. There are people out there who have an opinion based exclusively on their emotional response and don't know anything about virology. That's OK too. I don't think I have The Answer or that looking at facts will get me one. That's just how I operate.
posted by ToddBurson at 6:41 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


Your mother is the selfish one, not you.
posted by freakazoid at 6:55 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Keep doing what you're doing, and get the vax when you can. Try to reflect back the things that make sense, and just keep repeating them. Your parents want to be in control, but you are being a smart adult.
I loved and will miss Uncle, and I'm so sorry I can't attend.
I know how upset you are, and I respect that, but I just can't go.
Funerals are important family events; it breaks my heart to miss it.
I'm so sad that you believe I'm being selfish; but I can't go.
It was a hard decision, but I can't attend a funeral during a Pandemic.

posted by theora55 at 7:02 AM on March 25


Because you live with them, you're in a no-win scenario here.

Even if you don't go to the funeral, your parents are going—so if there's COVID spread at the funeral, then you'll be exposed secondhand through them even if you don't go. They'll be angry at you and you won't have eluded exposure either way.

I agree that you're doing the right, unselfish thing, and that they are in the wrong about this. But if it were me, I'd consider compromising with your mom and attend in as safe a manner as possible, wearing a N95 (or double-mask) and sitting as far away from everyone else as you can. After the service is over, maybe attend the burial since it's outdoors, then leave. No close contact, no hugs, no handshakes.

It keeps the peace, and given your circumstances, likely won't be much more risky to you than not going.

I would also redouble your efforts to leave their house as quickly as possible.
posted by vitout at 7:02 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


It's a lot more dangerous to be homeless than to live in a house with family who go on covid-risky outings. The OP is out of work and staying with family as are so many of us in this incredibly difficult year of unemployment and underemployment and housing crises. So there really is no comparison between the OP choosing to live in the place they found themselves, even if it has some Covid risk attached, and choosing to attend a potentially super spreader event in a packed space filled with many, many maskless people.
That said, the advice to find a way to let your mother know you do feel respect and grief for your uncle sounds helpful, OP.
posted by nantucket at 7:07 AM on March 25 [7 favorites]


(also, as other people have said, this might be about bigger things than just the funeral. I don't know if this applies to you, but often it's hard - especially when living with parents - to switch from child mode to adult mode: to start recognizing the ways they may be taking care of you, and start doing things to care for them. For example - and again, I have no idea if this is relevant in your situation - you'll often have the mother making food for her adult kids, cleaning up after the adult kids, accepting a certain lack of privacy, and doing a lot of (sometimes unwelcome) emotional labor for her adult kids, while the adult kids sort of take all that for granted and don't really do much emotional or physical labor for her. Covid, and your parents' lack of respect for it, could make it harder for you to spend much time with them, but if any of this feels at all familiar to you then you might consider whether her accusation of selfishness also reflects some frustration about being stuck in a somewhat thankless dynamic.)
posted by trig at 7:08 AM on March 25 [15 favorites]


The conflict here is binary thinking. Your family is defining an action as selfish and you are defining it as non-selfish. You are both wrong and both right. The reason for this is that you are using different definitions of selfish.

Your mother defines selfish in terms of her family and herself. It would be selfish to feed starving stranger children when members of the family are hungry. You are defining your mother as selfish. It is selfish to care only for her tribe when stranger children are dying of hunger.

Your mother is not having a logical argument with you, but an emotional one. When she says you are selfish what she means is you are acting in a way that hurts her feelings and doing it knowingly. When you define selfishness as not caring about other people your mother is displaying selfishness way off the charts. Your mother is asking you to care about her feelings - to prioritize them over her safety and the safety of your family members, your safety and the safety of strangers. This is about her feelings. If you care for others out of the tribe it means you care for her less. If you do not believe the same things she believes in, you do not promote your shared tribe above others. She wants to believe that you have shared goals, that you would let a starving child die rather than deprive her of dessert.

Discussing logic with her is counter productive. It will mean you are arguing past and ignoring her feelings. Mentions of the new strains that are more contagious and other people's lives mattering, and risk make her feel less supported and less affirmed and less prioritized, so anything you say as an argument to explain your motives is irrelevant to her. All she will hear is "I love you less than strangers. I love you less than the inconvenience. I doubt your wisdom and competence."

Your mother has lost a member from her tribe - your uncle - and her every instinct is telling her that the tribe needs to rally and find him - since she knows where he is, the tribe needs to rally and face that he is dead, to see him and confirm, to display that they all searched and that he was a member of the tribe they would sacrifice for, to affirm that they are tribe. Her feelings are that experiencing the closeness of tribe will make her and everyone feel better, process their loss and be a stronger tribe. She is hearing you state that you don't care about your uncle, about her, about your tribe.

It is highly unlikely that anything you can say will make her accept your decision not to go to the funeral. It is highly unlikely that anything you can say will make her feel that you are prioritizing her feelings, and your own small tribe that includes her and your uncle and you. This is why the threat to cast you out of the tribe - by her definition you are acting like a cuckoo, living with the tribe and taking the benefits but with completely other goals and affiliations, exploiting her tribe by pretending it is your own. The fact that you have different beliefs make you non-tribe as share beliefs are the basis of tribe. Habs fans are a tribe because they all believe the Habs are important and interesting, Americans are a tribe because they each believe they are an American and have common goals and interests. She is a member of a tribe that believes Covid is not a significant risk and saying otherwise to her is like reciting the Satanic Creed instead of the Lord's Prayer.

Keep in mind that you cannot manage other people's feelings, and you mother will have to live with her pain of loss from losing your uncle, and her anxiety caused by not being able to control you, or other factors in her environment. There is nothing you can say or do that will completely save her from those things. There are no perfect words.

However if you want to communicate with and reassure your mother you can make some headway by saying things to reassure her that her tribe and she are both valued and prioritized by you. How much you can do this and what you can do is up to you. You know her better. She would probably be more reassured by concrete actions than words - calling your cousins and crying on the phone with them, writing a heartfelt detailed and specific eulogy for you uncle and sharing it, begging them to make it possible for you to join them at the funeral over zoom, finding something that needs doing to help your tribe and doing it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:13 AM on March 25 [16 favorites]


Sorry for your loss. My grandfather died last month and I made the same decision to not travel for the services as they were held indoors and while social distancing was promised I was appalled to learn that there was a visitation/receiving line and everyone was hugging. I then worried about my family, particularly my unvaccinated mother and grandmother, for the next two weeks.

It was an entirely selfless decision, which is how my partner and I have been living mostly cut off from the world, except for groceries and occasional walks. We understand your decision and hope that you can process your feelings in your own space. Funerals provide a release/comfort for the living, so be sure to find that for yourself.
posted by icaicaer at 7:24 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Have you considered that your mother may not want to face the embarrassment of trying to explain your decision not to attend? Of course, that's probably only a part of her reasons for pushing you so hard to attend, but how can she explain your absence as covid-averse while she and much of the rest of the family attends, hugs, eats together and whatever else occurs. She may feel that family will criticize her for allowing you to be absent while living in their house. You may be portrayed as an ungrateful louse by family, and your parents as suckers for letting you, a covid believer, live with them. This would be upsetting and uncomfortable.

On the other hand, perhaps if you can speak to your mom in a less inflamed moment you could suggest excuses she could offer for it, unless she's already broadcast your refusal to the family. If she already has, whatever you can do to show your grief over his death to both your parents and the wider family will probably help repair your reputation. If it's safe for you, attend the burial at a distance - you don't want family to descend on you but some people will note your presence, and you will feel better. Send flowers if at all possible, send notes or cards of condolence. If easels holding boards with photos of the deceased at the funeral or viewing are common in your area try to gather photos to include, and display them in as artistic a manner as you can. (Give this to your parents before the funeral to take with them. The funeral director can supply easels if requested).
A family member in my family died and I did not attend the funeral. The family is Catholic and I sent a Mass card and attended the socially distanced Mass, though I'm not a believer and they know it. To my surprise word about the Mass got around and a few other family members attended. They appreciated the gesture and I felt good about doing it. Is there a similar gesture you could make?

How about your father? Is he any more amenable to talking to you? Maybe your mom always takes charge, but he is your dad. Maybe he could help turn the temperature down if he at least can see you are sincere in your grief but worried as hell about them attending and maybe catching a variant. Try to help them see it's not all about you but also them.

Incidentally, I would bet you will not be the only scientifically wise member of your extended family, and there may be other absences that could help your mother understand that you are not unique, and neither are you a traitor to the family. This is hard. Really hard. I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by citygirl at 7:58 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


I would identify this as snowflake behavior on your parents part. For instance, someone else wears a mask and people accuse them of "theater". Someone mentions they got the vaccine and people say "they already had COVID and they're not going to". Political demonstrations "disturb them". They ignore social distancing and are more concerned about the economy than the death toll. I always think: gosh, it must be hell going through life when everything disturbs you.

For that matter, speaking of hell, there is this wonderful Zen story. Also C. S. Lewis said hell is a sprawling suburb, because nobody there can stand to be close to anyone else.

I am not saying your family is awful. I am just saying that you are trying to deal with both sides of the equation simultaneously, to minimize disagreement with them and risk to you. You are trying to come to a "net zero", but there's only so much that can be done in trying times like these. I liked your point about 6 billion people dealing with this. As Patton said, quantity has a quality all its own!
posted by forthright at 8:06 AM on March 25


She said this was about family and that COVID was not an excuse to neglect family.

You have my permission to tell them about my OWN family:

One of my cousins sadly met with an accidental death a couple weeks ago. We are all crushed about this - but we are waiting until the summer to have a memorial for him, precisely because a mass gathering right now is unsafe, and we don't want to endanger each other because, as your parents state, "we don't want to neglect family".

Your parents are sad about your great uncle, just as sad as my family is about my cousin. That's STILL no reason to risk bringing MORE people to death's door. Our memories will still be just as warm in a few months when it's actually safe for us to gather and share them.

I'm sure that the family who lived close by him - his brother, his kids, my brother, my parents - are having smaller informal gatherings to support each other. But flying the rest of us in from New York and Pennsylvania and California and Arizona and dragging us through airports doesn't have to happen until it is SAFE for it to happen, and if anyone still feels uneasy that day, the rest of us will understand, because we are family and the point of a family is to support each other, and supporting each other means RESPECTING if it is unsafe for any of them to travel.

I'm perfectly serious, you can tell them all of that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]


There's lots of wisdom in this thread.

I think it's a pitfall to cast this as a black and white argument too. This is how I'd approach it with your mum, with the idea that you are in fact transitioning from child-space to adult-space and treating her with care despite her risk-taking, etc.

First, see if there's something you CAN do around the funeral. Can you go and greet people outside, or attend graveside? If not, can you take charge of something like collecting pictures from relatives and creating a slideshow, or answering condolence cards or calling the florist?

Then go to your mom and say something like:

"Mom, can I talk to you for a minute and just have you listen? I love you, and I'm really sorry for your loss. I do miss Uncle X and I want to honour his passing. Although I can't attend [x things you are not attending], what I can do is [Y things]. Also, I would like you to understand that I am scared (or you could say concerned) that more people in our family will be lost if they get sick with Covid. So I hope you understand my position. You raised me to think for myself, and also care for others, and I'm trying to find a balance here. With that in mind, can I help by doing [y things]?"

If she flips out at you for that, it's regrettable but let her flip out. Meantime, you've listened to her, taken her feelings into consideration, held to your ethics, and offered a compromise.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:46 AM on March 25 [7 favorites]


My broken record on similar topics is that I don’t want to risk infecting [insert beloved at-risk family member]. I haven’t gotten much pushback even if they disagree.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:46 AM on March 25


It doesn't sound like you do particularly respect them, and that's entirely fine, 100% your right. However, it's also pretty natural for your mom to be aware of that, feel defensive and hurt over it, and connect it logically with your non-attendance of the funeral, a ceremonial observance built around showing respect for the deceased and their family.

I strongly agree with Bardolph. I mean, I 100% agree with you that this funeral sounds like a deadly super-spreader event, but the fact that you live with your parents and it sounds like your relationship with them is strained, makes this a bit more complicated.

Regardless of whether your parents have been good about COVID this year, they've shown you love and support by welcoming them into your home. How have you shown them love? How much do you contribute to household upkeep? How often do you cook the family dinner?

Don't go to the funeral. But I agree with those nudging you to consider how else you might contribute to honoring the memory of your great uncle. And perhaps recognize that part of what is happening is that your mom is just feeling a bit unappreciated/judged by you, and is inappropriately lashing out- I know it's hard, but what would happen if while staying firm on not going to the funeral, you showered her with love?
posted by coffeecat at 8:46 AM on March 25 [6 favorites]


Just wanted to point out, as a follow-up to Jane the Brown's great answer above, that there's a strong social class element in how far individuals adopt the morality of family-relationships-above-all-else versus abstract-consequentialism.

Poor, working-class and to a certain extent recently-middle-class individuals often have a much stronger cultural sense of personal obligation within extended-family and community networks. I've seen theories that this is because those relationships offer an absolutely essential buffer against risk: when life happens, having an uncle or a cousin you can rely on absolutely may mean the difference between survival and ruin. But for individuals, it parses out in an intuitive sense that family just comes first.

These norms tend to progressively weaken as families move into the upper middle class, where individuals have enough resources to comfortably weather emergencies on their own, and where the economic incentives strongly favor geographic and social flexibility over strong local ties. Those classes accordingly have the luxury of refocusing their sense of moral obligation on distant, non-relational objects: abstract consequentialist principles, the advancement of science and care for faraway groups in need. But we should be clear that that's just as much a matter of economic privilege as it is a mark of the professional classes being inherently more virtuous and far-sighted. In fact, family-first moral norms end up being a common obstacle to working-class individuals seeking to better their situation: people will drop out of degree programs, bail on internships, etc., to watch their younger siblings or care for a sick relative, while the PMC gatekeepers lament their misaligned priorities.

All of that is not to say that you're wrong to not agree with your mom's strong family-first moral instincts: your culture is your culture, nothing wrong with that. But it might help you approach this conversation more compassionately if you consider ways in which her values have been shaped by her upbringing, background and circumstances, as your own have by yours.
posted by Bardolph at 8:51 AM on March 25 [12 favorites]


I think some people may have glossed over the central point of my comment above, which is that:

The work we do with science is in support of emotions and longings.

People can't trust scientists if they don't trust scientists' emotions.

Since many family members don't have as much science-based knowledge and skills to think things through scientifically for themselves, trust in us, and other science interpreters, is _all they have_ to decide between our words and others' words.


If we behave coldly toward other people (even if they make this necessary by obliterating our good will with selfish shouting), they can't trust that our rational decisions are taking their emotions into account.

If they see that we feel just as strongly as they do -- if they can trust this -- then they are more likely to trust our conclusions. If others' words align with what they _want_ to do anyway, then establishing trust -- by showing emotion -- is even more critical.

This is a real challenge.
posted by amtho at 9:13 AM on March 25 [8 favorites]


I think your family calling you "selfish" isn't about perceiving your decision to be taking something away from them or gaining something you don't deserve, I think it's about feeling that you lack regard and have judgement for them. Neither your decision nor your explanations are neutral; in fact, I find your responses (the one you gave and the one you intend to give) kind of provoking and patronizing --- and I don't even disagree with you.
posted by sm1tten at 9:24 AM on March 25 [8 favorites]


A lot of people are giving you a really hard time on this thread and I want you to know that you don’t have anything to feel bad about. Venting to metafilter about how you don’t want to go to a funeral with a bunch of anti-maskers is not “pretentious” and I don’t see anything in your description of what you said to your mom that comes across as condescending or holier than thou.

You’re entitled to feel the way you feel about this, and outside of showing some grace and patience to your parents during their bereavement you shouldn’t feel any need to perform some kind of display of grief to make them feel better about your decision. It wouldn’t matter anyway. Your family is living in a different plane of reality and there really isn’t anything you can do to change that. I’m really sorry you are going through such a hard time. I would prioritize doing whatever you can to try to find a new place to live, this isn’t a good situation for you to be living in.
posted by cakelite at 9:37 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]


you're certainly entitled to feel however you feel; but your post reeks of contempt for your parents, and there's no way they're not feeling that.

If the point here were to smooth the conflict, rather than demonstrate to them how dumb and wrong they are, you could frame it to them as "I am terrified of catching COVID. I have heard descriptions of it from people who went through it and I am too frightened to risk it. I want to do my mourning for Uncle with love and respect, not distraction and fear. Thank you for understanding." And you would do something nice for your grandparent who lost a sibling, or whoever the relative who was closest to the deceased and is grieving hardest now.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:16 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I think you already know the correct answer and are just looking for validation. No, don't go and be at peace with this decision.
posted by SPrintF at 11:25 AM on March 25


Oh man, OP here. I predicted the disregard for safety and over the last hour I've been hearing conversations about the service. This is not anywhere I want to be.

They are expecting 100 people at the service and party afterward, but the immediate family handling the arrangements and they know that there will be a fair share of people not coming.

There are college kids coming back from Spring break in Florida.

One family group is confirmed as coming that are extremely against all of the COVID precautions.

One uncle stopped by and my mother has her face about nine inches from his face and hovering right over his shoulder. She even coughed pretty close to him without covering her mouth.

I didn't include this in the original posting but my uncle was not a close relation. It is my father's uncle and somebody I have not seen in years. As I suspected, MANY FAMILY MEMBERS HAVE CHOSEN NOT TO GO. At least one group that is very close to the family won't be there. There were some comments and judgments made about that family.

Otherwise, everything is pretty OK around here. Just little passive-aggressive snipes at me from my mother. This is the kind of stuff that is like water off of a duck's back and not a problem for me.
posted by Che boludo! at 12:53 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]


Oh, man. I haven't spoken with my father about this at all. He asked why I wasn't coming and he asked, "why?" I told him respectfully, "Dad? Really?" and he stood there completely dumbfounded. "I told him, "I don't feel comfortable in a church." He still just had a blank look on his face. He asked my mom who else wasn't coming and again, "He asked, "why."

This isn't denial or hesitancy on his part. It's complete naivety. I don't think he knows there are people trying to be safe. It totally went over his head. I'm completely dumbfounded now. He completely respected the decision and it's his uncle not my mom's.
posted by Che boludo! at 1:18 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I understand your disbelief from the encounters that you're describing in your recent comments, but I'm a bit curious that you aren't reflecting on the emotional aspects brought up by amtho, Bardolph, Jane the Brown, praemunire, Bella Donna and others. I'd highly recommend thinking on those sides rather than doubling down on "objectivity", if you'd like to win (or at least not lose) hearts and minds.
posted by Paper rabies at 1:46 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]


I agree on the emotional side and did make those efforts and I think they paid off. Everything has died down. It's hard though to juggle the emotions of others properly when you are being pushed and your emotions are completely being discounted. I'm not perfect, but when you are doing all you can to just remain mindful to not get angry and not do something regrettable yourself it's tough in the moment.

I just realized something, I really cannot change my living situation at the moment. I have no income aside from the Gov't assistance or money otherwise.

If I'm sticking to my guns over the science or doing what I feel is the right thing, let alone my own self-care, I should probably be getting tested myself regularly.
posted by Che boludo! at 2:10 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Well, I think you're focusing too much on your mother's specific description of your behavior as selfish. I think really she just wants you there, and that's the word in her criticism arsenal that came to mind. In normal times, not going to a funeral might be a tad bit selfish? Maybe? Which is to say, you're not there for your uncle but your other family members. Maybe your mom wants you there to support her and/or she thinks you not going will reflect poorly on her as a mother. Likely she also doesn't like that they're doing something you judge to be dangerous. No parent wants to hear their kid say they are being too risky. (Which doesn't mean she's right, of course.)

But! I think there's a real cognitive dissonance in your question. I don't really see how both of these things can be true if you live in your parents home and don't mask up around them:
I have been really careful about being exposed for an entire year.
I should also note that my father and her have not taken this global health crisis seriously at all. They have barely altered their lifestyles.

I'll be honest: the real risk to you is your parents' attendance at this funeral and their general lifestyle, because it seems pretty likely they'd be the way you could catch Covid.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:58 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


OMG you guys. The funeral was worse than I expected. The rule was, "You are welcome to wear a mask. We will not stop you." It was large and only one family wore masks. My parent admitted that they only put on masks to walk in the door. I have nowhere to go. I can't afford an airbnb.
posted by Che boludo! at 8:44 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Sounds like you dodged a bullet. There are good reasons weddings and funerals are among the first events to be banned during pandemics.
posted by benzenedream at 10:46 PM on March 25


I should probably be getting tested myself regularly

and self-isolating while at home.
posted by flabdablet at 12:23 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


[One comment deleted: OP, AskMe is not for the extended back-and-forth, please only comment on your own questions if you have something to clarify or similar, thanks.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 3:04 AM on March 26


Agreed. Self-isolate while at home for 2 weeks after the funeral.
posted by itsflyable at 12:11 PM on March 26




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