I'm looking for some advice on how to skip my grandmother's funeral grac
May 25, 2023 1:29 AM   Subscribe

My grandmother's funeral is coming up and I don't feel like I will be able to attend it.

I live far from my extended family, on the other side of an ocean. I haven't seen them in three and a half years, mainly because of the pandemic; I found a sense of peace with not visiting them for so long, and really began to understand who I was. I started therapy and learned a lot about the trauma that they put me through, even if I had never noticed it before.

The last time I went to a funeral in this family, they insulted and manipulated me until I was a depressed basket-case with suicidal thoughts. That was over ten years ago and I still just have a dusty grey space of hurt reserved for this memory. After I left, I continued to get lit-up for not being "supportive enough". My crime: being sad. Being quiet. Being uncomfortable around my formerly abusive sibling.

I would very much like to not go. They are demanding answers, TODAY! I looked at plane tickets a week ago and felt something like panic.

I'd like to tell them that I want to visit but after the last three years, in which my partner was directly affected by the war, I don't have any more energy for such a thing as a funeral. I don't feel that it will help me much, as I tried to visit my grandmother as much as possible when she was alive, and I rarely feel the kind of closure that other people report after they go to funerals. After the last funeral, I view funerals as minefields.

How can I gracefully do this? What are my rights? Do people really skip funerals? How can I do this and minimize the negative consequences for myself?
posted by chiorlemas to Human Relations (26 answers total)
“It’s not possible for me to attend.”

I’m sorry that they’ve put you in a position if having to ask.
posted by SillyShepherd at 1:44 AM on May 25 [25 favorites]

You can absolutely skip the funeral, it's your right to process your grief in the way that works best for you. People really do skip funerals (I skipped my father's, for example), but it is difficult to minimise the negative consequences of skipping them. However I still think skipping funerals can be the right decision, if you can handle the potential disapproval and hurt feelings that it might cause. I think it's one of those situations where there's no good choice available, so you've got to pick the least-bad of two unpleasant options.
posted by Brioche at 1:46 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

You will likely get a few answers here telling you to buck up and go to the funeral. Don’t listen to them. There might be consequences but it sounds like if those consequences are that your family stops trying to interact with you or demand your presence then that’s a good thing. If you think not going would lead to your abusive family making the journey to harass you in person, that seems like the only reason to make yourself attend. But if escalation to that extent or similar is unlikely, then it sounds safer for you to stay home. If your grandma was someone you loved be sure to mourn her in your own way at home, with some sort of structure that feels right to you, and use the strength that gives you to rebuff or ignore your relatives.

One way that you might approach further needling from your family is to talk about it like it’s a foregone conclusion that you won’t be attending. “Will [other relative you like] be there? Be sure to give them my love when you see them.” “I’ll be lighting a candle all day for Grandma and keeping her in my heart.” “[Partner] is going to cook [Grandma’s recipe] for me, isn’t that sweet?”

There have been many more generations of people who haven’t been able to travel to a funeral than who have. It’s okay to miss this one. Normally I highly recommend attending funerals even if it’s hard, but your personal safety sounds like it’s on the line here, and would set further precedent for people to feel like it’s okay to harm you. That’s a no-go. If you have the chance to attend other funerals that aren’t so trap-laden, do try your best to go so you can have some okay funeral experiences. It can be very important for the living that they see people at a funeral, and chances are high that as you build a life full of good supportive people that you will befriend at least one such person.
posted by Mizu at 2:47 AM on May 25 [15 favorites]

I had to do this recently and I had corona and didn’t want to spread the infection even though I knew people didn’t mind as much anymore. I only
Found out at the very last minute.
posted by pairofshades at 3:16 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

Funerals are for the living, not the dead, and the living in this case sound like assholes. If you can't tell them you don't want to see them, tell them you are coming and then get COVID, so sad.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:32 AM on May 25 [43 favorites]

You absolutely can skip funerals. When my grandmother died, one of my aunts stayed home; she and that set of aunt/uncle/cousins lived on the other side of the US from Grandma. She was not one of my grandmother's biological kids, and she also had a fear of flying, so she stayed home while the rest of the family came east for the funeral, and we all understood. She told us that on the day of the funeral she would go on a solo hike to a mountain my grandmother loved to visit and think about her instead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:08 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify- I did what darling Bri said. But I bought refundable tickets so could show my itinerary and let the family know I hadn’t gotten on the flight so nobody could argue.
posted by pairofshades at 4:54 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

Best answer: To approach this from a different angle: I would not necessarily expect someone to make an intercontinental flight at enormous expense of time and money on short notice even for a funeral. The nature of living on the other side of the world from your family is that you will not be able to make it back on short notice except for the absolutely most critical situations.

I think it's weird and unrealistic for people to assume that their relatives will always be able to incur these costs and that if they don't it's some kind of slight.

I think you should skip this funeral. Tell your family whatever you feel will get them off your back - you can't afford it (unless you think this will make them offer you money), you've just tested positive for covid and can't guarantee being well enough to fly, your partner isn't doing well and you can't leave, etc.

It sounds like maintaining a strong relationship with most of these family members is not a priority for you because they are not able to be good to you. If that's the case, start deprioritizing their feelings and "appropriate" family behavior. This is not something that people should do lightly, IMO, but if you've been in therapy and have a clear sense of what you need, then you can stop treating them like they have extraordinary claims on you. If "family" is just "you show up at great trouble and expense every so often for them to hector and bully and go home worse off than you arrived" then you're not really in a situation where you owe them. There has to be some real reciprocity on average to maintain family relationships. It's not that it needs to be even-steven or perfect, but it shouldn't just be that one person is miserable so that the others can play happy families.
posted by Frowner at 5:29 AM on May 25 [43 favorites]

I really can't favorite Frowner's answer enough. This is a situation where I think you can feel OK telling a white lie about something making it impossible-- it sounds like it's pretty close to impossible anyway-- and say how much you would like to be there and do something like send a letter, send flowers, call or write to the parent whose mother she was. If it applies of course.

My father's mother died when I really had zero chance of getting to the funeral, plus my relationship with both that grandmother and my father was almost nonexistent at that point. I phoned my father the morning of the funeral and asked how he was-- literally just, "Good morning how are you doing?"-- and he was very stressed out and said a few words and pretty much hung up on me but later commented to someone how nice it was I'd called.

Whatever you do, I hope you can take a moment to mark your relationship to your grandmother, good bad or whatever. Doesn't have to be right now.

My condolences.
posted by BibiRose at 6:07 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

People skip funerals. It's OK to put yourself first. You do not owe an obligation to be present for the funeral.

Do they need money for expenses? Or a showy set of flowers? You can arrange to send one on a tripod to the funeral home with a big banner that says dearest grandmother. Or some such.

Honestly, they want to know if you're coming so they can stop thinking about it. Do yourself a favor and tell them no so you can stop thinking about it too.

Edited to add: I have a budget for stuff I don't want to do, that is less than the cost in terms of time, money and energy of my attendance. Sometimes it's $200. Sometimes it's $500. Whatever it is, I feel I make my contribution to the event in a way that is comfortable to me and doesn't require the blood sacrifice of my presence.
posted by jello at 6:09 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

How can I do this and minimize the negative consequences for myself?

With good boundaries. You let them know that you're glad you saw your grandmother before she passed and that unfortunately you can't make it to the funeral. You could distract them by asking if they will have a Zoom part of the funeral (if that's a thing there - it definitely is here.)

And then you don't discuss it further. If they call to yell at you about it you say, "I know it's sad for you, but I've made my decision. I don't want to argue so I'm going to hang up now...love you, chat in a week" (or whatever the usual gap between calls is.) If they keep calling, you don't pick up. They are far away from you and you have a whole life where you are.

If you want to do something on that day in solidarity of course you can.

I second everything Frowner said as well.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:23 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

They are not going to be satisfied or mollified if you attend the funeral. It will only serve to make you unhappy. I have a black-sheep cousin who was essentially shouldered out of family events because the family was offended that she did go to all the funerals, but didn't go to all the weddings. If you can't do anything right in these people's eyes, they will find a way to make whatever you do wrong, and you might as well not put yourself through the heartache.
posted by babelfish at 6:24 AM on May 25 [14 favorites]

In case it matters, I'm one more voice saying to not go, and give whatever excuse/explanation gets you off the hook with the least drama. (And this might be as simple as "Sorry, that won't be possible" and then refusing to discuss it further, rather than some elaborate excuse that invites discussion and speculation."

If you were close with your grandmother, you can create your own private remembrance in whatever way is meaningful to you.

But when families are not healthy, then maintaining good boundaries is the only way to protect yourself. They are unlikely to change and become healthy and positive people to be around, so continuing to not be around them is probably your best plan.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:10 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

"As of today, I can't say that I'm attending. If I change my mind, of COURSE I will not expect any accommodation or time of you all -- please plan as though I'm definitely not attending, and assume that if I change my mind I'll take care of all arrangements myself -- it will be my own fault for taking so long to decide. Let's not talk about it anymore -- I want you to be as unstressed as possible, so take me off your list of stressors.

[IMMEDIATELY change subject]

Buy hey, more importantly, how are you all remembering Grandma right now? Is everybody talking about her terrible Boston Cream Cake recipe? Who is taking care of her yard?"
posted by amtho at 7:34 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ordinarily, I am in the "you have to show up at the damn funeral" crowd, but the reason for that is to maintain your relationships with the survivors and do your part to sustain your social world at a difficult time, not because it is vitally important to the well-being of your soul to walk into a church for an hour. If the survivors have always been cruel or abusive to you, so that the "relationships" are really just claims on you to endure mistreatment, then there is no need. It's not a decision to be taken lightly, but it sounds like you've given it a lot of thought.
posted by praemunire at 7:43 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

(...Unfortunately, though, you can't really minimize the negative consequences for yourself in the short term, as it sounds like these people will be awful to you regardless. The long-term way to minimize is to separate from them so they no longer have power over you and you feel confident walking away from them whenever they have the audacity to be unkind to you.)
posted by praemunire at 7:45 AM on May 25

Add me to the list of people saying pretend you're going, purchase a refundable plane ticket, and then come down with Covid at the last minute.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:09 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I skipped my horrible grandma's funeral. No regrets. none. Literally used SillyShepards advice above, which is usually attributed to some Mrs Manners but I attribute to ThePinkSuperhero's response in the infamous Shawl thread.

My suggestion if you need to say more is to offer "remember how sad I got at the last funeral? remember how you said I wasn't 'supportive enough'? Judo their bad relationship habits back onto them.

Or, if you want, you can volunteer how you will memorialize your relative in your own way.
posted by zenon at 9:35 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

You are not skipping your grandmother's funeral. You are declining an opportunity for family members to treat you badly.

The question is how to manage the process. You can tell them that you choose not be experience their nasty behavior; this will cause tons of drama, and in my experience, confrontation doesn't resolve problems and takes a lot of effort. You can tell them you have a flight, even make a refundable reservation if you want, give them flight numbers, etc., and then cancel because you have Covid or whatever, or any excuse you want. You can say I'm not able to make it and then not discuss it further. You have a pass. You do not have to spend time with abusive people. You do not have to read their texts and emails or answer their calls, though reassuring 1 person that you're safe is a good plan.

I am not telling you to go. I don't think you should go. But, if you get bullied or guilted into going, go for 1 - 3 days, carryon only, then take a taxi to the airport without any announcement, just email them that there was a problem with your return date and you're at the airport getting on a plane. Or, since it's a huge trip, just go see anybody you want, anyplace you want, and don't tell them. Your health and self-respect is worth far more than any ticket.

You do not have to explain your decisions. You do not have to report on your whereabouts, other than not scaring people. You do not need their permission for anything. You have found a way to live your life beyond their reach; that's fantastic, Good Job! You may find that some people in your family have love and good things to give you, if that's the case, accept love and good things. You absolutely do not have to accept abuse, meanness, hurt, unkindness, 'teasing', cruel fake 'honesty', etc. I wish you the best.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on May 25

How can I do this and minimize the negative consequences for myself? The negative consequence is that some people in your family disapprove and will gossip about you if you don't go. The same people disapprove and will gossip about you if you do go. You can't win in this scenario. The positive consequence is that you don't experience the abuse and unkindness.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 AM on May 25 [6 favorites]

"I am sorry I will not be attending the funeral. Rather than spend all that time and money to fly half way around the globe, I will be memorializing Grandma here on the day of the funeral and I will be making a donation to a mental health charity in her memory. I know Grandma would have wanted it this way."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:51 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

The only good thing about the pandemic is being able to say "I have Covid and can't attend that event". Doing so is positive for everyone as it both gets you out of the event, AND normalizes being considerate and choosing not to spread illness. This is a perfect time to use that excuse. I'm sorry about your grandmother and I hope you can find some way to honour her memory that feels right to you.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:57 AM on May 25

This feels like a classic double-bind. They treated you badly last time, and they're treating you badly this time. To be sure: demanding an answer TODAY is more abuse. The sense of peace you've found since being away from them is evidence you can use to know that low/no contact is the healthiest choice for you.

Furthermore, you had your own relationship and visitations with your grandma, so it's not like you didn't care about her or anything. I don't know if that's your family's motivation in pushing you to go, or if you have to go because you're supposed to go.

In any event, you don't have to go and you can be in good conscience about it. Celebrate her in some way (or make something up) that you can use to deflect when you talk to family afterwards, but I think the "gosh darn it, COVID!" is the easiest and most certain solution.
posted by rhizome at 5:29 PM on May 25

Add me to the list of people saying pretend you're going, purchase a refundable plane ticket, and then come down with Covid at the last minute.

Don't buy the plane ticket because why should you waste time and money to satisfy people like that? Just do some research and tell them you're arriving on x flight etc and anyone that demands to see a printed itinerary can go jump in the lake. Don't let them know you're not coming until it's too late for an alternative transport plan.
posted by dg at 8:17 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Definitely do what you think is best in your actual situation, but I'm always a fan of keeping excuses short and not elaborate. So "I'm sorry, I have an unavoidable conflict and will not be able to attend" would be for me better than an elaborate ruse where you say you would attend but then "get covid" or whatever. Having more moving pieces in the story gives windows for things to fall apart or get complicated (like it turns out that your aunt will be nearby and offers to check in on you, so now you are trying to decide between seeing her and acting like you are sick, or getting into an elaborate back and forth where you say you are isolating and she says she just got over a case and anyway would wear an N-95 and meet outdoors, and so on). Keeping it simple will help keep people from digging in and trying to "solve" seemingly practical issues, and also keep the story from unraveling. .
posted by Dip Flash at 7:44 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers.
posted by chiorlemas at 1:28 PM on May 28

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