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How a Family Can Get Through an Argument-Free Funeral

Updated on December 9, 2016
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.


You're never ready:

You may think you are ready. But you never are.

Or the death might be completely unexpected and decisions have to be made that no one is prepared to make.

The death of a loved one is never easy, but too often it brings out the worst in a family. It doesn't have to be that way. Here are some ways to make the experience as "less-painful" as possible.

When the call comes with the dreaded news that you or your family has suffered a loss, it is up to each member not to judge one another for the limitations their lives place on them. Those who can drop everything and go where they are needed, should be appreciated for doing so. But those who can't - can't. No blame should be assigned to any decision. Give each other permission to do no more than you can do as individual members of the family. This is not a time to keep score. It's a time to support each other.

Our speech filter is often the first to go:

This is also not the time to settle old scores. It is the time to set aside differences and remember those things that bring your family together, not those things that in the past have torn you apart. My mother and sister-in-law had not spoken in years. But when mother passed away, it was that sister-in-law who remembered some significant details that made mother's service special for us.

We all say things when we are under stress, and grief is basically stress on steroids. We can't do anything about how others react to what we say. But we can do something about the words that come out of our own mouths. Try. Try to make your default position one of saying as little as possible until you've given yourself the time to think about what you really want to say. This is one of the few circumstances in life when most folks will give you a pass on conversation. You've lost a loved one. You don't owe anyone a comment, an explanation, or a play-by-play description of what you are feeling at any given moment.

When it comes to what others say, now is the time to be generous with the benefit of the doubt. Yes, the loud-mouth brother-in-law will probably be true to form and say something inappropriate at just the wrong time. But, he could surprise you, especially if he's already lost a parent or someone close to him. Grief sometimes softens the sharp edges.

But if it doesn't, tune him out. If that is easier said than done, ask someone he usually gets along with to do what they can to marginalize him. Give him a job to do. Send him on an errand. You are not required to deal with folks who upset you right now. Yes, you will be required to again in the near future, but not right now. Give yourself a break.

Give yourself a break:

Take the time you need to make the arrangements for the visitation and services. If it's going to take cousin Jane four days to drive in from California, and you really want her to be there for you, then wait the four days. If your minister is out of town over the weekend, then plan the funeral for after he gets back. This is your family's crisis. Minimize the stress of the situation for your immediate family as much as is within your abilities.

Rank has its privileges. Those closest to the departed get priority over those in the extended family. Let the second tier friends and relatives make the runs to the airport, house out of town guests, or bear the expenses of travel, hotel and meals. Just remember later who was helpful and demonstrate your appreciation - later.

If someone asks if there is anything they can do to help - give them something to do. Let someone else do one of the things you don't really have to do yourself. It is amazing how things pile up, and any help at all ends up being a true blessing. See that you make the opportunity to return the favor someday when it is their turn to grieve.

Let the spouse, the siblings, and the children of the lost loved one contribute to the memorial. Ask those closest to the deceased what song, scripture, poem, flower, or tribute would make the services meaningful for them. You might be comforted to know who remembers what about the person you've lost. When we were making the arrangements for my mother's funeral, I couldn't remember her favorite Bible verse, but my sister knew exactly which one it was. One of the granddaughters remembered which two verses of an old hymn were mother's favorites. My brother had a poem he wanted to read at the funeral. I doubt Mom had ever heard of it, but it added so much simply because he wanted to include it. My sister's children had a song they wanted to sing at the graveside. All these things made that very hard day so much easier because the responsibilities didn't fall on just one or two of us. We shared it. And it was comforting to know we would all do our part.

How has grief impacted your family?

Has the loss of a parent brought you and your siblings closer together?

See results

Settling things:

When it comes to settling the estate, things might be all planned out or things might be left in a state of chaos. Those circumstances are beyond the control of those who are left behind. Some of these argument-avoidance measures need to be done ahead of time by the one who passed away. With that fact in mind, here is an idea my family cringed at when it was first mentioned.

Years ago my parents started "the list." They wrote down everything they felt was worth passing on to someone in the immediate family. Then they sent the list to their oldest child, encouraging her to sign up for something she wanted to have someday. She sent the list to the next sibling and so on and so on until it came back to the oldest again. This process continued until there was a name next to each item. Eventually the siblings picked out things for their children as well.

We all hated this idea. It was creepy and we didn't want to think about losing our parents one day. But when that day eventually came, it was so much easier to know who was getting what without anyone getting their feelings hurt. As it turned out, when reality hit, some of us had changed our minds or our situations made it impossible to stick to "the list." We traded one thing for another through negotiations and compromise that probably wouldn't have been possible if it was simply a free-for-all with all of us fighting over things. Each of us was comforted having something of Mom or Dad's to remember them by. The things we didn't want to choose ended up connecting us to them after they were gone. We were grateful they thought up "the list" so there was nothing to fight over or resent.

There is nothing easy about losing a loved one. But often we make it even harder than it has to be because we let our feelings run away with our better judgment. The family we are left with after a loss can be better than it was or worse. Often it is our choice.


This video is highly inappropriate, and I apologize in advance to those who are offended. I've included it to show some funerals are worse than others. And sometimes you just need to laugh.

A more dignified glimpse of a funeral:


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      17 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Reposting for a friend who is going through this situation right now. If it helps someone else - more the better.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      19 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      A good friend just lost his mother. She is to be buried at Arlington with her husband who was killed in Vietnam 40+ years ago, so their grieving is going to be prolonged for months waiting for a funeral date. Do any of my followers think the advice in this hub will apply to them?

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      20 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Time heals - or so they say. Hope it does for you. This hub came out of the death of my Mother four years ago. A fairly divisive group of siblings drew together in our grief and have remained close. Mother would love that.

      Unfortunately our Dad starting seeing (or began openly seeing) a woman the day we all left after the funeral, gave her an engagement ring a month to the day of Mom's passing, and pretty much upended our relationship with him. We survived the funeral, but had no idea the crisis that was headed our way afterwards.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. In the long run, you may do better than we did! I hope so.

    • Your Cousins profile image

      Your Cousins 

      20 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      I'm sorry to say that our family is still feeling the negative effects of a death in the family. Your blog rings true. I am sure our family will heal in time.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      20 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I just checked the poll on this hub, and I'm alarmed but not surprised that a larger percent of folks are more estranged from their family after a funeral than are closer. I'm lucky to be in the minority, but our family wasn't all that close before losing my Mom. She'd be thrilled that we are closer now. Unfortunately, the one we are all estranged from now is my stepfather. But that is his choice. Life is full of surprises!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      21 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Learned a lot on this subject four years ago this week. Hope it helps anyone in these circumstances.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you for the comments. This is a hub I recycle from time to time, and each time it impacts people who are willing to share their experiences for the benefit of the rest of us. Thank you.

    • dranisha profile image



      Good read kathleen, it's a very common thing an argument in a family when someone powerful passed away unexpectedly. The bond in families breaks then. Its a tragic fact. You did a good work. Many are least bothered to do, even it needs much attention.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Kathleen....Seems a shame, doesn't it, that this topic should be something to discuss, but you're so right. At such a sad and tragic time, when emotions are high and family members must all gather together, it can certainly get messy if not handled properly.

      I've not personally experienced issues of this nature, but definitely know of families who quite unfortunately have had severe problems during a wake and funeral of a loved one.

      A childhood friend of mine who became an Undertaker and owns a local Funeral Home has shared some stories with me that I would not otherwise believe except that they come from him. Just horror stories from family feuds carried out in public to all out physical confrontations at the cemetery.

      All I can think is just how much worse can anything be to bring such disgrace and disrespect to the dearly departed and to themselves.

      Your ideas and suggestions are wonderful. More people should be proactive and prepared to do their best and be at their best honor of the memories of the deceased... UP ++++

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      3 years ago from Norfolk

      I am sorry for your loss and grateful that you shared this advice. I have been to several funerals lately, each so different in their way. I learned more about the dead from the living because each of the family members shared their own personal memories with those present.

      Thank you for sharing this in such a sensitive way.


    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Audrey: I wanted something good to come from what we went through when we lost my Mom last year. Thanks for your comments.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      4 years ago from California

      This is such a difficult time--emotions and stress run high--such a thoughtful hub with really good advice

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Such thoughtful and good advice Kathleen. I suppose every family is different and faces the loss of a parent differently, but I think your cautions and admonitions could apply to almost any family. Taking one's time, with-holding judgement, giving difficult personalities something to do, sharing the responsibilities among family and friends - such sensible advice for such a difficult time. I am sorry for your families loss, but grateful that you have turned that loss into a blessing for others. Sharing.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Your Cousins: I'm so sorry for your loss. I didn't realize how much those words could mean until I lost one of my parents. So glad you have great memories. I do too.

      Welcome to my hubs. Make yourself at home.

    • Your Cousins profile image

      Your Cousins 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      For my family, the death of a parent brought some of us closer together while others have drifted away. Things will never be the same, but we cherish the great memories we have of the dearly departed.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      teaches12345: My heart goes out to you. Part of the reason I wrote this hub was watching my friends' families being torn apart at this crucial time in their lives, especially knowing their parents and how badly they tried to avoid these situations. I was the last of my circle to loose a parent, so I had the benefit of their experiences. And then there was the small issue that the first day we left my Dad alone, he started seeing a woman be told us three weeks later that he was going to marry. That really drew us together! Nobody gets through this experience unscathed.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      Funerals do cause high stress among family members. I only wish I would have had your advice when my siblings and I passed through this time of our life.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It is a lot of responsibility to be the "go-to" sibling. I know. I was it for my parents. We tried very hard to include the brother who was 4 states away. I also tried to get my sisters in-state to help out with the chores of caring for an aging parent. They found it easier to leave it all to me.

      I don't know what it is like to be in your shoes and be the one away. I'm sure it's difficult to be left out. Hopefully someone who reads this hub will be able to speak to your situation. I do know it takes more than one sibling to keep the peace. One thing my brother did for us all the way from Texas when my mother was in the hospital. He sent us dinner! He called a local pizza place and paid for dinner to be delivered one night when the rest of us were at Mom's. It was so sweet.

      We aren't all just nice people. We've had our arguments in the past. Somehow, for us, losing our Mom brought us together. Good luck.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      The information given here is very timely. Both my parents and in-laws are nearing the end of their lives, and we haven't even been able to get through a holiday without an argument! I dread the thought of what it will be like when it comes to a funeral! My parents live in another state, and I have several siblings that are taking care of them at this time. I have to keep my distance, as I have been told already that I need to keep quiet rather than telling them what to do. My in-laws live in the state, but several hours away. We are uncovering more information on a regular basis as to how they are "really" doing. We are definitely going to need a lot of patience when it comes to planning when they are gone!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I am so pleased with the views I've received on this recent hub, but so few comments are making me wonder how helpful this effort has been. If you have an experience with a family dealing with a loss, please share it. We can help each other here, I hope.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Faith Reaper: Thanks for your comments and for adding to the message of this hub. It was funny. My brother and sisters have always gotten our feelings hurt over this and that, and generally not been able to be together for very long without some problem developing. When our Mom passed away last January we melded and worked together and helped each other like we never have. And it's lasted! Hey - maybe Mom was the trouble-maker!!!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      Excellent points made here to consider when it comes to that time in our lives when we are truly not ready! Arguments at this sensitive time in our lives, are the last thing anyone truly wants and, as you pointed out, due to the stress of taking care of all the arrangements, such things do come out. It is important to do as you have reminded, to allow time for all family to be together, no matter if it takes some longer to arrive than others.

      Up and more and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      DDE: You are quickly becoming one of my most faithful readers. I almost didn't post this hub on a Saturday for fear no one would see it. Glad you did and hope it is a help to you if this situation arises in your family.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      How a Family Can Get Through an Argument-Free Funeral very helpful, informative and sounds a great suggestion in such times.


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