Family Funerals: How to Keep Out Unwanted Guests
Are funerals public or private?
Public event or private event. Shouldn't that be the planner's decision? Let's say the event is a wedding. It's easy to ban unwanted family members. Simply don't invite them. The bride and groom or bride and bride or groom and groom (and possibly their parents) get to choose who does -- and doesn't -- share the special day. No invitation, no entry.
But what about funerals? Although they are also highly personal occasions, they typically are wide open. Anyone/everyone who knew the deceased may come and pay their respects.
If you are in the position of planning a funeral/memorial service for a loved one, you have a lot to do, usually in a short amount of time. If there have been estrangements, feuds or tensions within the family, you've got those to contend with, as well.
For your consideration, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Can you restrict attendance?
Should you restrict attendance?
What if the person you don't want at the funeral is an immediate family member? How would you achieve that restriction, anyway?
Should you restrict funeral attendance?
Only you can answer that question. There are a few scenarios that suggest putting limitations on the final leave-taking event:
1. Your loved one has stipulated his/her wishes in advance.
Both of my parents were very explicit in their instructions. Well, technically, Mom was explicit. Dad simply said, "I want all the same readings and songs that your mother had." Easy, peasy.
Neither of them put any caveats on who could or could not come to their funerals. That would not have been their way.
2. Budget constraints.
Let's face it. If your loved one was so popular that 350 people show up to bid him/her adieu, it may not be financially feasible to invite them all out to eat afterwards. Of course, not everyone who comes to the ceremony will have the time/inclination to go to lunch.
Socially acceptable ways around this "problem" include:
a) Having the reception at the church or house of worship. Adjourn to an anteroom and have coffee, cookies and fellowship. You'll probably capture more of the audience this way, as they don't have to get in their cars and drive somewhere.
b) Have the interment directly following the funeral. You will lose some (or all*) churchgoers to attrition. You will then lose some of the cemetery-goers, especially if the drive to the ceremony is long and the interment service is drawn out. In short, you will end up with a smaller group for the after-party.
*Remember, you can make the interrent private, thus cutting your ultimate number down to a couple dozen -- or fewer.
3. Geographical undesirability.
This probably goes under "can you restrict" rather than "should you restrict," but I'm leaving it here, as it calls for some value judgments.
Let's say a patriarch lives for 40 years in Smithtown, RI. But when he becomes elderly, he moves in with a daughter in Flagstaff, AZ. He dies in Arizona, but his roots are in Rhode Island. For argument's sake, let's say that the matriarch predeceases him and is buried in Rhode Island. Where should the daughter have her dad's funeral?
You see where I'm going with this....
If she chooses Arizona, because Dad has made some friends out there, the funeral is limited in one way. If she chooses to bring Dad back to lie in eternity next to his wife, it's limited in another way (including financially, considering the cost to get herself, her family, and the corpse across the country).
Is there a right answer? Is there a wrong answer?
Yes. And no.
Can you restrict funeral attendance?
The answer to this one is "yes."
There are five different levels of restriction (and, I daresay, variations within each):
1. Make the funeral itself (typically a religious ceremony) open,but make the interment (burial) for family only.
2. Make the funeral ceremony open, but the after-party by invitation only, and dissassociate the interment (if applicable) from the day's activities.
3. Announce the death with a notation that the funeral is private.
4. Announce the death after-the-fact. (Well of course you will be announcing the DEATH after the fact! I mean place the obituary after the funeral/interment have already occurred.)
5. Don't have a funeral at all. Have a memorial service scheduled some distance in the future. Don't promote it. Make people call you to find out your plans. Then you can decide on a case-by-case basis who you want to invite.
Each of these has pros and cons. Especially #5, as the last thing you will feel like doing while trying to grieve your loved one is try to remember who you did or didn't speak to, and who you did or didn't tell about the memorial service. Oy! Too much work!!!
Your Funeral Experience
Have you ever banned someone from a funeral or related event?
Related Mighty Mom Hubs
Can you ban a family member from a funeral?
I've hubbed extensively on family betrayal and estrangement. Many of you know this subject is quite near and dear to my heart. But having received more comments than I ever, ever expected on my related hubs, I see I'm not alone. Not hardly!
So what about those black sheep* of the family? Can you prevent them from coming to pay their last respects? (Which, given their prior behavior, would be something of an oxymoron, as "respect" is seemingly not in their vocabulary).
*The feud may not be with a family member. I could be with a business parter or ex-business partner. For the sake of brevity, I'm using family member as my example. Extrapolate as needed...
I am genuinely curious to hear how others have handled this or plan to handle this when the time comes. Here are some of my thoughts/ideas on the subject (based, of course, on an all-too-real situation in my own family):
1. You can hope that the person in question "honors" their previous estrangement and stays away of their own accord. This is risky, however. You can't count on estranged family members to behave in a predictable or rational manner. There's a reason the word "strange" is embedded in estrangement!
They may either:
a) Not recognize their estrangement from the deceased. Even though they haven't seen or spoken with their mother/father/sister/brother/child for 17 years, in their mind they are fully entitled to sit in that front row and bawl like a baby. Denial is a powerful tool.
b) See the funeral as an opportunity to either vindicate themselves or atone for their past behavior. They may feel this is their last chance to make peace with the deceased -- either offering forgiveness or seeking it.
c) Attend to spite the other family members to whom they are also estranged.
d) Show up so that no one can later accuse them of not being there. This typically is financially motivated (read: inheritance) and has nothing whatsoever to do with their feelings (or lack thereof) for the deceased.
There are probably many other motives. Not being an estranged family member myself, it's difficult for me to think like a black sheep who would crash someone's funeral.
Nontraditional but functional
Ways to handle the black sheep of the family
So let's say your resident black sheep has the audacity to show up. For whatever reason, you choose not to exclude him/her from your loved one's funeral. Now what?
1. Forgiveness is king. Let's get the Christian solution out of the way first. There is no disputing that this is the best for all concerned. If the prodigal son or daughter chooses his/her parent's funeral to reappear into the fold, take it as a good sign. Assume he/she is there with good intentions. Realize how difficult the estrangement must have been on him/her all this time. Understand that he/she is a broken, damaged soul in need of forgiveness. And treat him/her like any other guest.
2. On the other hand... if you happen to know that the deceased would roll over in their grave knowing the black sheep relative was dared to show up, that's a different story entirely. In our case, the mother has made it patently clear she does not want anything to do with her daughter. She chose not to attend her daughter's recent wedding. She has not seen her daughter in going on one year. She freaks out when the daughter's name is mentioned. I think it's safe to say that if she were alive, she would NOT want to see her daughter at her funeral.
But of course, by the time we're planning her funeral, my MIL will only be with us in spirit. So we will be interpreting her wishes (adding a healthy -- or unhealthy -- dose of our own injured feelings). Nowhere is it written that the daughter is not to attend. So the call will be ours.
Needless to say, in two+ long, intense years of family feuding, I've had plenty of time to think about this. Here are some of my plans to mitigate this situation:
1. As the family eulogist, I could offer my services. Having honed my not-quite-personal but nonetheless biting insult skills right here in the Hub Pages forums, I'm confident I could manage to make a few pointed jabs without invoking a slander suit. It would be a challenge -- but nothing like the challenge my "dear" sister-in-law has put us through already!
2. We had my father-in-law's after-party here at our house. That is now tradition, and we see no reason to break with it. Accordingly, it is a safe assumption that wayward daughter wouldn't dare show her face at my door. If she does, I would take great pleasure in slamming it in her face. She is not welcome in my home under any circumstances.
No wait. I take that back. In the unlikely event that she offers to make amends and is genuinely repentive of her sins against her mother and brother, I would definitely want to hear her out.
3. We have also tossed around the idea of forgoing a church service entirely. Since the family church no longer exists (literally -- it was sold) and my mother-in-law has no affiliation with any other church, we'd have to shop for a place to hold her funeral. That seems a little odd to me. Our hope is that we can invite the family pastor (assuming he's still with us when the time comes, as he's in his 90s) to our house for a memorial service.
You may call this plan diabolical. I call it practical and efficient.
And in the end....
Note to self: "It's not about you."
The important thing is to make the event a fitting tribute to the deceased. That's what really matters.
Whether you invite the universe or keep things private, spend lavishly or go the simple route, whether you include or exclude certain people, if you do what's in your heart, you will do the right thing.
It is probably premature, but I am sorry for your loss. I am doubly sorry that in your time of sorrow you're having to think about such a crazy idea as banning your own family member from the funeral! Regardless, I'm glad we both have Hub Pages to air our concerns. I hope my musings have given you some comfort.
All the best to you and your loved ones. Mighty Mom