Q: What is a former spouse’s responsibility (I am the ex-husband) regarding funeral services when the ex dies? Ours was a long-term marriage that ended in a difficult divorce due to my ex’s infidelity and remarriage. I have three adult children I am very close to, and I’d like to know whether there will be any adverse effects if I choose not to attend the services. What’s good ex-etiquette in this case?
A: Funeral services are designed to offer respect to the deceased, but more importantly we go to funerals to support those who are left behind. Your kids are most definitely grieving at the loss of their mother, and although you didn’t support your ex-wife’s actions, you certainly want to be there to help your children mourn their loss. That would be the reason you would go to the funeral — not for you, but for them. That’s good ex-etiquette in its truest form — Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 1: Put the children first.
You should sit with your children, even if your ex’s husband is nearby, because hopefully you will be able to put your differences aside during this trying time to allow you to be there to support your kids. (Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 5: Don’t be spiteful.) All eyes may be on you, so it’s important to be gracious and keep the drama to a minimum.
In terms of adverse effects: Most believe that death can be the catalyst for putting things behind you — and possibly incentive to forgive. If you don’t attend the funeral, you will be missing a huge opportunity to set the good example and offer strength to your children, plus it will be obvious that the grudge you hold is far more important to you than your children’s welfare. (Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 6: Don’t hold grudges.) If you find that it’s more important to stay home than offer a shoulder to your kids, that’s something to take a look at. It may be time for some counseling to get past your own resentment and anger once and for all.
Finally, being that your children are adults, don’t be afraid to simply ask them what they need from you and how you can help. Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 2: Ask for help if you need it. If your discomfort is obvious, tell them the truth (Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 8: Be honest and straightforward.) “You know I was very hurt by your mother’s actions, but I have always loved you and know you will always love your mother. What can I do to help you?” Tell them that it would be your pleasure to accompany them to the funeral if that’s what they want, but it could be that they need your help behind the scenes, for example, possibly babysitting their kids while they attend the viewing. Asking for their direction will allow you to be the comfort they need.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at: drjannblackstonegmail.com