Thoughts on attending memorial service

What do you do if you are invited to a memorial service for someone in your extended family whom you really don’t have any feelings for, and whose closest relatives you feel somewhat negatively towards?

A teen killed himself. His mother is my wife’s 1/2 sister. We had not seen them more than a couple of times over the past decade, tho we live within 10 miles of each other. As far as I could tell, the 1/2 sisters had no affection for each other. (Wife’s family is EXTREMELY fucked up - plenty of resentment to go around.)

I can’t even imagine how horrible it would be for anyone to lose a child. But I really don’t have any feelings for the deceased or his parents. And I find it hard to imagine the mother would WANT our support. I guess it is one of those extended family obligations, where one’s absence would be more notable than one’s presence. And I guess we would be showing support for other members of the extended family…

I tend to be an emotionless bastard. Figure I’ll look somber and say as little as possible. But I hoped you could share your thoughts and experiences to help me get my head in the right place.

If the mother didn’t want your support you wouldn’t have been invited. Go.

Does your wife want to go? Your job is to support her in this situation.

Yeah, my wife said she is going to go. The invite came from my FIL. Wife called her 1/2 brother from whom we are not as completely estranged, who said “Of course, we are welcome.” So I see it as an extended family thing. Meanwhile, I have a hard time imagining the mother of the deceased has any interest in seeing us there.

I’ll support my wife, and keep a low profile.

That ought to do fine. I’ve only been to a few, and you can get by pretty well by ordinary standards of common-sense courtesy. Only say good things about the deceased, be sympathetic to the bereaved, etc.

I was at a memorial for a guy who, frankly, I hated in life. He was an obnoxious boor. But…he’s dead. He’s gone. And he has family who loved him. I went to his service, and sat through the religious stuff that I don’t believe in, and even spoke about a couple of the times he and I had fun together. Maybe a little hypocritical, but here’s my reasoning:

He would have done the same for me.

FWIW. When my husband died, I was deeply touched when people came whom I didn’t even know, but my husband did. I appreciated everyone who did come more than you can imagine. This was the biggest, most painful event that ever happened to me, and the idea that strangers (to me) would take time out of their busy days to come and just be there for an hour or so was deeply moving and frankly, humbling. Before this, I didn’t think it mattered all that much whether I showed up for a funeral/memorial service. But I learned that your presence can mean a lot. Possibly all the more because your sides of the family are somewhat estranged. I think often people don’t realize how much these things matter until (sadly) it happens to them.

The death of a child… by suicide…? I can’t even begin to imagine (being childless) what those poor people are going through. I say, go, and all you ever have to say to the grieving people is, “I’m so sorry.” No more, no less.

My brother and I are planning a public memorial service for our mother who died last month. The funeral was very private, because she died in the tiny town where she for the last 16 years with my stepfather, and which is way up in Maine. Nonetheless, lots of people showed up to pay there respects, and help out my stepfather, who is having a tough time (My own father died 20 years ago). The memorial will be in NY, where most all the extended family is, and where she grew up and spent her professional life. We planned the memorial in the banquet hall of her favorite restaurant. The response has been so overwhelming, with so many people saying they want to be there, that we have had to book the whole restaurant because of fire codes.

I don’t know half these people, but it’s good to have this sort of response. I did not get along with my mother for a long period of my life, and even lived with my aunt and uncle instead of my parents for several years. Still, we were getting along very well in the last ten years or so, and family is still family, at least in my family. My mother did not like her brother much, but he is coming, and I don’t think he ever would have considered not coming-- they still loved each other, I think, though; you can love someone without liking them.

I know other people who have lost someone, and said that having a well-attended service has been a comfort. Even if they did not recognize everyone, looking out at a sea of faces is helpful. It makes you feel that the life of the person you lost mattered, in the “For whom the bell tolls” sort of way.

Just going to fatten up the crowd is meaningful.

Unless there is so much bad blood that there is likely to be an altercation in front of the casket, I say go.

And as someone else said, if your wife wants to go, support her decision. It’s what you’d want from her if this were your side of the family.

Funerals have the best food.

There’s no downside to just showing up. I went to a funeral for a cow-orkers’s husband. I barely know her and and never met him. She made it a point to say how much it meant to her.
I’ve never been to a funeral where there were recriminations and conflict, but I think it would be fun.

A person died. The survivors want to validate that person’s life. Go. You will make the living happy.

My initial call would have been to stay home but with a specific invitation from your FIL I would go. Its almost like he is asking you for some level of support for some reason and I would make it for his sake if no other.

This may sound crass, but the downside for me would be missing out on things I’d rather be doing. I hate funerals. I did not attend my dad’s (he wouldn’t have been surprised) or my mom’s. I did attend my gf’s father’s, because she asked me to.

I’d rather go for a walk, do yard work, go boating, do some shopping; all the while reminiscing quietly about the departed.

Part of the problem is that my wife’s family is so fucked up, that public “shows” like this are about all there is, instead of any honest shows of affection…

Can’t imagine how tough it must be for the parents, but I really can’t imagine that my wife’s and my appearance will make things any better for them. But it will likely be appreciated by the FIL and 1/2 brother. Not that we’re terribly close to them either.

I’m from the tradition that appearances at such things are - at the very least - family obligations. Whether or not there is anything you’d rather be doing. So I’ll go, stand around, see if I can do anything to help my wife. Then at least no one can fault me for NOT appearing. (Her family is all about score keeping, and remembering decades-old slights - real or perceived.)

IME, even a pro forma show of affection means something to people who’ve lost a loved one. And a family death often brings people together. I’d go, though I wouldn’t judge anyone who didn’t.

This is the crux of it: you really CAN’T imagine…until it’s the funeral of your loved one. Then you won’t have to imagine, you’ll know.

Reading your threads, your wife’s extended family is really fucked up. No doubt about that. I would think that your wife needs as much emotional support as she can get. I’d say go for her and don’t worry about anyone else.

Bonus points if you can get though the entire event without pointing at FIL and loudly proclaiming “See!”

Update - attended the wake. Pretty uneventful. HUGE crowd - would’ve taken 2 hrs to get through the line (but we cut to the front.) Think it would have been exhausting for the family in the line, but the parents seemed to derive great comfort from the idea that their son had “touched so many lives.”

Me being the cynical jerk I am, I wondered about the reasons for so many hundreds of people attending - but they are all certainly free to have whatever their own reasons. I’m pretty sure at least some of the family was glad for our attendance, and my wife was glad to have attended. She will attend the service today. Looking for silver lining, it may be an initial step in improving relationships within her family.

Like I said, everyone is free to have their own reaction. But - as I’ve felt on previous occasions - it really impresses me as sick when someone comments that the deceased is “in a better place.” Especially when the deceased was 15 years old. Mysterious plan my ass!

I am in full agreement with this post. My dad died suddenly at the age of 54 twenty-four years ago. My son died from cancer 2-1/2 years ago at the age of 30. Until you go through this yourself you will NEVER understand.

I knew certain people that would be at the funerals without a doubt, but when I saw people that I didn’t expect to see it touched me so much. To know that these peoples’ lives were touched by my dad and my son or that these people cared about me and my family that much really made my heart swell. My son was a standout hockey player in high school. The coach brought the whole current high school team dressed in their jerseys to the funeral. I can’t even describe all of the emotions I felt.

Yeah, that’s fine. And if it gives the surviving some solace or comfort, that’s fine. And I acknowledge I am a cynical, heartless, nontheistic bastard. But as I saw all these HS kids - for example - milling around, I wondered at the extent that the deceased had really touched their lives, or that they cared about (or even knew) the family.

Sorry for your losses TRC, and no need to reply, but I question - for example - how the current hockey players were touched by your 30 yr old son, or why they cared about your family? But it provided you some positive response, so it served some purpose. Whatever it takes to get folk through difficult times.

Jake was well-known to the hockey players and coaches. At the end of the season, the kids have a tournament amongst themselves called the Jake **** Memorial Tournament. The coaches talk to the players about how Jake lived his life. His jersey and picture hang in the arena. So, yea he meant something to them too.