Thursday, November 5, 2015

Funeral Etiquette – Should I Stay or Should I Go?
To Attend or Not to Attend

My father-in-law recently passed away.  He had been sick for a while and we knew that the end was near.  Nonetheless his death felt sudden and premature. 

The first few days after his death were surreal.  We felt as though we could not function normally.  But despite our feelings that operating in any useful fashion was impossible…we had to.  We needed to plan a funeral…and attend it. 

And as though the extreme sadness surrounding the death of a loved one is not difficult enough to cope with, for many people the funeral itself, although a well-intentioned ritual, can also be a source of great stress.  For various reasons.   

I had many anxieties surrounding the funeral.  Some were significant concerns, others less so.  During my various “what I dread about the funeral” thoughts - consisting of a wide assortment of potentially disturbing occurrences – I contemplated all sorts of things – including who might show up on that day to pay their respects.

In particular I was concerned about an ex-friend of mine.  Let’s call her Trudy.  Trudy and I had a falling out last year. It was long overdue.  She was one of my oldest friends – but we should have broken up years and years ago. 

I did not want her coming to the funeral.  She had the leading role in one of my many cringe-inducing “what I don’t want to happen at the funeral” ruminations.  It was certainly not one of my more serious concerns surrounding the funeral – but nonetheless fell into the category of “hassles that I do not want to have to deal with on that day”.

But, predictably, characteristically and unfortunately, Trudy showed up.  I would have expected nothing less from Intrusive Trudy. 

I know that there are many people – including my ex-friend Trudy – who believe that at these terrible times – the death times – the moral high ground consists of letting go of whatever insignificant and seemingly immature conflicts that may have occurred in the past - and coming to pay your respects to the deceased and provide support to the loved ones.  I think that most people believe that that is what mature and non-petty humans do. 

But I could not disagree more. 

From my perspective, Trudy showing up to the funeral was inconsiderate and a self-serving action that made her feel better…. and me feel worse.  

I did not want Trudy there.  During these emotionally difficult times – I am a firm believer in being surrounded by only two categories of people; those people who I like and whose company is a positive for me and those individuals who I feel neutral towards and whose presence is innocuous (perfect strangers included).  But….the category of people I certainly do not want present in these times are those who I have animosity towards, who make me feel uncomfortable or who stir up negative emotions in me. 

I had no desire to make nice with Trudy.  I had no desire to thank her for coming.  I actually wanted to do just the opposite.  The minute I saw her I felt like yelling my head off at her and telling her all that I have felt like telling her throughout the years.  That she is intrusive, imposing, domineering and manipulative.

But alas….I could not do what my heart desired.  I couldn’t do so because I knew that indulging in my wishes would be seen by most as profoundly socially inappropriate.  I kind of didn’t want to be the brawl-starting, scene-creating mental degenerate at my father in law’s funeral.  So I had to do the opposite of what I wanted to do – and hug her and thank her for coming. 

While at the funeral – I did not want to worry about having to conceal my negative feelings toward Trudy because she had come to pay her respects.  She did not know my father-in-law, had probably only met him once or twice in our lives. She was coming to support me and my husband.  But really me.  Because I used to be her friend.  But that was no longer the case.  Our friendship had evaporated.  It no longer existed in the here and now.  And as an “ex-friend” she no longer belonged in either the supportive or the neutral category of people whose company I am comfortable with.  She had entered the domain of the undesirable – the negative triggering category.  That category of people who give life to your dark side – who frustrate you, and who you are better off not fraternizing with. 
Trudy showing up to the funeral brought me the opposite of “support”.  It made me have to deal with the discomfort of her being there, it made me get trapped into talking to her - when I really had no desire or intentions of talking to her again.  It took time away from being with the people I did want to be with.  But she, in her characteristically manipulative way, found a way to force my hand and create a situation where I had to engage with her in a pleasant manner.  The opposite of what I felt like doing.  And in her - what I consider to be flawed logic – she was doing the “right” thing. 

Many years ago, my boss died of cancer. He was 48 years old.  He was diagnosed in February and died in October of that year.  Five months before his diagnosis he was fired.  His firing was the quintessential example of injustice.  The powers that be were mindless and conscienceless sheep who sided with appearances over reality and justice. 

About two weeks after his funeral – I happened to bump into his wife at a mall.  She seemed lost and devastated – walking around aimlessly.  We spoke and my heart ached at how broken she was.  As we talked she told me about how angry (on top of unbearably sad) she had felt at his funeral.

All his old bosses and colleagues who he had felt completely betrayed by had shown up to the funeral.  They had come bearing a deceitful badge of “I am a morally upstanding individual who can properly distinguish the important from the unimportant and who has an understanding of moral priorities…and that is why I am here paying my respects”. 

Nothing could have been further from the truth.  These individuals were (and remain) morally bankrupt beasts. They were incapable of distinguishing (or utterly unconcerned with) the fundamental principles of right and wrong. Their firing of my boss was outrageously and shockingly unjust. 

But from their twisted and self-serving viewpoint - they were doing the “right thing” by “putting differences aside” and paying their respects.  The profound moral hypocrisy of these individuals.  They had showed him the opposite of respect in his life.  Their actions were the polar opposite of moral, fair and considerate. They robbed him of his career, of his livelihood, of his security and of his self-esteem.  They had dealt him the harshest (most undeserved) blow they could have and had done so in the most egregious and unjust way possible – and now they were coming to pay their respects???

His wife wanted nothing more than to confront them and launch into a long fantasized about diatribe – unleashing all that she and her husband had long dreamed of telling them.   She wanted to finally get the chance to deliver her and her husband’s “victims impact statement” and let them know just how much harm they had inflicted on their lives. 
Then she wanted to have them escorted out by security.
Preferably in handcuffs.

But she couldn’t…..inappropriate for the circumstances. 

So she had to endure their intolerable presence.  
One did not need to be Sigmund Freud to know that my boss had been devastated by their actions, that he saw them as having ruined his life, and that his wife shared his views and despised them.   It boggles the mind that these individuals could be so harmfully self-serving that they could show up to the funeral and convince themselves that to do so was appropriate and morally upstanding.  As opposed to what it actually was…. enraging to the grieving family and disturbingly two-faced.  

Their judgement both in life and death was unconscionably flawed. 

Let it be known that in no way am I comparing what those individuals did to my boss – to the issues that Trudy and I have had over the years.  There is no comparison.  Zero are they in the same league.

But….although many would agree with my view that those who fired my boss should have NEVER attended his funeral – the discussion becomes much greyer when dealing with the milder and more common interpersonal conflicts such as the one between Trudy and me.

There are many reasons why relationships sometimes come to an end.   And sometimes, in light of death, those reasons can seem insignificant. It is apparent that many people believe that funerals are a time to put differences aside.  And maybe, if both parties believe that the differences are truly insignificant than that is an appropriate approach.  But my guess is that most interpersonal conflicts that lead to the end of relationships are not petty.  True - they are generally not caused by egregious transgressions that are widely viewed as insurmountable or unforgivable. 

But despite the fact that the conflicts and the ensuing end often do not consist of one unforgivable deplorable offense – it does not necessarily follow that the conflicts that did take place were insignificant and therefore easily surmountable.  The final breaking point usually comes after a long line of problems – during which it became clearer and clearer that the two personalities were ill-suited for one another.  The flaws that the respective parties saw in one another (or at least one in the other) were just too frustrating or annoying for the relationship to be sustained.  The relationship had just become more negative than it was positive.  

In my view, funerals are a time when people should act consistently with the way they acted towards the bereaved or the deceased while they were alive as well as in keeping with the existing state of the relationship at the time.  They are not a time to self-servingly redeem oneself or to present as a morally upstanding specimen who has his/her priorities straight.  Attending the funeral when bad blood still exists (between the grievers or the deceased) is an opportunistic and passive-aggressive behaviour that brings discomfort to the griever(s) – at a time when all that they should be receiving is comfort.  

So…here are my final two cents regarding appropriate funeral attendance;

If you have done something terrible to another human being – do NOT show up to their funeral.  Your time to show them (and others) that you were a morally upstanding, decent and considerate human being was while they were alive.  
That ship has sailed. 

And….if you have had a falling out with a friend and the friendship has ended and you are aware that negative feelings still exist – stay home.  If you are unaware that they have negative feelings towards you and they do….you are an inattentive and insensitive half-wit.  No wonder they are no longer friends with you. 

Attempts to mend the relationship should have occurred before the grim reaper arrived. 

Shame – not pride – is what unwelcome funeral crashers should feel. 

I think that I am going to try and have an addendum added to people’s Last Will and Testament.  It shall be entitled; “List of individuals Banned From My Funeral”.  
The list should be published in the obituary. 

I will start composing mine now. 

It may take a while.