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How does a Family Deal with Estrangement at a Funeral



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How do you cope with estranged family members at a funeral? It is difficult to even think about it especially if the members were once very close to you. Families drift apart because of different reasons and some of them are reasons that cause estrangement and hard feelings. When it becomes inevitable for the entire family to gather in one place for family unity it can be a time of healing or, more than likely, a chance to put the problem out there in front of the world.  The person who is estranged from the family has a lot of decisions to make:

   1. Is the deceased's funeral something the estranged person needs to attend?

   2. Can the estranged person act like an adult at the funeral and not make a scene?

   3. Will the remainder of the family be able to act like adults without causing a scene?

   4. Will someone in the family try to use the event to force a confrontation under the guise of a reconciliation?

   5. Is the estranged person actually honoring the memory of the deceased by attending the funeral or would it be better if he/she     said good-bye in private at a later time?

   6. How will other people react to the appearance of the estranged person at the funeral? Does he/she really want to go someplace   he/she is not welcome?

When the estranged person arrives at the venue for the funeral, he or she will be shown to a seat. Will he/she be welcomed to sit with the rest of the family in the front pews of the church or  the funeral home? In most cases, the person will be escorted to the last row of the family seats and, more or less, isolated there. For all appearances, the estranged person will appear to be welcomed back into the family fold. Whether or not this is true will only be obvious to those who are very close to the other family members.

It is possible that the wishes of the deceased family member will have dictated how the remainder of the family will treat the estranged. If the estrangement was with the person who is now deceased, the estranged person may be requested to appear but not sit with the family. He/she may not be included in the gathering after the funeral and may not be invited to any of the other family member's homes. If the estranged was mentioned in the will he/she will be notified when to return for the reading of the document.

Family estrangement is a problem which is difficult to overcome. There are always two definite sides to the story and many times a family can be split over who to believe. Sometimes the disagreement is so toxic that it will destroy an entire family. In this case, if the estranged person finds out the family member has died and decides to go to the funeral, he/she will not be welcomed by other family members and will usually be treated as a total outsider. The only reason for the estranged person to attend the funeral in this situation would be because of a personal feeling of honor. In this case, the estranged person should try to arrive just prior to the door of the venue closing for the service and should sit in the very back where he/she cannot be seen by the family members. The reason for being at the funeral in this situation would be for the estranged person to pay his/her respects only; not for recognition that he/she did come to pay respects. 

If either the estranged or the family members that remain desire to make the funeral a situation for healing, the process should be begun prior to the gathering conducted to view the body (sometimes called a Wake). The estranged person should be invited to the home of the oldest family member and should be made to understand that he/she is accepted back into the family no matter what the original situation might have been. Then the entire family can attend both the Wake or Viewing and the funeral as a united group.

More about this author: P.D. Rivers

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