Death Etiquette: Pay Your Respects, Even If They Hate You

by Bill Brenner on June 16, 2012

Someone I know just learned that her ex’s maternal grandfather died. Though this man was like a grandfather to her, she’s getting pressure to stay away from the wake and funeral because her ex-mother-in-law doesn’t want her around.

Some of you might say she should stay away, that her ex-mother-in-law’s wishes should come before other considerations. After all, it’s her father who died, and she needs all the comforting loved ones could give her. She shouldn’t have to see people she can’t handle.

I can appreciate that sentiment. But I don’t agree.

Mood music:


I recently went through a similar experience. The dad of one of my best friends passed away last fall. Nobody told me to stay away, and they wouldn’t have done so. But various members of the family have been angry with me in the last decade and a half, so I felt some pressure to stay away all the same.

In the end I attended the wake and the funeral. Some of the family were as cold to me as I had expected. But the deceased was a great man who played an important role in my life, so I’m glad I did it.

And that’s the point, really: When someone you care about dies, you have to do what you feel is right to honor that person’s memory. If that person was special to you, then your presence will honor them. The desires of other mourners — no matter how close they were to the dead — are secondary.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you flaunt your presence in front of those who may not want you there. Go in, quickly offer them condolences, say a prayer in front of the casket and go find a corner where you don’t have to see certain people. There will always be someone there to talk to, and they won’t care if you get along with the family or not.

If you stay away because someone can’t handle you, it’ll haunt you forever. That would be a damn shame.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne June 17, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I’m not sure I agree with you on this one, Bill. Memorial services are for the survivors, not necessarily for the departed unless that was expressly asked on their deathbed. Instead, we show support for those survivors at the service and honor those who’ve passed in the way we carry on daily in their memory. I’ve seen some really ugly behavior at memorial services because of the overwhelming grief on one side and guilt on another.

Christy June 19, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I agree Bill. I feel we all have a right to show our respects to the person that has meant so much to us while they were here. I think the way you described it was fairly discrete and respectful. These things are for the survivors, not just the family that is surviving but all those that loved the person that has now passed. Extra prayers can’t hurt right?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: