Does mom need to go with her kids to ex-father-in-law's funeral?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 8, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

My children's grandfather is dying. He is the father of my ex-husband. I have remarried so there are a lot of grandparents in my children's lives, but he is their first, and true, granddad who knew them from birth (they are 9 and 11) and he has stayed in their lives even when their dad was inconsistent.

I have taken them to visit him and it has been very sad, and hard but they needed to say goodbye and we have had some good conversations about him, the three of us. I've also followed all the advice about having his photo around, etc. My question is about the funeral. I feel they are old enough to go & they have already said they want to. Do I need to go or can they go with their father? (He does not have other children.) If you think I need to go, can my husband go, too? He only knew my ex-father- in- law slightly.

From: MB, Portsmouth, NH

Dear MB,

When children attend a funeral, the rule of thumb is for them to be with an adult who will be physically and emotionally available to them, someone they know well, are comfortable with and trust. This person needs to be able to explain to them what's happening (about the people who speak, about the coffin, pallbearers, why people might be laughing, etc) to comfort them, and to answer any questions in a developmentally appropriate way. The person needs to know he/she can't disappear on them, or be so wrapped up in his/her own grief that it makes him/her unavailable to the kids. If that person can be their father, that's fine. Factor this into your decision, too, though: often the adult child of the deceased is not the best person to be with the children because he can't give them his undivided attention: too many people will be expressing their condolences and wanting to talk to him. If it can be another relative, also fine. Same caveats apply, however. Otherwise, it needs to be you. And yes, I think it's totally appropriate for your husband to attend with you. You're a family. One other thought: it sounds like this man was a wonderful grandfather to your kids; why wouldn't you want to go?

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7 comments so far...
  1. As I finished reading MB's question my first thought was "why wouldn't MB want to go to her ex-father-in-law's funeral"? From what she described the ex-father-in-law was in her and her children's life and a good grandparent - just because he's is no longer "technically" your father-in-law shouldn't mean one does not attend that person's funeral.
    So after reading your response Barbara - especially your last sentence/comment/question - I feel good that my initial reaction was not off base.

    Posted by Freer Huguenot September 8, 11 11:45 AM
  1. I understand why she might be reluctant to go. The reason is other people. Other people might judge her for being there since she is an ex-daughter in law. My MIL attended the funeral for her ex's Mother. Her ex, my FIL, was grateful for the gesture and the support. His siblings were nasty to her. Hopefully this Mom will take a deep breath and go in support of her kids. The kids, at least, will be grateful she did.

    Posted by merilisa September 8, 11 01:30 PM
  1. I simply can't understand why they can't all go to the funeral, Mom, kids and step-father. Paying your respects is to me a very basic part of civil society. As an example, often when funerals are at churches many members of the congregation attend, not because they are ranked highly in terms of closeness to the person who died, but because they want to pay their respects and witness the funeral ritual. I think the Mom has every right and perhaps obligation to attend to pay her respects and to assist the children. Funerals are not usually by invitation only. It may be that the Mom will only want the children to go to part of the activities around the funeral, depending on whether there is an open casket, or whether there'll be an interment immediately following the service. Perhaps she can ask the children how they'd feel about those things.

    I always think that funerals are for the living, not the dead, and what could be a more powerful message to the children that they are surrounded by loving and supportive family than to have all of the adults who love them attend and pay respect to the memory of their grandfather?

    Posted by Favorite Auntie September 8, 11 03:32 PM
  1. I'm not sure I understand why the children's father isn't the one making the arrangements here for how to include HIS children in HIS father's funeral. Which sort of says to me that she should be there to be there for the kids.

    Posted by reb2 September 9, 11 01:02 PM
  1. When we lost my sister-in-law several years ago her daughter-in-law (no such thing as x in her world, just the Mom of her grandchildren) showed all of us what an amazing person she was. She stood close to the children while people paid their respects and accepted the respects paid her with grace. Just because her x-husband and her were not together did not mean they couldn't both support their children and pay respect to a woman they both loved. And yes, her second husband was there as well, a really nice man. Children are lucky to have all the family they can get at such times.

    Posted by aueudumu September 9, 11 01:54 PM
  1. Excellent advice, Barbara. And I'll bet you know I don't often post praise here. :-)

    Posted by geocool September 9, 11 05:11 PM
  1. If I were in this situation I would go. 9 and 11 are old enough to go to a grandparent's funeral. The father is dealing with his own grief and responsibilities for his father's funeral. He's being pulled in many different directions by family, friends and funeral directors. He might not be able to give the children the comfort and reassurance that they need. This is where Mom comes in. She's a little bit detached from the situation and can take the time to give the kids the support that they will be needing.

    Posted by BeenThereDoneThat September 9, 11 07:36 PM
 
7 comments so far...
  1. As I finished reading MB's question my first thought was "why wouldn't MB want to go to her ex-father-in-law's funeral"? From what she described the ex-father-in-law was in her and her children's life and a good grandparent - just because he's is no longer "technically" your father-in-law shouldn't mean one does not attend that person's funeral.
    So after reading your response Barbara - especially your last sentence/comment/question - I feel good that my initial reaction was not off base.

    Posted by Freer Huguenot September 8, 11 11:45 AM
  1. I understand why she might be reluctant to go. The reason is other people. Other people might judge her for being there since she is an ex-daughter in law. My MIL attended the funeral for her ex's Mother. Her ex, my FIL, was grateful for the gesture and the support. His siblings were nasty to her. Hopefully this Mom will take a deep breath and go in support of her kids. The kids, at least, will be grateful she did.

    Posted by merilisa September 8, 11 01:30 PM
  1. I simply can't understand why they can't all go to the funeral, Mom, kids and step-father. Paying your respects is to me a very basic part of civil society. As an example, often when funerals are at churches many members of the congregation attend, not because they are ranked highly in terms of closeness to the person who died, but because they want to pay their respects and witness the funeral ritual. I think the Mom has every right and perhaps obligation to attend to pay her respects and to assist the children. Funerals are not usually by invitation only. It may be that the Mom will only want the children to go to part of the activities around the funeral, depending on whether there is an open casket, or whether there'll be an interment immediately following the service. Perhaps she can ask the children how they'd feel about those things.

    I always think that funerals are for the living, not the dead, and what could be a more powerful message to the children that they are surrounded by loving and supportive family than to have all of the adults who love them attend and pay respect to the memory of their grandfather?

    Posted by Favorite Auntie September 8, 11 03:32 PM
  1. I'm not sure I understand why the children's father isn't the one making the arrangements here for how to include HIS children in HIS father's funeral. Which sort of says to me that she should be there to be there for the kids.

    Posted by reb2 September 9, 11 01:02 PM
  1. When we lost my sister-in-law several years ago her daughter-in-law (no such thing as x in her world, just the Mom of her grandchildren) showed all of us what an amazing person she was. She stood close to the children while people paid their respects and accepted the respects paid her with grace. Just because her x-husband and her were not together did not mean they couldn't both support their children and pay respect to a woman they both loved. And yes, her second husband was there as well, a really nice man. Children are lucky to have all the family they can get at such times.

    Posted by aueudumu September 9, 11 01:54 PM
  1. Excellent advice, Barbara. And I'll bet you know I don't often post praise here. :-)

    Posted by geocool September 9, 11 05:11 PM
  1. If I were in this situation I would go. 9 and 11 are old enough to go to a grandparent's funeral. The father is dealing with his own grief and responsibilities for his father's funeral. He's being pulled in many different directions by family, friends and funeral directors. He might not be able to give the children the comfort and reassurance that they need. This is where Mom comes in. She's a little bit detached from the situation and can take the time to give the kids the support that they will be needing.

    Posted by BeenThereDoneThat September 9, 11 07:36 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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