Thursday, November 30, 2006

What would you do?

I have a question that I'd like to hear your opinion on. A friend of mine is grandfather to two young children. Mom and Dad are divorced. The kids live with Mom. Dad just died unexpectedly. These are children, so the situation will probably be different for them, but it got me thinking about what would happen if my Dad died. I've been reading, researching, and writing a lot lately and thinking about the issues we face as children of divorce. One of them is this sense of feeling alone, even in our families. I know some of the loneliest times I've experienced were at my paternal grandparents' funerals. They were always my anchor to my dad. When my grandma died, my grandpa was lost in his own grief. When he died, I had no one else to lean on. Maybe it's just part of growing up, this having to be the strong one at funerals. But on that day, I know I was grateful just to have my mom and stepdad send flowers to the funeral. It made me feel, in just a small way, like they were there with me, like I wasn't alone.

But I want to hear from you. If you're a child of divorce, would you want one parent to go with you to the other parent's funeral if you were in that tragic situation? If you're a divorced parent, would you go with your child to the funeral of their other parent? Let me hear your thoughts.


Kelly C said...

Great question, Kristine. I have thought about this a little at one time or another.
I do not think I could get thru my Dad passing without my Mom, but if my Mom passed I must say it would be much more complicated to have my Dad there. I think for those of us with siblings - their relationship with the parent who "was not there" and regretfully still is not there for them comes into play. I would want my Dad there, but think it would be too painful perhaps for my brother considering he has not seen or spoken to our Dad for many, many years. In that case, I would put my brother's feelings above my want.
Additionally, I think since the passing of someone brings out all sorts of emotions in all sorts of ways - the reaction of the passed parent's family to the divorced spouse would have to be considered. No one wants a terrible situation made worse by an aunt or grandparent making a scene over the divorced spouse being present. The new spouse I would think needs to be considered as well, if there is one. How would they feel?

Kind of like when you get married or have a baby as a cod - it really is not about what you want, you have to take other people's reactions and feelings into consideration. My girl's first birthday will come up soon and I know I cannot have my Dad there at her party. I would love to have him there and he has been nothing short of wonderful as a grandfather to her, BUT I cannot imagine how horrific it would be if I did. Some people would freak out and I could see them leaving.

Again, great question, Kristine. I will look forward to the answers of others.


lelnet said...

As I commented once before on this blog, I was in fact in this situation father died last year.

I did everything in my power to talk my mother out of going. She insisted on flying down to New Orleans and driving to Baton Rouge with me (to "support me") and then managed to spend the entire time complaining about her current relationship problems, while I was trying to focus on dealing with the fact that now I'd never get a chance to know my own father.

It was hell. Funerals are, of course, always a difficult experience, and the complex nature of my feelings about my father and his death would undoubtedly have made this one worse for me than most. My father's sister and her husband (an aunt and uncle I barely know and hadn't seen in at least 14 years) bent over backwards to make my experience as free of trauma as possible, and for that I'll be forever grateful...especially since if I'd been any more frustrated and angry, I might have killed my mother.

But then, not every divorced parent is my mother. Some aren't in the middle of their own relationship soap opera when their ex dies. Some are better at controlling the soap opera and focusing on what's appropriate for the moment. Hell, a lot of them are probably capable of really knowing what "supporting" their kids during a traumatic experience actually means, and refraining from doing things that don't qualify. Moreover, had my father died when I was still an actual child, my mother's involvement would have been essential to my attendance at the funeral at all, and so I can hardly say universally that someone in her position shouldn't go. (At 29, with my own MasterCard, frequent flier account, and car rental program, I was quite capable of making it on my own.) It is, obviously, complicated.

So here's my advice to divorced parents in this situation:

IF you're sure you can avoid making the whole thing about you, AND
IF you can avoid getting involved in a massive spectacular fight with your former in-laws (whether initiated by them or you), AND
IF you think you really know what your children need emotionally and can give it to them, AND
IF they need you to attend either for practical or emotional reasons, OR you feel you need to attend for your _own_ emotional reasons,

THEN you should go. Otherwise, stay home.

Brad Carlson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brad Carlson said...

If you're a child of divorce, would you want one parent to go with you to the other parent's funeral if you were in that tragic situation?

Wow, what a thought-provoking question. I think if my Dad had died when I was younger, I would want my Mom with me. Dad basically cut off all contact with my brother and me when we were ages 6 & 8, respectively. We felt quite betrayed and flat-out unloved as a result. My Mom, bless her heart, never denigrated my Dad for his despicable behavior. That said, we would have needed her there to reassure us that Dad did love my brother and I despite his ignoring us. My Mom would have obliged.