Ask a counsellor: Do I have to attend my father’s funeral?

Ask a counsellor: Do I have to attend my father’s funeral?

Trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises on funerals in lockdown.

The problem…

“My father and I haven’t spoken much in the past 20 years. Since he and my mother separated because of his aggressive behaviour whenever he was drunk (which was often), I really didn’t want to have anything much to do with him.

“He was in his seventies, in a care home where he was (by all accounts) disliked by almost everyone. He died last week of Covid-19 after spending a couple of weeks in hospital.

“I’m not grieving for him and I don’t regret not having seen him or anything, but I do have a problem which I’m not sure how to deal with.

“I’m the eldest of his three children and my younger sister wants to organise a funeral. Being younger, she never really saw him at his worst, as he and mum separated when she was only nine. She is being encouraged by my uncle, my father’s brother, but I just don’t know whether I can face going, and I’m wondering if I can use the virus as an excuse.

“Everyone is going to be saying things like, ‘He was a lovely man’ or, ‘We’ll all miss him’. Well I know better, and I don’t know that I could keep a lid on my temper in the face of all that hypocrisy. I was close to my mother, who died some years ago, and as far as I was concerned, I said my goodbyes to both my parents then.

“You probably think this is a dreadful way to feel about one’s father, but do I have to go to this funeral?”

(iStock/PA)
(iStock/PA)

Fiona says…

“A lot of people will tell you that ‘blood is thicker than water’ and that family ties are the most important ones you will ever have. I’ve never felt that way, personally, and, as you’ve found, it certainly isn’t the case for you.

“Sometimes those responsible for our birth are not those we feel closest to and, from the way your father behaved, it’s hardly surprising you weren’t close. I can’t judge your father – alcoholism is a terrible disease and I don’t know what caused it in his case – but I can empathise with your views.

“I can well imagine that going to a funeral where his praises are going to be sung would be extremely difficult for you, but how do you feel about your uncle and sister? Would you be concerned if it damaged the relationship you have with them?

“If their relationship with you is not a concern, just tell them you’re not going. The very fact you’ve written to me, though, makes me think you do care what others think.

“At the present time, the number of people who can attend a funeral at all is severely limited. Government guidelines advise that the number of mourners should be “as low as possible” and that those attending should be at least 2 metres (6 ft) apart. You could therefore offer to stay away so that others, who were closer to him, can attend. Alternatively, you could tell a white lie and say you or a family member are displaying symptoms and you’re having to self-isolate. Or you could go and remind yourself that you are there to support those who are grieving.

“Controlling your temper if people are saying things about your father that you don’t agree with might not be the easiest thing to do, but think about your sister, instead. Funerals at the moment are all very short anyway, so the chances are there won’t be much said that you’d find difficult to hear.

“On top of that, you can’t all get together afterwards for a wake because of social distancing regulations, so you’re not going to have to listen to very much.

“Whatever caused your father to be the way he was, he’s gone now, so don’t let him continue to find ways to hurt you, by separating you from other loved ones.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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