Funerals and Family Feuds
The death of a close family member is one of the most stressful events a person can experience. Grief, sadness, frustration, heightened anxiety and anger are commonplace. Some describe feelings of shock, depression, confusion and a myriad of other disturbing emotions. The impact that a loss has on an individual and a family, as a whole, can be devastating. While experiencing these emotions family members are expected to make funeral arrangements, financial and other decisions and entertain or be cordial to family and friends who come around to express their grief and hopefully, provide support. Funerals bring out the best in families and the worst in families, because our emotions are so raw and acute at the time of loss. This time can be a breeding ground for family feuds.
The loss of a loved one brings a family together to make decisions and plan a meaningful memorial for their dear departed. The immediate next-of-kin, is legally responsible for and entitled to make the funeral arrangements. (Exception: Any person who is appointed an agent under an Advanced Directive, supercedes the next-of-kin). But oftentimes, adult children, siblings, in-laws, cousins, parents, step-children, etc. want to participate and have a say in the planning. For example, a woman loses her husband and his mother and siblings ask or expect to accompany her to the funeral home to make arrangements. Or a married woman with adult children from a prior marriage dies and her children expect to have a say in her funeral arrangements. This is well and good as long as they all get along and have a good measure of respect for each other. A problem presents when there are pre-existing conflicts and, or the person in charge makes a decision that other family members disagree with.
I participated in a seminar recently on getting one’s affairs in order. An attorney was one of the speakers and shared that major disagreements are not necessarily the exception, once a person dies. The question of what I am entitled to do or have, related to the deceased person’s affairs and assets can be a spark that ignites a huge fire. This stress is a horrible add-on for a family just trying to get through the next day and cope with the tremendous pain they are feeling.
Let’s consider some strategies that may be helpful in avoiding a family feud:
1) Pray without ceasing, 2) Agree to table all conflicts until after the funeral, hopefully weeks after, 3) Recognize that you are not the only one who loved the deceased person, and try to compromise and make concessions, 4) Bring a neutral and respected mediator into the picture, such as a Pastor, to help keep the peace, 5) Think of how the deceased loved one would feel about such strife or think of the impact the feud will have on the children watching, 6) Maintain a safe distance to avoid conflicts, and last but not least, 7) Pre-plan your funeral arrangements and 8) Do your Estate Planning. These last two opportunities allow you to make decisions while you are living, so that there is nothing major that those left behind have to agree to or can fight over.
On the TV game show “Family Feud,” somebody always wins. When a loved one dies and a family feud surfaces, everyone loses. Emotions among family members run deep. We should all count the cost of feuding during such a difficult time, and choose the better path.
Gail Valentine Taylor, M.S.W.