Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries – Your Ex-Father-In-Law’s Funeral

Diane Sewell | October 10th, 2013

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Don’t want to attend your ex-father-in-law’s funeral? Here are a few things to consider.

Q. My husband and I divorced eight years ago. We have three grown children who are out on their own. Here’s my dilemma. My ex-husband’s father is very ill with terminal cancer and not expected to live much longer. I’m already wrestling with whether to attend the funeral. The thing is, he was unkind to me when he was my father-in-law and he made it clear on numerous occasions I wasn’t really part of the family, I simply married into it. In contrast, our children love their grandfather and their relationships with him were and still are very positive. If I follow my heart, I know I’ll stay away, but my brain tells me I should definitely go to his funeral – for my children’s sake if for no other reason.

Denise, Calgary

 

A. Listen to your heart. When the time comes, there’ll be nothing to be gained by pretending you’re mourning your unkind ex-father-in-law, so why bother. “‘Putting it on’ is sending the wrong message – and is frankly betraying oneself,” says Dr. Guy Grenier, a London, Ont.-based clinical psychologist and author. “The idea that you have to put it on because it’s family, well, I’m sorry but family is about behaviour as much as it is about blood. This may be a family in name, but it’s not in feeling. If you treat people badly in your family I’m not sure that gives you carte blanche.”

When I initially read your dilemma I must admit my first thought was you should suck it up and go the funeral as a show of respect and support for your kids, but after considering what Dr. Grenier had to say I changed my mind. “I can think of about 17 different ways to offer support to those three children that won’t involve putting on a mask or adopting a false pretense,” he told me, pointing out there’s nothing that precludes you from supporting your kids in other ways – ways where you won’t be left with a bad taste in your mouth. “This is called being true to yourself and acknowledging your reality.”

The fact that your children have had a good relationship with this man is just fine. That’s their reality and they shouldn’t pretend otherwise either, even knowing that your experience was different (I’m presuming they know it was). Dr. Grenier reminds us that funerals are supposed to make people feel better by giving us an opportunity to process things. If you don’t have anything to process and you’re not going to feel better then stay home. Being honest about your experience with this man, and your feelings about him as a result, is empowering. It is not disrespectful.

“Secret keeping and putting on a face, for the most part, doesn’t lead you to any place productive,” says Dr. Grenier. “Nothing is going to happen by being honest with the children and staying away – except a more informed dialogue.” So don’t subject yourself to what Dr. Grenier calls “the tyranny of tradition.”

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A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.