Fractured Family Funerals

Families fracture. The reasons are varied and complex. Rifts and divisions often reveal themselves when there is a death in the family.

When someone we love dies, it hurts – A lot. Grief dredges up guilt, remorse, pain, regret and a maze of emotion. Death itself dredges up relatives. Family members are a precious support group. The shared loss should strengthen family bonds.

A funeral should be simple – A group of people who love one person who has left the world have the opportunity to gather together to support each other in bidding a fond farewell to the deceased.

It seldom works out like that.

Society has changed. Families used to meet for Sunday lunches, weekly religious rituals or worship or even at the library on Tuesday nights to swap their books. These things might have been uncomfortable requirements for some of us, but they forced us to maintain the social skills and graces that are essential to unify families. Getting a group of often very different individuals (and their partners) to function as a unit doesn’t just happen.

We live in the era of the individual. We have swept aside old ideas of family and duty – Our ideas around good manners have changed. Sadly, life today often centres around ourselves. We have an obligation to learn about others by exploring our own thoughts and feelings. Grief has become more of an individual path than a group excursion.

Bad News

The news arrives. It’s bad. Expected, but shocking. A family member is dead. Gone. No more. Their body is lying in a fridge at an undertakers somewhere in the world. The deceased has provided for their own service and cremation. What happens next?

Should Happen

Traditionally, a date would be booked for a service, the ladies’ group in the church would provide refreshments and the family would congregate at the designated time. A pastor or priest would conduct a service, people would join in singing and maybe share some stories or memories. They’d see their loved one off to the crematorium or grave then offer to support each other and promise to stay in contact. The closest family members would make a joint decision about any remaining business – Headstone, memorial, sharing any fees or mementoes and the paperwork involved with dying.

The Way it Is


  • Family members live different distances away
  • Individuals have different levels of health, flexibility and available funds
  • Mourners have different religions
  • Family members that are traceable have different ideas
  • Often, one person isn’t designated to arrange the funeral
  • Members of a fractured family group cannot agree
  • Members of a fractured family group direct negative emotions against each other

Feral Family Funerals

How do you say goodbye to a loved one, with dignity, when the family has gone feral?

Your loved one has gone. They are beyond caring about anything you may or may not do. You cannot hurt them, you can only hurt yourself and others who are still living. There is no right or wrong way to deal with this situation. You cannot fix any family fractures in one day, and if you want to build bridges it is best to wait until family and friends have worked through their own grieving process first. Emotions are raw at times like this. It might be worth considering that younger members of your nuclear family might be looking at the way you deal with this situation while processing their own thoughts and feelings around how to cope with death.

  • Let someone else take control and simply attend the funeral if you can

Power struggles that follow the loss of a loved one are often extensions of other unresolved inter-family problems and hurt. Arguments can ignite suddenly. A pair of earrings given to one person can symbolise years of perceived favouritism and unfairness in that instant. Grief can strip defences aside and trigger unpleasant and even violent outbursts. Just knowing this could mean that attending (with contingency plans to reduce friction) is the best option for some of us. Leaving right after the service citing travel needs is a simple adjustment that may ease things.

  • If you cannot attend the funeral politely decline, and send a wreath or donation

Regardless of your own feelings about another family member, bullying is always wrong. You might dislike a person, but that doesn’t mean they are not grieving. Be polite.

If you cannot attend the funeral, consider saying goodbye another way.

Alternative Funeral

If you don’t attend the planned funeral, there is no reason why you cannot pay your respects. You can do this at the same time as any formal service, or at any time. If you live in an area or country where the deceased spent some time, you might want to invite other family or friends to join with you.

There are endless options available to you. Some ideas are

  • Join a local service near you and light a candle, say a prayer or think of the life of the deceased
  • Meet with friends of the deceased for a coffee, a drink, lunch or anything that brings you together
  • Donate time, labour or funds to a cause that mattered to the deceased

One Fractured Family Funeral

I lost somebody I love. The loss was expected, but it was still a shock. I, like a few of my siblings, was unable to attend the funeral. We had spoken about what would happen after death, so I had an idea of what was important. In my case, it was yellow roses, and to keep an eye on her youngest – Her “baby.”

The simple ritual helped me to feel connected to the service that my deceased person had already arranged and financed. Yellow roses were planted in an outdoor pot, using her ceramic cup as drainage after it was broken into pieces. During this time, I had other family and friends join me and we shared fond memories and smiles. I found a song that was special to the day – I am a Kris Kristofferson fan, but it was this song by his ex-wife that spoke to me that day.

My current opinion is that most, if not all families, are actually fractured.

The Things we Carry – Rita Coolidge

In no particular order – Some lines from the song

The things we carry and hold on to, like my minds picture of you

All the memories run together, some are gold some are blue

As the angel wings beat, and the cold winds blow

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