Manners Matter: Funeral Attendance Etiquette

Dear Mary Pat,


My mom passed a couple of weeks ago and we had her funeral back in her hometown in Ohio. Mom was well loved and even though the occasion was very sad, my five siblings and I did enjoy being together (we are scattered all over the country and don’t get to see much of each other) and reminiscing over some wonderful memories. And as what often happens with funerals and weddings, we got to see some dear old friends that we normally don’t get to see. There was another person from our past, however, who was not as welcome. My brother’s ex-wife showed up at the wake which surprised us all. When they divorced 18 years ago, it was very bitter. My brother remarried a few years later and is now thankfully with the woman who was meant for him. I just don’t know why his ex showed up. She made a couple of inappropriate comments to me about how my brother had aged when she first arrived and then went over to sign the guest book. She and my mother were never close, so we were all wondering why she came. We were even more stunned when she came back for the funeral and the luncheon afterwards. Typically, the lunch is meant for close family and friends. What is the etiquette with this type of situation? Were we being too skeptical of her motives? Is it appropriate for an ex-spouse to attend?



Mourning Mystery

Fish Creek, Wis.



Dear Mourning Mystery,


For every time it is clear that someone needs to/should attend a funeral, there are many times when it is very much unclear. Divorce is a perfect example. The rule of thumb should be is this going to be a comfort to the family or something that would make their grief worse? And while her intentions may be have been good (which I’m kind of doubting actually based on your backstory), was she honest with herself about what your family’s reaction would be? Was she there to genuinely pay her respects or was she there to work out some of the old battle wounds? Or, worse yet, was she deliberately trying to make things awkward for your brother out of spite? Only she could answer those questions. Even giving her the benefit of the doubt on her appearance at the wake and funeral, I 100-percent agree with you that showing up at the luncheon was an overstep. After 18 years, a bitter divorce and your brother remarrying, it really wasn’t good form for her to show up for a meal.

I sincerely hope that your brother has gotten over the bitterness and I hope that his ex-wife learns to as well. If she still has hard feelings, I hope that she learns to let it go and forgive. And if she does have a lot of issues to work through still, she would be better off doing that in her own time and not at a funeral. Sending a sincere card would have been the better choice here.


Good luck,

Mary Pat

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