Monday, August 26, 2013

Seriously, I'm asking...

I've been around the block enough times to know right from wrong.  I understand the importance of kindness, tolerance and patience.  And, I'm generally considered by friends and family to be a smart woman with a big heart whose manners are quite good.  If I drank hot tea, I'd hold my pinky out, my napkin is always in my lap at meals, I offer my chair to an elder, and I always bring a hostess gift to parties.  In short, I know life's "rules" and mostly play by them.

So why, for the life of me, can I not figure out the rules of etiquette for a funeral?

Yes-- A funeral.

I have been to countless funerals over the years and have rarely been stumped by one particular "situation" that continously comes up.  Since I'm not getting any younger and neither are my friends and loved ones, I know I will come across this situation again, so perhaps you can help.

Here's what I'm talking about...  And yes, all names have been changed to protect the innocent and I've combined more than one funeral where this question came up.

John passed away.

John and Jan were married for 30 years and had 5 children before divorcing after all the kids were through college and out of the house.  They've been divorced for more than 25 years.  Their children are now grown and all are well on their way to "middle age", with a few having already crossed the 50 year old milestone so they are not "kids".  John and Jan have not spoken more than ten words in the last 25 years so needless to say (no pun intended) it was not a pleasant divorce although they were civil when the necessity required them to both be in the same place at the same time.

Ex-wife Jan now lives with Bob and has for the past 20 years.  She had no intention of marrying Bob because if she did her alimony would cease.  This was a particular bone of contention for John.

John married a second time to a woman named Sue.  They celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary shortly before John very unexpectedly passed away.  They had no children together.  Jan has never spoken a word to new wife Sue and neither have ever been to the other's home.

Of John and Jan's five adult children, three are currently divorced from their (for back of a better term) "original" spouses.  All are either remarried or in long-term relationships.  One has elementary school-aged children.  The other two have college-aged children.  Tension between the ex-spouses definitely exists.   But, the ex-spouses of the adult children had a good relationship with John before he passed away.

And that bring us to my funeral etiquette questions.

Ex-spouses.  Who attends the funeral? 

Do the ex-spouses come back to the family home (John and Sue's house) after the funeral for a meal with everyone else? 

Is the comfort (or discomfort as the case may be) of the grieving widow and adult children a factor to be considered by the ex-spouses resulting in them not attending/participating? 

Where do the ex-spouses sit at the funeral?  (With the family/adult kids in front?)

Do the ex-spouses bring their current partners with them to the funeral and/or home for a meal? 

And how long should an ex-spouse wait to ask for the Death Certificate so he/she can cash in their life insurance policy on the deceased?

What do you think?
Welcome to  -  Joanna Jenkins
Photo Credit: © chesky -


  1. ooh very messy. I know of one case where even the grown kids of the first marriage were not invited or told of their dad's funeral. They were very hurt.

  2. Oh my goodness, what a messy situation. The death certificate and life insurance question is the last straw. I have no answers except to be guided by Christ.

  3. Well that is like a mini soap opera if you ask me. I married a man who'd been married twice before me and has 2 kids from his first marriage. Neither marriage ended good. The mother of his children is a witch with a B on it and has been so even at gatherings with our grandson. So given that, neither ex-wife would be invited to the funeral. The first ex is remarried and has no business there. The second ex lives back east and given the feelings he had for her, he'd haunt me if she came to his funeral. In my mind the current wife and he wishes should be the only wishes considered in dealing with ex-spouses. As for a death certificate, can't the ex-wife go to the courthouse and get a copy or ask one of the children to ask for a copy. I would think she should stay as far away from the situation as possible - I know I would. Now is that the proper etiquette, I have no idea, I just go with my gut and my feelings on matters like this. Perhaps a good question for Dear Abby?? Hugs JJ!!

  4. Part of me is saying "who cares". If the ex-spouses don't have a great on-going relationship with the family members then there are no points to be gained or lost no matter what they do. Sure respect for the family's feelings and their grief should be observed. Given that a death can bring up deep emotional feelings I suspect if an ex-spouse pushed themselves too far into the family's events they would be called out. The life insurance thing - it's a legal thing and let some lawyer handle it.

  5. First of all, whoever wants to come to the funeral should have that right.. The funeral is for the living.. All issues should cease.. The funeral is to celebrate the life of the one who is gone.. petty issues should not be allowed... and that is coming from a widow and who has also been to several funerals..

  6. As far as how long the ex should wait to ask for the dc... she should not have to wait!. After all, her ex is the one who named her beneficiary... if the current spouse was the bene, do u think she is waiting to cash it in? lol

  7. Yikes! Funerals are awkward anyway, so I guess what's a little more awkwardness? I'm not really sure who the funeral is for, the deceased or the closest living relatives... I feel if a person wants to attend a funeral, they should do so. But I tend to think that the gathering afterward is for the close relatives, and if you wouldn't normally socialize with them, this would be an odd time to start. - But then, I really don't have a clue...

  8. I had to laugh at that last question about the death certificate, which I think is okay to ask for about a week after the funeral; however, there is never a good time, so it may not matter.

    I think ex spouses should sit away from the family, greet whoever while everyone is still at the funeral location, and pass on the repast.

    If everyone has been sociable prior to the death, then the exes can join in.

  9. Well, that IS a biggie. Here's my take. Unless it is listed as a private funeral, anyone should be able to come. (Whether they SHOULD attend is a matter for them, but given the situation, I wouldn't even consider it if I were the ex-wife).

    If any of the kids want to sit with mom, that's fine. But wife 1 should not be near wife 2.

    As far as the ex-spouses of the kids who still got on with John, they should be able to attend the funeral. And they shouldn't sit with the immediate family unless they are invited by their ex-spouse. And I think the same goes for coming back to the house. If invited, then OK -- but they should be invited by their ex-spouse, or else Jan (spouse 2) should ask them how they feel about it before they invite them.

    Early on in my relationship with Rick, his grandma died. His ex (with whom, at that time, were not on friendly terms) and his brother's ex (BAD terms) both came to the funeral. There was Robin, the two kids, Rick and me all in a row. Robin and Donna crashed the afterglow. Uninvited as far as we all know. It brought about VERY bad feelings -- some with Rick and his brothers but even more so with their sisters in law. It didn't get ugly but as many as 15 years later, they are still talking about it.

    The death certificate? Don't ask me on that one...

  10. i guess it all depends on how close you were...if you had nothing to do with the ex spouse in like forever i might go and hang back...i's cash the insurance policy right away..ha....

  11. I think it depends 100% on the relationships--if feelings are hard all around, the ex should totally stay away and pay respects from a distance, but if they were close, they ought to attend, but sit back (NOT in front!) and act like any other guest, I guess.
    Now I'm totally wondering "what would Emily Post say?"

  12. It's such an individual choice, depending so much on the relationships involved.

    Generally, I feel that anyone who wants to attend a public funeral should be able to do so.

    That said, consideration of the feelings of the adult children and the widow should guide one's actions.
    It would be polite to sit back from the family section unless asked to join them by adult children or the widow. This is not the time to have conflict over position. I would take the high road and offer condolences to the immediate family and otherwise stay in the background. An ex is in a peculiar position at an event like this -- and may have feelings of grief or regret that are surprising. But discretion is best. Acting like a friend or other guest rather than insisting on being family is the best course of action.

    In terms of the death certificate: I certainly wouldn't bring this up at the funeral or immediately after. I would give it at least a couple of weeks. Since the funeral home usually orders the death certificates, I might inquire there first to see if it would be possible to get a copy. If that isn't possible, I would ask the executor of his estate or an adult child with whom one has a good relationship.

  13. This is very hard to figure out. I think at a funeral, it should be important to pay respects to the person who is now gone, but you have me stumped as to what the actual etiquette is.

  14. I've seen all kinds of situations - with friends, in my family, even in my own life. My husband is divorced - we went to the funeral home & funeral of his ex's mother for his kids...
    I've seen an ex-wife plan all the funeral plans for her ex even though he was engaged to another woman.
    My family has had many ex-wives sit up front when my grandmother passed away...
    I think what it comes down to is how close the family is - still is ...

    now when there are bad feelings there & time gone by with NO contact, then I don't understand the nose being inserted... only unless their children asked them to come. Even then, I think that ex should be in the background - in the back - away from people who were in that persons life.

    Ms Manners needs to update the etiquette book on this one!

  15. Why is the EX always assumed to be the 'bad guy'? After all it takes two to make a marriage work/not work.. Is the deceased always the innocent one? or is it because they are deceased and no one can point the finger at the living ex?

  16. I have no idea how to answer those questions... All I can wish for, is a kind and peaceful ceremony with bygones as bygones.

  17. Kalei-- It's not about an ex being a bad gal/guy. It's more about who should attend and what part an ex should play in the service if they haven't been involved in the deceased life in years and/or were not on good terms for whatever reason. The current spouse is the (for lack of a better term) the "primary griever" as are the deceased adult children. Should they have to "make nice" to a spouse that was not part of his/her life and/or did not have a good relationship with the deceased. I have literally been to a funeral where the ex-spouse "held court" as if there had never been a divorce and the current wife (of 25 years) was called on to serve her food to
    "keep the peace". That, in my opinion, is not okay and she had no business being at the funeral let alone the house afterwards.

  18. Death presents some very awkward situations, which is why I plan to live forever to spare my loved ones those embarrassing moments. But seriously, do we not bury the hatchet in death? I echo some others in saying that it depends on the personal relationships, not the place on the family tree. Whoever wants to go, who feels comfortable going, should go -- and everyone else should welcome them graciously, for are not we all equal in death.

    One other comment I have to make: The ex-wife getting alimony while living with another guy for 20 years? That's just ... low.

  19. Your life is waaaayyyy more interesting than I want your life. Now. Give it to me.

    Okay, since I am married to a funeral director and The Queen of the Universe, I'll answer the following...

    Regardless who you are or were to the family unit and the one who has died, you need to attend for the sole purposes of paying your respects to what the individual meant to you and that's it.

    As to the social niceities, if I am one of the ex's....I wait to be invited to the family house, I don't assume I should/can go.

    Where I sit? I would say that I would sit near the family but not with the family. And, as to the two ex wives? They need to be supportive of each other by being civil and not make anyone in the room feel uncomfortable.

    How's them apples?!

  20. To my mind, the "hierarchy" of seating should be based on the the degree of loss. If there had been no relationship for many years with the deceased, to the back you go! Neither my ex nor I have ever remarried so my kids will be spared some of the discomfort of that situation!

  21. All this reminds me of how complicated life can be, but I'd never before thought of death as being complicated. Now I see it certainly can be. I would think that all etiquette would be based on comforting those closest to the deceased at the time of his/her death - which would be children and current wife, in most cases. I think an ex-spouse could attend the funeral but should be very low-key and should NOT sit with the family or attend any family gathering after the funeral. The only exception I can think of would be if there are youg greiving children, then the needs of the child should come first.

  22. I think it would depend entirely on what sort of relationship the ex's had before the death.
    If amicable, then I think an ex could be at the funeral and wake.
    If hostile, then no, I don't think they should attend at all.

    As for cashing in insurance policies on a departed ex-spouse ... well that is just downright wrong.

    Why would you continue to pay into an insurance policy on someone you have divorced! You have no right (as far as I'm concerned) to profit form the death of someone you used to be married to! And certainly NOT if you hated each other.

  23. Oh, my. I wonder if Emily Post ever addressed this one?

  24. Oh I am certain if I predecease David his EX will show up at the funeral. She never misses a chance to celebrate and important occasion.

    I like the way Richard Burton's wife when he died invited E.Taylor to the funeral, as did Sonny Bono's wife who invited Cher to Sonny's funeral. Dianne

  25. I suspect my ex wife will be attending my cremation. She'll be lighting the fire...

  26. There are so many variable depending on how individuals get along and what connections might remain. I think that paying ones respects is a good thing in most circumstances. The deceased was once very important to the ex. She would have the right to be there but she should have the sensitivity to respect the family as it now stands. I think gong to the house is pushing it unless the family extends that offer. If I was the current wife and his kids belong to the ex, I would try to understand that she might well be there to support her children in their grief.. no matter what age.

  27. Oh, my goodness, in spite of the solemnity of the occasion ( I am sorry about the loss of your
    friend ), I had to laugh at your questions. What a mess. I guess it hardly matters who attends the funeral - at least, to the deceased. It's a shame there has to be such enmity when a marriage ends...I stayed good friends with my former husband. He was a nice guy but I had just made the wrong choice. We share a son, after all...I was pleased he married again ( they have celebrated a silver annoversary - and, once, all of us, including my sons, and some members of Lois' family, went on a cruise together.

    In my current financial state
    ( poverty ), if I had an inheritance coming ), I might be at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, waiting for the death certificate to arrive!

  28. I know I have a tendency to expect everyone to live up to my high standards (!) but none of this would be an issue in my twee world. I attend a funeral to pay my respects to the deceased but would be aware if my presence was going to be a problem I'd act accordingly (even staying away if I knew it was going to upset people for me to attend).

    Seating: current wife, sons and daughters at the front (I guess), former partners just behind maybe, but really - if there is out-and-out animosity with anyone - just sit somewhere *anywhere*. I really wouldn't care *where* anyone sat (myself included if I was the current / ex wife) - the point is to just BE there. Basically, I expect people to act like grown-ups and be big enough to put their feelings and differences aside just this once.

    As for making assumptions and rolling up at someone's house - that's always a no-no with me, whatever the occasion. In this situation, if I have a specific invitation, I might go. If I'm not asked I'll politely offer my deepest condolences and go home (I'm assuming I will, in any case, have already done the old-fashioned thing and hand-written a note of sympathy).

    Emotions run high around a time of bereavement so family and friends on the periphery should be there to make allowances for bad behaviour and to 'field' grieving relatives in a quiet and more constructive direction.

    What you describe sounds like a nightmare scenario but it shouldn't be. This is definitely a time to remind ourselves that it's 'not all about us' and seating arrangements. Wind your neck in - be nice - get on with it. We're at this event because we all loved the deceased and THEY wouldn't want the aggro.

    Applying for the death certificate is all part of the sad process so there is no 'right' time really ... but I'd have to agree with Tom - receiving alimony whilst living with another chap for 20 years is decidedly ify... so I can see the sense of guilt about when to apply for the d.c.


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