Recently, a friend of mine (let’s call her Kate) shared with me that her father had passed away. While I don’t know all the details, it sounded like his death was unexpected.
Wanting to be supportive, I expressed my condolences and asked that she let me know about funeral arrangements. That’s when she made a comment to me that was – well – kind of shocking.
“I won’t be going to his funeral. Not even the wake. We weren’t close in life and I see no reason to put on a show now,” she said to me in a deadpan voice.
As we talked more about her father, Kate revealed to me that he had sexually abused her. In her case, it started when she was five years old and lasted well into her teens.
As she continued telling her story, it occurred to me that during our entire three-year friendship, she almost never brought up family.
There were some things I knew. Kate’s mother passed away when she was twenty-one after a terrible car accident. There is only one sister, Nancy, who lives in another state.
And the relationship with her father?
“Once I moved out, I never stayed in contact with him. The last time I saw him was at mom’s memorial service. Even then, we didn’t talk. I could barely stand looking at him.”
When I asked Kate if Nancy had been abused, she said she wasn’t sure. “I suspect it happened but we’ve never talked about it,” she replied, her voice cracking with pain. “She’s making the arrangements but has already told me she would understand if I skipped.”
Was that a hint that Nancy, too, had been abused? Perhaps. But I didn’t want to press. There are just some things you don’t want to talk about in the immediate aftermath of death, you know?
Conventional wisdom holds that it is important for children to say their final goodbyes to a parent after they die – even when that parent has done terrible, unspeakable things.
This same wisdom suggests that attending funeral services allows the person to offer (and receive) support from others while encouraging healing.
But is that really sage advice in all situations? Could attending an abuser’s final services inflict even more emotional damage to a victim? In Kate’s mind, she believed this to be the case.
“To me, he died years ago. I don’t want to rip open the scab. I’m at peace with my decision. I really am,” she said moments before our conversation ended.
So, you may be wondering what happened? Did Kate go? The answer is no. She skipped the funeral. But she did mention that Nancy, like her, had been abused, too.
I got the sense they were talking to one another about their experiences. And while nothing has been confirmed, it sounds like both are considering therapy.
Now I am handing the mic to you. Is it ever, under any circumstances, OK to skip a parent’s funeral?