Calling a Truce on Family Feuds During Funerals

by M-Gillies
pink and white funeral flower arrangement spelling out MUM "Mum"

In order to avoid family feuds, you should ensure your funeral arrangements are made with a funeral home or documented and shared with your family.

Family disputes happen. Each one of us has our own view and our own opinions on matters, but sometimes our differences can extend beyond the realms of civility. Perhaps you’ve heard your share of stories about family disputes over funeral arrangements. They aren’t as uncommon as one might think. In fact, these disputes can often arise during the most stressful moment – when a decision has to be made and two opposing sides cannot agree upon the choices presented to them.

When a death occurs in the family, it is the most emotionally stressful moment anyone will ever have to endure. Not only is it the effect a loss will have on an individual, but also the responsibilities that arise with it. These responsibilities include arranging funeral services and organizing financial matters. It means choosing which funeral provider will be overseeing the process, choosing what the loved one will be wearing, deciding whether it will be a burial service or a cremation after a memorial service.

It also means contacting family, friends and loved ones from all around the country, and in many cases the world. It means picking a day to hold the services, taking time off work, locating important documents such as wills, and notifying financial institutions.

The process can be daunting, particularly when arrangements are not made prior to a death that was unexpected . It is during this time that our ability to grieve properly is placed on hold in order to make all the preparations. It is also the unfortunate time when family feuds can arise, and the decisions made or weren’t made can often fester and boil for years with resentment and hurt feelings.

Family disputes over funeral services and burial arrangements are more common than one might think. These disputes can arise without warning and can range from issues pertaining to location of the funeral or burial, duration of the funeral process, choice of cultural and religious traditions, cremation or burial, and in even in some cases the clothing selected for the loved one.

While these disputes can be resolved relatively easily, others, times they may lead to a breakdown in communication and unilateral decisions and actions amongst family members. These disputes can arise during the following times:

At the time of death: When a loved one passes, it is an emotional moment for everyone. Each person will be affected differently and each person will express their grief in different ways. However, disputes can arise unintentionally and not as spite or malice, but because of the hurt the loss of a loved one has on an individual. When a death does occur, it will be up to the next of kin of make the necessary arrangements in funeral preparations.

Decisions regarding arrangements: When it comes to funeral arrangements, the funeral director is and always should be considered an ally. They are there to, above all else, help make the process as easy as possible. Funeral directors will make the arrangements, they will locate a suitable location for the memorial sendoff, they will oversee the preparations and organization of the service, and they will ensure that the process is done in a professional and caring manner.

Initiation of arrangements: When the funeral director takes over the arrangements for the memorial sendoff. This is when decisions regarding cremation or burial are decided. It is during this time that the next of kin will determine what kind of funeral rite will take place and the funeral director will go about in ensuring they fulfill the wishes of the loved one.

Challenge to arrangements: It is during this time when family members may challenge the decisions made for the funeral sendoff by the next of kin. These challenges often arise in regards to cultural or religious beliefs especially when relatives have been estranged from the immediate family and feel excluded or have strong convictions in regard to the ceremonial funeral rites.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where there are challenges in the funeral arrangements, be aware that the death of a loved one and the stressful events surrounding it can unfortunately bring out the worst in people. The best way to find common ground when it comes to family feuds over funeral sendoff arrangements is to remember the following:

Mediators: It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to get an outside, unbiased individual to assist in disputes amongst family members. Some high-profile cases involving celebrities and what to do with their remains has led to the deceased not receiving their burials right away, this kind of family feud can end up seeing legal matters resolved in courts.

Instead of having these matters escalate to the point that legal matters have to be taken, a funeral director can be an excellent source for mediating any matters that can cause friction amongst family members. It is their task to help family through the grieving process, and one of the best ways they can do this is by educating families on the process and what is involved. Funeral directors are compassionate and caring professionals who will do what they can to guide matters appropriately.

Many funeral directors will have had training in counseling the bereaved or in some instances even have trained grief councilors on staff. These people can be a beneficial resource to resolving matters concerning family feuds over funeral preparations and give families an unbiased opinion.

Relinquish control: It’s a difficult thing to let someone else do all the work for us or even, for that matter, help us. Many of us have been taught and have grown up tackling tasks on our own. We are built with an inner perseverance whereby we conquer tasks and decisions independently. But with a funeral, it is important to remember that there are many people who are affected by the loss. When it comes to decision-making, it is okay to reach out for help from others. It is also important to remember that others will do what they can to help. It’s important to make sure family feuds are not caused by miscommunication in regards to helpful gestures.

Force a connection: Family disputes thrive due to lack of communication, and as long as both parties nurse their grievances and refuse to communicate, the situation will remain as it is. In order to force a communication with the person you are disputing with, you should…

Be open: Perhaps the most important thing to remember when going through the funeral arrangement process is to speak about your feelings openly. Discuss with family members how certain actions make you feel and why it is important to have things a certain way. But also keep in mind the necessity to…

Listen to others: Families are meant to assist one another. They help each other through the good times and the bad, so it is important to see things from the other’s point of view. For as long as you believe that you are absolutely right and the other is totally wrong, there is no possibility that a family feud can be resolved. It’s very important that you listen to the other side properly and that you attempt to see things from that point of view. It may be a viewpoint you don’t agree with, but people are entitled to their views and only when you accept that other people might have suggestion or a request can a compromise fully take place.

The truth is, family feuds involve more than just the two parties involved. They include other family members who are affected and it can also include estranged family members. When it does involve an estranged family member, it is important to set aside any past differences that have occurred and remember that the funeral sendoff memorial is not about the conflicting parties, but in memoriam of the loved one. A funeral celebrates a life lived and is about sharing a memory amongst people who loved the deceased.

One important piece of information to note is that wills are not the place to record your funeral sendoff plans. Wills are legal documents expressly explaining what is to be done with the estate and are often not even looked at until after the funeral. In order to avoid confusion and to prevent a potential family feud, it is important to document your funeral sendoff wishes as soon as possible, and to inform close family members of these wishes. This can, in the long run help to avoid any unnecessary confusion, and even prevent burials from being postponed until legal interventions take place.

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