Few events require as much tact and delicacy as a funeral. Funerals are emotionally charged ceremonies paying tribute to the life of the dead and providing a place for the surviving to reminisce and find comfort. In many cases, the social dynamics of a funeral are tricky enough without the intrusion of other complications. Throwing past acrimony or interpersonal strife into the mix can lead to an ugly scene. In the case of whether to attend the funeral of an ex-wife -- or ex-husband -- and how to handle being there, these are very real concerns.
Not All Divorce is War
The word "divorce" conjures images of men and women locked in long and vicious courtroom battles over child custody and property, the associated hard feelings and deeply personal insults, and the disorientation it causes for the children. While this is an accurate portrait of some divorces, it does not reflect the reality of all divorces. Many divorces are mutual and respectful, and do not leave behind the trail of financial and emotional destruction that popular culture suggests is inevitable. Honestly recognizing the kind of divorce you went through is key.
Life After the Divorce
Did you maintain contact with your ex-wife? This could very well be the case if both of you remained in the same area, kept jobs at the same company or saw each other regularly because of a child custody arrangement. If so, was the contact civil or even friendly, was it civil but resentful or was it passive-aggressive -- or just aggressive -- warfare? If you and your ex-wife are childless and spent your last conversation shouting at each other, little good can come from attending the funeral. If you were on good terms, you may genuinely want to attend to pay your respects.
Consider Her Family’s Wishes
If you and your ex-wife were cordial after the divorce, it is likely her family will still accept you. If the relationship was complicated but bound by shared custody of a child, it is likely they will allow you to come if for no other reason than to have their grandchild in attendance. If her family has no tolerance for you after the divorce, however, you should not attend the funeral. Doing so could provoke a confrontation and tarnish an otherwise peaceful ceremony. Use basic judgement to evaluate your personal circumstances and save everyone involved from a lot of heartache.
At the Funeral
If you attend the funeral, maintaining the highest level of respect for your ex-wife and her family is a necessity, even if it is not reciprocated. Regardless of how your marriage ended, you have fond memories to share, funny stories to tell and a previous life together that is permanently part of your individual human experience. Use the positive memories to bolster the respect that you already have for her, or at least to tamp down and put to rest whatever lingering hard feelings there may be.
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