BioMom vs StepMom: Who gets to go to the funeral?

2 Feb

Rest in peace, and I'm talking the people still alive.

Holidays, birthday parties, school activities, and weddings.  These events can often create large knots in the stomachs of biomoms and stepmoms alike.  Who should go?  Who should stay home?  Where’s the rule book?  It becomes even more emotionally-charged when you have to decide who should go to a funeral.

This topic came up loud and clear when my BFF was asked not to attend her ex-father-in-law’s funeral.  Let me give you a little bit of background:  her marriage and divorce seem to be plucked straight from the most salacious daytime soap opera.   Imagine a fairy tale courtship and wedding, the announcement of a pregnancy a few months later with the simultaneous discovery that he had been cheating on her with a waitress* at the restaurant that he was managing.  My BFF held her head high during the humiliation that followed.  She gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and named him after her soon-to-be ex-father-in-law, and made sure that she maintained a relationship with her former in-laws, despite the fact that her ex-husband was a putz (that’s the nicest word I could come up with).  Ten years after her divorce, she was heartbroken to hear that her ex-father-in-law had passed away and even more devastated when her ex-husband told her that she wasn’t invited to the funeral because she and his new wife (the waitress) didn’t get along (of course, that begs the question:  who does get along with the woman that helped contribute to the demise of your marriage?).  Her ex-husband went even further to say, “If you went, where would you sit?”  Her reply was, “By our son, of course!”  My BFF wanted to be the “go to” person, the one to run the errands, set up the reception, and provide general support to her ex-husband, ex-sister-in-law and their families.  After a long and close relationship with her ex-father-in-law, she felt that she was natural choice for this job.  Afterall, the new wife didn’t have the kind of relationship with her father-in-law that my BFF did. 

Being the fiercely loyal friend that I am, I told her that she had every right to go, but in the end, she decided against it.   Having been to my fair share of funerals over the last 10 years, I’ve learned that funerals are for those left behind.  She had a good relationship with her ex-father-in-law and could pay her respects any time and she chose to keep the peace among the living.  Her ex-husband comforted their son while his new wife comforted him.  It was a moment of growth for her, but I know it still hurts.

So, where is the rule book?  Who should go to the funeral:  the ex-spouse, the current spouse or both?  Should that even be a question?  Have you ever been in this situation?  How did you handle it?

*Having worked in the food service industry, I know that she should be referred to as a “server”, but since “server” is not gender specific, I chose the term “waitress”.

17 Responses to “BioMom vs StepMom: Who gets to go to the funeral?”

  1. Thedivorceencouragist February 2, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    I haven’t been in the situation… But my first reaction says that your friend should’ve at least attended the service. The last I heard, most people don’t have “guest lists” for funerals, hence the event publication in the obituary. This would’ve been the perfect time for everyone to put aside their differences and act like respectful adults… On the other hand, you’re right about keeping the peace and paying her respects anytime. I’m sure her ex father-in-law knew she cared. It’s a tough call… Great thing to ponder!

    • BioStep February 2, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

      When we talked about a list of “pros and cons” of going vs, not going, I told her the same thing: there’s no guest list for a funeral.

      When she decided not to go, I reminded her that she had a great relationship with her ex-FIL WHILE HE WAS ALIVE. That was healing for her and most beneficial for her son.

      I have to hand it to my BFF, she’s handled everything with a tremendous amount of grace.

  2. Anonymous February 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    I have not been in this situation, but my partner has. He and his former wife were married for 21 years and have two kids. He moved here from overseas to marry her and so was “adopted” by her family because his is so far away. He still has an excellent relationship with her mom and stepdad (in fact, he just saw them today).

    When they had been divorced about four years, my partner’s former wife’s mom’s mom died. My partner heard about it from his kids who told him “great grandma died.”. He wrote to his ex and expressed his sorrow and said how much he always liked her and asked about the funeral. She told him “this is hard enough for me losing my grandma. Don’t make it harder by showing up.”. (Since it’s all about her.). Meanwhile, he called his former mother in law, and she invited him and gave him the details. He went. He sat alone. He saw lots of people he knows. He was respectful. The earth continued to rotate on its axis.

    • BioStep February 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

      Thank God the Earth is still turning!

      While I was married to my first husband, we had 4 deaths in the family. I have a grandmother whom he’s known since he was a teenager that he’s quite fond of that has been sick for a number of years. When she does pass, he can bring anyone he wants to the funeral. And while he’s certainly not my favorite person, he can come sit up with me, DH and all the kids.

      Unfortunately, it’s usually women that cause the drama over who can and can’t show up to functions. And, if someone’s going to be a “loose cannon” at a function, 9 times out of 10, it’s going to be an ex-wife.

  3. Teresa February 2, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    WOW!! So far I have been lucky enough, if that is lucky at all, not to have had to deal with this type of situation… I know the day will come, and lucky for me I took the high road and swallowed the hatred for the “waitress” that entered my married life…we have now become friends, or at least can get along and talk openly for the sake of my daughter. When the day comes, I will be at the funeral…I spent 12 years in that family, and luckily I don’t think my ex would ever tell me not to go. As for your BFF, I commend her for being strong enough and adult enough to not cause friction. As you told her, she did have a great relationship with her ex-fil and he knew that, that’s what matters, and she can take the time to say good bye at any time.
    Definately alot to think about if you are part of the whole “ex” lifestyle.

  4. AdrienneMay February 2, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    there is no rule book. in my blog we refer to it as the map. I wish there was a map. We are constantly forging our own way, trying to figure it all out! 🙂 your friend seems to be someone of much grace.

  5. Beth February 3, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    I am already dreading the day that my ex-husband shows up with his “waitress” at my father’s funeral. He wouldn’t even consider that he might not be welcome.

    He and my father were dear friends for over 25 years – and both of my parents loved and accepted my ex even after his first affair.

    When he married the “waitress” after a subsequent affair – my father chose to end their friendship.

    My wish is that my ex will have the common sense to leave that day to my family and all of us that respected my father during his life – and that my ex will honor him privately and not attend.

    • The "waitress" February 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

      “My wish is that my ex will have the common sense to leave that day to my family and all of us that respected my father during his life …”
      Do you not consider that your ex could be one of those who respected your father during his life and who would like to shot it? Or maybe that your dad actually requested he attend the funeral? Just because you have a problem with your ex does not necessarily make it so for your dad.
      While your father chose to end the friendship with your ex, he may have been cutting ties because you are his daughter and perhaps was pressured (either directly or indirectly) by you or others to cut the ties. If he felt obliged to choose – either you or the ex-son-in-law, of course he would choose you, but it does not necessarily mean he felt any less love or friendship toward his ex-SIL.
      I only add my comment because I am the “waitress” in the eyes of my husband’s ex. Although I did not break up their marriage, I met my husband not long after their marriage fell apart. After the divorce, his ex had regrets and wanted to try again, but he refused to reconcile with her and she blames me. Regardless of the facts, I am her “waitress.”
      My husband had known his ex-FIL for nearly 40 years by the time we married, but the ex-wife insisted her father cut ties with my husband after he married me. She was in so much pain after realizing what a good man she had left that she couldn’t cope and her pain soon turned to hatred. She insisted that her father, her siblings, even her kids cut ties with my husband because he “betrayed them all” by not taking her back. Her father cut the ties, but informed my husband that he did so not because he wanted to or because he felt anger toward my husband, but because he knew he only had so many years left to live and couldn’t stand the thought of his daughter hating him for retaining relations with a man that she hated so much now.
      My husband’s ex father-in-law did get in contact with my husband one time since that day … to request that my husband attend his funeral when he passed. He also tried to give my husband a family heirloom, which my husband declined to accept and asked that it be given to a family member. The ex-FIL insisted that my husband was, and always will be, family in his eyes regardless of the circumstances. All of this was done without my husband’s ex-wife knowing it was taking place.
      My husband is now on his way to show respect to a man he loved like his own father, but whom he has not spoken to in years out of respect for the man’s wishes to continue a relationship to the best of his ability with his daughter while he was still here. Of course, I am not attending the funeral with him as I do not need to stir the pot. But, although I think there will be drama, I hope that his ex-wife can see for a moment that not everything is about her and that there will be no drama. My husband is going to a funeral for his ex-FIL at the ex-FIL’s request and out of love and respect for the ex-FIL.
      How would his ex-wife feel if I told her she were not allowed to attend my husband’s funeral if the worst happened and he passed? She was married to him for 24 or so years….do you think it would be ok for the “waitress” to tell her she couldn’t come to her children’s father’s funeral because she didn’t love or respect him? Just some food for thought – not everything is as we perceive it to be from our perspective.

  6. Talia February 3, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    This is always difficult. When my ex-husband passed away I did go to the funeral to be available to my girls. (they were 16/18 at the time of his death)

    I sat in the back – respecting the wishes of his wife and family, but my first concern was for my daughters.

    Every situation is different and each is dicey. Great post for such a difficult subject!

  7. Andrea February 3, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Celebrating the life of a deceased person is done in many ways, not just through the vise of a funeral ceremony. She probably did the “right” thing, since this was the requested wishes of her ex and it was his blood family member. I am assuming she wasn’t shocked by her ex’s insensitivity to this matter, when he has proven himself selfish historically. “The best predictor of the future is the past”.

  8. Stepmom Central February 3, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    How sad, I think there is no “rule book” as long as everyone involved and attends is respectful and kind. Funerals and memorials are for mourning and a sense of closure.
    I have been in this situation. DH’s uncle died, BM requested that be able to come. We(dh & I) both really felt uncomfortable but it WASN”T ABOUT US.
    That is really sad about your friend, maybe her and her son can do a separate little memorial for him at one of his favorite places or something.

  9. Kris February 3, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    I cant really see both sides of this but I would suggest two points which might seem opposite:

    As far as I know, funerals don’t have invitation lists. You just show up. It’s your right, as far as I know.

    That said, it might serve everyone to be somewhat sensitive to the realities and politics of the situation. The longer the time interval, the greater the discord, the more the immediate family is in acute grief, the more you might not want to add pain or confusion to the situation. Maybe you don’t get in their face, maybe you don’t insist on a front row seat but instead sit with the community and you quietly and lovingly do what you came to do: honor the memory of the person you remember and loved.

    That’s what I would do at my ex’s family funerals, any way.

  10. Amy February 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    This situation came to light for me when my ex MIL was diagnosed with breast cancer. They live several thousand miles away and at the time I would not have allowed my children to travel on their own. My ex inlaws and I have worked hard to maintain an amicable realtionship for the sake of the children. Fortunately my ex MIL beat the cancer,but it made me think. I should be there to offer support for my children who will be mourning the loss of a loved one. However, as they get older and more independent, if my presence at a funeral would make the family uncomfortable I would not go.

  11. YUMMommy February 7, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Honestly, I think she did the right thing by not going. And to those saying that funerals don’t have guest list well that’s not really true. How would you feel if an unwanted guest showed up to your wedding? You wouldn’t like it. Well, funerals are a time for the family members and close friends related to the deceased party to get together and show their respects and comfort each other during their time of loss. If your presence is only going to make things worst stay home!!

    I don’t think it’s ever really appropriate for an ex to be family events unless it’s an event for a mutual child. Unless you are specifically invited to an event hosted by your ex in-laws you should not take it upon yourself to just go. You will end causing more problems and looking very disrespectful for attending an event you were clearly never wanted to attend in the first place.

  12. Heather H February 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    As with everything divorced/remarried/stepfamily – there is no right or wrong way to do something. You’ve got to follow your gut and put the needs of your children and your self-respect first.

    I faced this question a year ago in a slightly different way. My ex’s grandmother died. She was an amazing woman and someone that I not only loved dearly but looked up to and respected. When my ex left me, loosing my extended family was one of the most difficult things I went through. Relationships just don’t ever seem to be the same. While I never and will never alienate my kids from their dad or his family, his side thought it best if we not speak on the phone anymore. I think they had a hard time dealing with the choices their son had made. I respected their decision.

    When I heard that she had past, I was so torn – do I go or do I not go? I couldn’t believe how upset I was at the news given that I hadn’t seen or interacted with her in nearly five years. Then I realized that my tears and pain were not just for her passing but also for the mourning of a relationship between us that had been lost.

    I actually felt “guilty” for feeling so bad and my husband consoled me and told me that he would support any decision that I made as to whether to go or not go. (That was a relief to have his unconditional support. But being a relational person, I wondered “am I disrespecting my husband by being upset that my ex’s grandma died? Thankfully, my husband understands that I’m very sentimental and wear my heart on my sleeve.)

    I extended my condolences to my ex and offered to bring the kids to the funeral and stay with them so he could be with out of town guests, etc… He said it would be a very private ceremony and he wanted the kids with him and that I didn’t need to be there.

    In the end, I realized that while I offered to go to care for the kids I was really going for me. I also realized that it could make things awkward and that I didn’t need to go to the funeral to say my goodbyes. I had been grieving the loss of her and I’s relationship for a long time.

    Once I made the decision not to go, I had my own personal goodbye with my ex’s grandmother. I know that may sound strange but I realized I had never completely grieved the loss of a relationship that was once close. I pulled out some old photos and I also shared some wonderful stories with the kids of their great grandmother.

    Then I decided to send food (trays from Panera) to their house to help my ex mother-in-law out for guests that would come over after the service.My parents also wanted to do something so they sent it along with me.(Okay, this may be regional but where I come from we send food). I also sent a card. I received the nicest thank you from my ex-mother in law in the mail only a few days later. And ever since then, my ex-mother in law has been warmer and kinder to me when we see each other at school functions, etc…. It’s really nice.

    I know I made the right decision for me. And one thing I hold on to is that these situations are challenging and never to judge the decision of another. What worked for me may not work for another and that’s more than okay. That’s the way it is.

  13. Brooke May 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    I have been in this situation – except it was my daughter’s father who passed away. He was married at the time of his death and our daughter was on her routine visitation when he passed away. I went to the viewing and the funeral. It was by far one of the hardest things I have ever had to experience. I didn’t sit in the front with the immediate family (although I was invited to), and let my daughter sit with her stepmother up front. I would have gone regardless if his wife didn’t want me there or not. He is my daughter’s father and even though we were never married, there was a lot of love there — there will always be a special place in my heart for my daughter’s father. He was taken far to soon and at a very young age too. Just out of curiousity would anyone have any advice on how to handle a situation with my daughter’s stepmother — it has been almost two years since his death and I am experiencing some closure issues. Let me know and I will be happy to fill you in on some more details. Thanks

    • BioStep May 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      Brooke, I’d be happy to help you with your closure issues. You can email me at

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