Funerals are extremely emotional events. Families who have lost a loved one experience a wide range of emotions: pain, sadness, anger, denial, and guilt. Mixing prior family conflicts with a stressful situation like planning a funeral is often a recipe for disaster. Some families end up with hurt feelings and estranged relationships long after the funeral is over.
If the deceased didn’t pre-plan their funeral or share their final wishes with family members, the task of making funeral arrangements is difficult. It’s unlikely that the descendants will agree on all the details, especially when decisions need to be made quickly.
To avoid this unfortunate situation, it may help to understand some common causes of family conflict at funerals.
Sources of Funeral-Planning Family Conflict
It’s been said that weddings and funerals bring out the best and the worst in people. When grieving families are rushed to make important decisions in a short time frame, feuds and disagreements that may have lurked in the background come up to the surface for all to see.
Without the benefit of pre-planned funeral arrangements made by the deceased, family conflict can arise during funeral planning due to the following:
- Money – Who’s responsible for paying the funeral and burial costs?
- Burial or Cremation – Who gets the final say on what happens to the deceased? Where should they be buried? If the deceased is cremated, what will be done with the ashes?
- Funeral Service – Which type of funeral service should be held?
- Obituary – Who will write the obituary, and which information will be included?
- Grieving – Some relatives may take offense if they feel someone isn’t expressing their grief the “right way.” Keep in mind that people grieve differently and at different times.
- Religious/Cultural Values – Which religious or cultural elements should be included in the funeral and which ones can be left out? Who decides?
Fighting Won’t Help the Situation
Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be traumatic, and people may act out while coming to terms with their grief. While planning a funeral with family members, certain behaviors are not helpful:
Bringing up Old Grudges
Maybe you never forgot the time your brother lost your lucky ball, or you can’t forgive your aunt for missing your wedding. Whatever resentments you have, don’t bring them up during the planning meetings. Focus on the task at hand and choose a different setting to resolve past grievances.
Side-taking is common among siblings, and unintentional disputes can break out when planning a funeral for a parent. While each sibling likely has their own idea of “what Mom or Dad would want”, determine the final arrangements together as a family. Don’t turn it into an “us vs. them” affair.
Being a Control Freak
Taking control of a situation can be a good thing sometimes, but when it comes to planning a loved one’s funeral, sharing responsibilities is the best path to take. Refusing to let go of the reins and making decisions on your own will lead to unnecessary family arguments.
How to Handle Disagreements When Planning a Funeral
When it comes to planning a funeral that honors the deceased – and respects their wishes – compromise is key. Here’s how to handle family conflict while making funeral arrangements:
Agree to Disagree
Family members must understand that there won’t be unanimous agreements for everything. If discussions get heated over service arrangements, take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Compromise should be a top priority, and families may need to “agree to disagree” to finalize funeral plans.
Listen with Respect
Remember that everyone grieves in a unique way. You may not agree with how your relatives express their opinions, religious, and/or cultural beliefs, but it’s important to listen all the same. Pay attention without interrupting, and listen respectfully. This should encourage them to do the same for you.
Make sure that everyone is allowed to give their input. When it’s your turn, speak truthfully and respectfully. However you choose to communicate, be sincere and answer questions as best you can. Stay calm and keep the dialogue open until all of the arrangements are finalized.
Family Conflict After the Funeral
In some cases, family conflict continues long after the funeral is over. Post-funeral disagreements tend to be about money, and financial squabbles often arise over who is responsible for paying the final funeral and burial expenses.
If the family previously agreed that all the relatives were accountable for making payments, there will likely be conflict over how much each person contributes to cover the total cost. In order to avoid later disputes, it’s best to record any funding-related agreements prior to finalizing the funeral plans.
A last will and testament is also a major source of conflict. If the deceased prepared a will documenting their final wishes, some families still argue over named beneficiaries, what they inherited, etc. Siblings may be resentful if they feel like they didn’t receive a “fair share”, and this bitterness can cause them to contest the will. The executor of the will is responsible for managing any conflict surrounding the will’s contents and needs to ensure that the deceased’s instructions are carried out as intended.
Family members also fight over sentimental items such as jewelry, art, or even family photos. In such cases, a mediator can help resolve the conflict. Dividing the objects equally might be the best course of action.
During such difficult times, it can feel impossible to compromise and keep the peace when dealing with family conflict. Planning a meaningful funeral and acting in a respectful manner is what’s most important. Set aside the family feuds, stay positive, and come together one last time to say a final goodbye to your loved one.
An excellent way to prevent family conflict is to pre-plan your funeral now. Click here to learn more about making funeral arrangements in advance.Back to Knowledge Center