A recent “Dear Abby” column dealt with the issue of whether a father should force his teenage son to attend his mother’s funeral. The teen said he would rather remember his mother the way she was, and the father was unsure about pressing the issue. A responder said he had been forced at age 19 to attend his mother’s funeral and that the experience “did not bring closure, but additional trauma.”
I’ve mulled this over for almost two weeks, trying to find a response that might make sense and not be judgmental or disrespectful to the young men. My first reaction was total amazement that they would not want to attend their mothers’ funerals. Yes, it’s painful. Lots of emotions all over the place, but gosh, the women gave them life. That’s got to mean something.
Over time, another realization has hit. Not going to the funeral gives a person a way to avoid some of the tougher parts of the grieving process. It’s part of denial. And while denial can sometimes be a perfectly acceptable mechanism to cope with trauma, I don’t think it is the right call here.
The impulse not to go to a funeral to avoid the trauma is akin to saying, “The only feeling I had when my mother died after a long, painful illness, was relief. I couldn’t be sad because I knew she is in a better place.”
Pardon my bluntness, but that is hogwash. Sure, the dominating feeling might be relief and a bit of happiness that she is no longer suffering, but that has to be tinged with sadness. This person is gone, leaving a huge hole in our lives and it is only natural that we are sad about that. To say otherwise is denial, and if we don’t deal with those feelings they will find a way to eat away at us physically and emotionally.