July 23, 2014

Always Go to the Funeral?

I have been following an amazing blog called MY DEMENTED MOM written by Kathy Ritchie. From the ABOUT ME section I learned that Kathy moved to Phoenix with an infant to be her mother’s caregiver. Her mother seems young and has Frontotemporal Alzheimer’s disease. She has been asked to leave more than three facilities because of her behavior, and I’m not sure where her mother is now.

Kathy has written many interesting and reflective posts. I read one yesterday in response to an NPR segment, a This I Believe, essay I remember hearing years ago while on vacation in Maine. The piece was called something like “Always Go to the Funeral” and was about the importance of showing respect for the deceased and the family by attending a funeral, regardless of how awkward or inconvenient it may be.

At the time, I thought it was a great piece because my mother and I often argued about this very subject. My mother proudly and stubbornly refused to attend funerals and memorials, even for close family members. My mother’s sister’s husband died after a long illness and my mother refused to attend his funeral in Detroit. “He was an old drunk!” she exclaimed. “I have theater tickets.” I now wonder if her reaction was an early sign of dementia-it was so irrational. It was also so inconsiderate of her poor sister, who, although she had a difficult marriage, was parting with her life partner and the father of her children. I was ashamed of my mother’s behavior and went to Detroit alone. I was very glad I did, because at the funeral, I learned so many good things about my uncle that I didn’t know and never would have known about his accomplishments and how he helped people, etc.

It was also important to support my aunt and cousins-it was just important to go. I don’t know why my mother couldn’t. My dear friend Sugar says that fear dictates the actions of many people. Maybe that was it-my mother is afraid of death and afraid of sadness. Maybe she is that selfish and couldn’t give her sister and family what they needed at the time. Maybe she didn’t know what to do or how to comfort. Interestingly, when my father died, years before, even though there was no service or funeral, all of my mother’s relatives, her sister and her two cousins, came to be with her…

Regardless, Kathy’s point is that she feels very differently. When her mother dies, she will feel resentment for folks who show up to the funeral who have not been supportive to Kathy and her mother during her mother’s tortuous illness and slow decline.

I can completely understand her feelings. On the other hand, my mother is much older and feebler, and she has a great nurse who has support from two other aids and from my family and me. I feel protective of my mother and her vanity and I don’t want casual visitors to come over and see her in her present condition. Close friends, yes, but not distant friends and acquaintances. I know that she wouldn’t want to be seen, either. She will not be pushed outside in her wheelchair because she doesn’t want people that she knows to see her unable to walk and dependent. I think she’s being ridiculous, but I respect her feelings. So, even though my mother has expressed that she doesn’t want a funeral service of any kind, if we had one, I would appreciate people who know her and respect her attending, even if they have not been on the scene lately.

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