Going to the Funeral is the Easy Part

The Funeral of Atala
The other day, my friend Gary posted an NPR “All Things Considered” interview with a woman named Deirdre Sullivan to his Facebook wall. The gist of the interview was the importance of going to the funeral — a lesson that was imparted to Sullivan by her father.

Sullivan says this: I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that. The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. “Dee,” he said, “you’re going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.”

The interview got me thinking. And then it began to irritate me. My mother has mostly been forgotten about. I rarely hear from her family or friends — family and friends she did so much for before the dementia consumed her gray matter — even on her birthday. Yes, I receive the occasional Facebook message or email, but mostly, I hear from no one.

I suppose life goes on. We reside in our own purgatory.

It’s been like that for a very long time.

Which brings me back to the whole funeral thing.

Sullivan says this about her own father’s funeral, The most human, powerful and humbling thing I’ve ever seen was a church at 3:00 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral.

When my mother finally takes her last breath, she will likely be surrounded by myself, her husband and my boyfriend (a man who has done more for her than her own siblings). As for the funeral, I don’t know who will reach out and ask about attending. As for those who completely abandoned her in life — I am thinking of a select few — well, they likely won’t hear about it from me.

If you weren’t there for her in life; why bother in death? Let’s face it: Going to the funeral is the easy part; hardly an inconvenience, especially if you never had to witness the wretched reality. The truth is, if she mattered at all, there would have been visits, inquiries, phone calls, offers of support — especially during those incredibly dark, dark days when she was locked away or when they wanted to electrocute her brain.

Where were you when she was held in a lockdown psychiatric unit? Do you have any idea what it’s like for a daughter to find her own mother covered in her own feces? Do you have any idea what it’s like to watch your mother pound on the glass, screaming to go outside? You moved on. You forgot about her. 

And now you want to go to her funeral?

The most human, powerful and humbling thing would be to show up. Not in death. But in life. No matter how grotesque the circumstances.


  1. Interesting thoughts. My mother, also with Front Temporal Lobe Dementia, has very minimal visitors or inquiries. I often wonder myself how scarce her funeral will be that fateful day. I wouldn’t even know who to call or if anyone would even hear about it. I would be shocked to see a large crowd like at my fathers 10 years ago despite that at least half knew both of them. I guess time will tell. God bless you and your mother and your family.

  2. You are sooo right on! I was so surprised on how many of my Mom’s church friends and even family members just simply abandoned her/us. My Mom passed about 4 years ago of this dreadful disease. I decided to have a closed casket. Some family members got to see her. I felt that was my way of saying to many that came to the funeral is just that. You didn’t come to see her alive, why now when she’s dead! Best Wishes to you.

  3. Hi. Thank you for sharing this, and I understand how you feel.
    My Mum has attended a church for 33 years, served in various ways, even when it cost her (also in various ways). Now she has dementia, though she lives five minutes up the road, it’s just too hard for people to visit. No one will pick her up or take her back to her residential care facility. She’s still compos mentis, still walks, knows who everyone is, talks etc.

    I went to a wedding of the son of some friends of my parents at this church recently. Four people came up to me to offer excuses (because that’s what they are) as to why they don’t visit. By the time the fourth one came, I didn’t make them feel better, I just said “yes, she’s very lonely.” Of course, I could have said a lot more.

    I understand it’s difficult and confronting, but when did we abandon the project of trying to be better people, or in the case of churchgoers, trying to be more like Christ?

    Now my Dad picks my Mum up and takes her to his church (he’s RC, she’s the equivalent of your Episcopalian). Mum likes Dad’s church now. This is pretty amazing, given that they married at a time when sectarianism was strong, and the RC church frowned on my Dad marrying outside the RC church. But it makes her too sad to go to her church and see all the people who could help but don’t. One person visiting once a week would only take 52 people = one person one visit a year. Too hard.

    I’ve discussed it with my family and we don’t think we would tell those church people about Mum’s death (assuming we are alive when it happens), and wouldn’t have her funeral there. I don’t want to see people at her funeral who abandoned her when she most needed them. My Mum occasionally likes to talk funerals (a new development!), so when she does next, I will broach the subject of where she’d like it to be.

    What grieves me most is my Mum’s sadness and feelings of rejection. I don’t know how I will forgive these hypocrites for that.

  4. So sorry you’ve had to deal with these challenges. I can appreciate the sentiment. I suppose, at the end of the day, we just have to let it go… not for them, but for us.

  5. Wow, this is so how I feel.

    I live 2500 miles from my mom who is a nursing home with Dementia. She still is able to do for herself but just can’t remember what happened or what was said 2 minutes ago.

    She has trouble finding words for when she wants to speak. She knows what she wants to say…just can’t get it out.

    She has siblings who live in the same town and she. They have been to see her maybe once since she has been there 5 months. As a matter of fact her youngest sister (age 64) lives on the same street as the nursing home.

    Her granddaughter (my daughter) lives in the same town and she has been there once.

    I try to make it there every 3 months and call every few days to speak with my mom (mostly one sided conversation) and to speak with the nurses to see how my mom is actually doing. I have no sisters or brothers.

    I know people say you only hurt yourself when you hold hard feelings against someone(her siblings and my daughter) but it is easier said than done.

    Thanks for letting me vent. Sometimes it is nice to be able to express how you feel.

  6. Hi. I just came across your blog and can’t stop reading it! Your words are so powerful and speak so much truth to what is going on in our life. My mother is 57 years old and was diagnosed 7 months ago with FLD, we are brand new to the rollercoaster of emotions. Each day I feel that I am making a check list of things to take care of: her Dr appointments, ordering tracking devices, getting power of attorneys, getting her out of the house to TRY and enjoy some of her day. My father is having a difficult time accepting this new reality, so I feel like a lot of the work is also taking care of him and making sure he’s healthy enough to help care for my mother…he’s quickly realizing that being a caretaker is not for the weak. Again, I’m so glad I came across your blog. I haven’t given myself a chance to grieve and I feel like your posts help speak for me. Thank you

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