Etiquette for the Funeral of an Ex Mother-in-Law

Should I Attend My Ex Mother-In-Law's Funeral?

Mother and children at funeral
  RubberBall Productions / Getty Images

Has your ex mother-in-law recently passed away? Do you wonder whether or not you should attend her funeral? There are things you need to take into consideration before you make your decision, such as what kind of relationship you have with your ex.

Attending any funeral is uncomfortable for most people, but even more so when you're likely to run into your ex. If you haven't maintained a civil relationship with this person, there could be some extremely uncomfortable moments or surprises when you see each other.

Difficult Decision

This is a common dilemma with complications based on a variety of issues related to your relationship with your ex's family because there's a good chance you'll be in the position of having to say something to them. The fact that this is a sad time for those who loved her makes it even more difficult because you don't want to dredge up negative feelings from the past that will only compound the sadness.

Splitting with your spouse has a rippling effect on the family, and there might be some leftover hard feelings that you want to avoid. This makes it difficult to know what to do when there is a funeral for a member of your former spouse's family.

The key component in your decision of whether or not to attend your former mother-in-law's funeral should be based on your relationship with her, your former spouse, and the needs and desires of your children. If you aren't sure about what to do, try to have a conversation with your ex spouse. If that isn't possible, you should remain in the background and do whatever it takes not to pull attention from those close family members who are in mourning.

Your Relationships

In many instances, the answer to the question of whether or not to attend someone’s funeral is clear. If you have to ask, and you are feeling the nudge to go, you should probably attend as long as it doesn't compound the grief of immediate family members. Most people attend a funeral out of respect and honor for the deceased, but you don't want to cause anguish among those in mourning.

Consider the message you might be sending to your former family members, children, and perhaps grandchildren if they perceive you have snubbed their beloved Nana. If you know that you aren't welcome at the services, explain to the children that you and their other parent are no longer married, and some of the other relatives might be uncomfortable if you attend.

Answer their questions in the least accusatory way possible. This isn't the time to air your personal negative feelings about your ex. Older children probably have a sense of your relationship with your ex's family, so they won't be confused. Younger children will understand if you explain that the family is very sad, and you don't want to make them sadder.

Angry or Bitter Divorce Considerations

In some cases, where there has been a bitter or nasty divorce, you probably want to refrain from attending an in-law’s funeral service. You should consider whether your presence will cause discomfort or confusion during an already very emotional time. If you believe your being there will cause extra anxiety or frustration in the situation, choose instead to send a heartfelt card along with an appropriate floral arrangement to the family. 

Consider the Children and Grandchildren

You should always consider your children. If you have children together with your ex and they are going to attend, inquire as to whether or not they would like for you to accompany them. Their needs should outweigh any personal vendettas or agendas for both sides. Let your ex know your children's feelings. However, if being there will create a scene, sit down with your children and explain that it is best if you don't attend, but you will be there for them after they return from the funeral. And then make sure your ex spouse or someone your children are comfortable with will attend to their needs.

Different Role

Remember if you do decide to attend that you may have a different role than you would, had you still been the daughter or son-in-law. If your former spouse is still unmarried, this may not cause much disturbance at all. However, take your cues from the grieving family. Although you may feel that you are still one of them, they may not have the same opinion.

Offer your help and be gracious during the service, and if you sense that there are hard feelings, you may want to bow out gracefully immediately afterward. You should probably not expect to ride in the limousine during the procession. However, if you have small children who need your support and comfort during the ride, show the courage and fortitude necessary to accompany them without apology.

In your children the two families became one; their emotional needs trump attitudes and even preferences during this stressful time. You still need to be sensitive and be extremely careful about what you say.

Most Important Consideration

During grief, the last thing you want to do is make people feel worse than they already do. Weigh each decision carefully and choose the path that causes the least amount of pain for the immediate family members. Never discuss hard feelings during the wake, visitation, or funeral services. If any conversation you have with your ex's family becomes awkward or hurtful, change the subject as quickly as possible and in the most polite way.


Edited by Debby Mayne