Etiquette for Attending the Funeral of an Ex

Crying couple at a funeral

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Attending the funeral of an ex-spouse or significant other can be quite tricky, depending on a number of factors. If your split was amicable, the experience will be different from one after a contentious divorce.

While it is never easy to attend the funeral of someone you have loved, there are many things you need to take into consideration. Your relationships with your ex's family members after a divorce can be quite complex.

Remember that other people in your ex’s family may have had a difficult time watching their loved one’s pain during the separation, and they might blame you for it. You shouldn't engage in a conversation about the split during this time. If a family member seems agitated by your appearance at the funeral, back away to prevent causing a scene.

Grieving the death of an ex is very real. You once loved and cared for that person, and even if they were no longer a part of your life when the death occurred, the void will still be felt—even more so if you had children together.

To Go or Not Go to the Funeral

The first thing you need to decide is whether or not your presence will be accepted or if it will cause the family even more grief than they’re already experiencing. If you have remained in contact with your ex’s family, and you are on good terms then, by all means, go.

If you choose to go, remember this event isn’t about you. The purpose of the funeral service is to honor the deceased and help provide closure to those who are grieving. This is not the time to say anything negative about your ex or bring up anything that will add to the family’s pain and suffering.

Since your relationship with the deceased has ended, you are not a family member anymore, so you shouldn’t expect to sit with the family. Quietly and politely find a place in the friends’ section and show respect for your position outside the family circle.

However, if you are concerned that your being there will upset your ex’s family, consider staying home. You can always send a sympathy card and a plant or flowers beforehand or afterward.

If you choose to write a sympathy note, keep it brief and positive. It is fine to simply express your sympathy and sign your name. If you send flowers, keep the arrangement simple but elegant. This is not the time to show off or make a statement.

When Children Are Involved

If you and your ex have children together, you have more of a bond with the family and the entire dynamic changes. You need to determine whether or not your presence will provide comfort for your children.

If possible, discuss your thoughts with someone from your ex’s family and let them know that your children want you there. There are several options for attending your ex’s funeral if the two of you have children together:

  • Attend the funeral separate from your children who are old enough to sit with your ex’s family while you stay in the background to keep the attention off of your presence.
  • Attend the funeral with your children if they are very young and need you for support.
  • Choose to stay home but ask one of your ex’s close relatives to take your children to the funeral.

If you haven’t maintained a relationship with your ex’s family for any reason, and you have children, you may attend the funeral but sit with your children in the back. Someone from the family may ask your children to join them, but don’t expect them to put aside their grief to make you feel welcome.

Make sure your children understand that this is a solemn occasion that requires their best behavior throughout the entire service. Tell them what to expect and remind them that you will be there for them.

Visitation for an Ex

The decision to go to the visitation also depends on your relationship with your ex’s family. You should not attend if you feel that it will cause more grief or create any type of drama. If your ex’s parents are still living, they are going through one of the worst experiences anyone can endure, so don’t make it more difficult by insisting on being there.

If you have maintained a positive relationship with some members of your ex’s family, ask them if your presence would be accepted. They know their family and will be able to determine what is best for everyone. Then follow their advice.

What to Say to the Family of Your Deceased Ex

If you attend the funeral, you may choose to slip in and out quietly, without making an issue of being there. However, if you go to the visitation or repass, you’ll want to say something to the grieving family members. Unless you have maintained a jovial relationship with them, keep it simple and brief.

Examples of how to express your sympathy to your ex’s family members:

  • I am so sorry. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.
  • Please know that you are in my heart and mind during this difficult time.
  • You have lost someone very special, and if there is anything I can do, please let me know.

Involvement in Your Ex’s Funeral

Most of the time, it is best to keep your involvement to a minimum during the funeral or repass of your deceased ex. However, if you have remained in the lives of the family, you may want to take a more active role—particularly if there are children involved. Ask one of the family members what you can do to help and follow through with everything you agree to do.

Here are some of the ways you may be able to help:

  • Transport flowers to the home or graveyard.
  • Bring food to the family.
  • Offer to transport family members who are unable to drive.
  • Help out behind the scenes with whatever they need for you to do.

If your relationship with the family is strained, you may still offer assistance; however, they are not likely to accept. Be understanding but let them know that the offer stands if you are still willing to help.

When Your Ex Has Remarried

If your ex has remarried, chances are, your role in the services or repass will be minimal if anything. All of the tips listed above are still valid. It’s important to remember that even though you were once deeply involved with the person, there is someone else in that position who is actively grieving. Express your sympathy in as few words as possible but don’t linger.

Your ex’s spouse has enough to deal with emotionally and doesn’t need the stress of worrying about you. If you are unable to control yourself enough to show respect for the fact that your ex moved on, don’t attend the funeral. This isn’t the time to air any negative feelings about the deceased.

Showing Respect

Regardless of the circumstances, a funeral should be a place to show respect for those who are in mourning. Your decision to go should be based on the relationship you have with the surviving family members of your ex as well as whether or not you have children. Put aside whatever issues you may have had with your former partner and do what is best for those who were still in their life.