I'm trapped between honoring my mother's wishes for her memorial "“- and alienating my siblings.


Last updated: December 30, 2009

My mother is Jewish, but my late father was Christian. My siblings and I were raised Christian and were closer to dad's side of the family. As Mom's primary caregiver, I've been attending temple the last few years with her and have enjoyed exploring this part of my heritage. Mom is approaching the end of her life -- she has lung cancer -- and I've been helping her make plans.

She'd like to be buried with her parents in the Jewish section of our local cemetery. Our father was buried in his home state and bought her a plot next to his. That isn't what she wants now, but my siblings say we should be practical and not spend the extra money -- and that none of her family or friends will appreciate the Jewish traditions of not having a viewing, having the service within 24 hours, and not having flowers (things Mom wants). I think it's most important to honor Mom's wishes. How do I get my siblings to see that we should focus on what she wants?

Try not to think of this as an either-or situation. Perhaps there are ways for your family to honor both your mom's and your siblings' needs at this time.

Some people believe that a person's funeral or memorial requests should be followed to the letter. Others feel that services are more for the living -- as a way for them to cope with their loss. Every culture has a way to deal with death. Funerals and memorials actually help with grief -- familiar rituals and traditions can give loved ones a sense of closure as they come together to honor us, and these rituals bond us with our community. How we honor those we love as they go through the dying journey is important -- and healing -- to everyone involved.

It's wonderful that you've spent some time exploring your Jewish culture and faith. But your siblings may not "get" where you're coming from, and people tend to be judgmental of the unfamiliar. They might feel as if a part of their childhood and your dad's contributions are somehow being threatened by you "choosing" Judaism. Be open, friendly, and inviting, and try not to argue about religion with them.

Gently remind your mom that all of her children love her and need to feel they've had a chance to say goodbye in their own way. If she agrees, you might be able to plan a service that incorporates elements of both faiths. Or you could plan two events: a Jewish service within the first 24 hours and a later Christian-based service.

If expense is an issue, think simple and small. If your siblings want a larger event, share the budget with them and suggest they pitch in if they choose anything her estate can't afford. The empty plot doesn't necessarily have to go to waste -- maybe one of your siblings would like to be buried next to Dad someday.

As your mom's primary caregiver, you're her advocate. Talk openly about what she wants and honor that as much as you can, but build a bridge for your siblings to reconnect with her. Don't wait to put on a fancy service to show that you loved Mom. Show her now.

Your mom can continue to draw strength from both her faith and her family now. Invite the rabbi to visit. Ask her extended family, your siblings, and dear friends to stop by. You could create a regular visiting time -- maybe Saturday afternoon -- and just hang out together. Tell crazy-funny childhood tales, and make your mom laugh again. Rebuild the bonds that may have frayed over the years. Old wounds may heal as everyone comes to know one another again.

Try to compromise about the service, but let go of trying to please everyone. If any siblings get ugly about memorial plans (and they might), choose to stay calm and focused. You're about to face your mother's death, and you don't need to get sucked into a family drama. You'll probably be the one to handle most of the details -- while your heart is breaking. Meanwhile, she wants to know that her choices will be respected. Stay focused and be there for her.

She has the right to make these decisions -- and then it will be up to you to carry them out as best you can. Remind your siblings that your parents loved each other -- they didn't let cultural or religious differences tear them apart while they were alive, so their kids can do the same. All of you are losing your mom, and sometimes fear comes out as anger or hurt.

Strive to come together with kindness and patience and a heaping dose of understanding. I'm sure your mom's deepest hope is that her family surrounds her with love -- and peace -- at this most important time. Do the best you can and know deep inside you that you love her and you've done all you can to care for her -- and that's good enough.

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13 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

over 4 years ago

I feel sorry that you're put in this position at such a sad time. I see this from your point of view and also from your mother's. When I leave this life, I want to be cremated, but one of my children is very much against that. I worry that this may cause a breach between my children when I go, no matter what they decide. I would feel so much better if they would tell me they will honor my wishes. Your mother lived her life the best she could, and I think she has a right to go as she chooses. Try to help your family see that it is her life, and that should be honored. If they can't accept that, then just keep sending them love, and don't feel any guilt for honoring your mother. Blessings to you and your family.


over 4 years ago

everyone in my family is Christian but some of us are catholic and some are not. My sister passed away one month ago and we had the service in their christian faith and then had a memorial service with pictures and candles at my parents catholic church the following weekend. She was not buried in the cemetary where most of my family is buried but instead she was buried in a cemetary that is close to my parents home. Although my parents would have liked a Catholic service, they are extremely happy that she is buried so close to their home. They can go put flowers on her grave whenever they want to.


over 4 years ago

God bless you in your difficult situation. You said, "That's not what she wants now," with regards to her burial place. It sounds to me that, as she approaches the end of her earthly life, what was originally OK with her years ago (or she agreed to to please your father), isn't any more. It also sounds to me like maybe she's getting closer to her faith after being away from it for awhile; maybe that's also in her wanting to be in a Jewish cemetary with her Jewish parents. Either way, I think the siblings' comments of friends and family not liking the Jewish way of ceremony and burial is a specious argument; I'm Catholic, and I've been to many ceremonies that were exactly the same as you describe. It's true, the funerals and memorials are for the living, but if the person they're in memory of wants things done a certain way, that should take precedence. There's been lots of good advice on how to discuss these things with your siblings, so I won't repeat them. The financial argument sounds to me like less concern for your mother's wishes and more concern for what they'll inherit; I hope I'm wrong, but unfortunately people do get greedy or think of what they think they deserve to have when someone dies. The "extra cost" argument falls down for me when the Jewish cemetary she wants to be in is local, but the plot next to your father is "in his home state"; transportation of her body would cost, how much would depend on how far away this cemetary is. Would her family and friends be able to travel that far to make the funeral? Would they have to get hotel rooms to stay overnight if it's far enough away? Having no flowers at the service is no problem; you could let people know beforehand what your mother's wishes are, that the service would be very soon after she dies, and suggest that, in lieu of flowers, they make a contribution to a favorite charity of hers. This is done all the time these days. Flowers at a funeral are just a memorial for the dead person, they fade and are gone with nothing left behind. Some people use them as a "show" for "look how much s/he meant to me". A gift to a charity your mother favors (and you could ask her now what that would be) would be, to me, a more meaningful and lasting way of remembering someone. Hopefully, all these answers help you to do what you need to. To quote the Old Testament, common to Jews and Christians alike; May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord shine His face upon you; may He be gracious unto you and give you peace.


over 4 years ago

When in doubt, follow the Golden Rule/Practice Empathy. Your Mom trusted you to follow her wishes and to speak on her behalf when she was no longer able to. I don't see how you could betray her trust. I'm sorry if it alienates you from your siblings, but you could have declined as the responsible party and told your Mom that you weren't sure if you could handle the responsibility and asked her to assign this to someone else, but you accepted to do this, right?


over 4 years ago

No offense to you, but your siblings are being really selfish, if your mother wants to be burried in a jewish cemetary that should be honored, I mean she raised you guys gave her life to you the least they can do is bury her where she wants. Plenty of non jewish people don't want viewings either, its much nicer to remember the person with pictures of the happiest times in their life not staring them down in a casket facing your own mortality. sorry if that sounds harsh, but it is true. Your siblings need to remember that she gave them her life and if all she wants is to die her way how dare they take that away? A jewish burial is a beautiful tribute I have been I know. it's not flashy flowers and fancy caskets, so if your siblings are worried about the expense they are pretty inexpensive which should off set the cost of the plot. a typical casket is a pine box very cheap. tell your siblings it's what SHE wants Honor Thy Mother..


over 4 years ago

My grandmother gave away several things, back to those who had given them to her. This was during the last 10 yrs of her life. She wanted a closed casket and did not want me to travel to her funeral. I respected her wishes. Her son, my father, died less than 2 months later. I did travel to that one. No, I did not inherit anything from either one. The funerals are all done differently in different parts of the country. No advance viewing for my father, just the funeral and graveside service. He was buried in a different place than his first wife,our mother. My grandmother had closed casket and no graveside service. Neither had the typical viewing with food and visiting like we have here in Tennessee. Some have memorial services. It can be done pretty much how anyone wishes, within the law. Cremation, a party after at the local sports bar, what ever you want to have and pay for. The funeral process IS for those left behind. You can not make everyone happy. Both of the people I spoke of, died suddenly. No long illness.


Anonymous said over 4 years ago

I come from a family of 7 siblings and when my Dad died in Dec 08 and my Mother suffered a massive stroke that left her with little to no speech we were torn. My Mom hated being in a nursing home and my eldest brother (POA) and 1 sister wanted to keep her there against her wishes. They wanted to sell the house and store all her belongs and leave her in the home. Well, me, 2 brothers and 1 sister came together and decided against this. What we had to go one, because my Mother couldn't speak, is what the ten commandments say. "HONOR THY FATHER & THY MOTHER". It doesn't say "honor thy brother and sister". We went on this and all appears to be fine now. Mom is home, doing much better and the family is not as divided. I think that some of the Jewish traditions could be side stepped like having the service within 24 hours, and not having flowers. There has to be a compromise between everyone since you are all the ones that will be going through the grief process. You Mother will be gone. GOOD LUCK! I know it was a big strain on our family when my Dad died. My Mom is in very poor health and we might go through this same process again really soon.


Anonymous said over 4 years ago

Although I went through my Dad's death several months ago,it is still very vivid to me. I think that the comments made have all had valid points. I guess the writer will just have to pick and choose her actions and responses I think some of the points that were extremely useful were:1 signed notes from neighbors about mother's wishes, the Memorial Celebration,some kind of compromise with the siblings. Perhaps they could be co hosts of the Celebration of their Mom's life.If the mother is still with it mentally maybe let her know that they are doing that so that she will be at peace knowing that the children will all be together in her honor.


over 4 years ago

If the rest of the family is christian please remind them honor thy mother... She has lived a long enough life to make her own burial decisions. However, if she is suffering from dementia or some other disease that alters her thinking, then maybe the original plans should be kept in place. Either way there is a group called Jews for Jesus - maybe you could get some service ideas through them.


over 4 years ago

I really feel sorry for the writer. What a time to be split apart like this. If your Mom made her wishes known to her children, then they should be willing to let her have her final wishes. Maybe she can incorporate the suggestions where she writes on a piece of paper what she wants and you have someone witness it and sign it. Perhaps then your sibling will give you some slack.If they realize that these are her final wishes,maybe they will be tolerant. You can have a memorial. Maybe the viewing can just be for the family I have been to Christian funerals where there was no viewing. I think your sibling are trying to lay a guilt trip on you. Just remember you tried to do everything your mom wanted. Perhaps you can ask the rabbi to visit your mom and you at home, he or she can probably help you through this time.


Anonymous said over 4 years ago

During the last six months of caretaking my Mom, she would often mention how and where she wanted things to be for herself and family. What I did was write down her wishes on a piece of paper and have Mom sign and date it. I also had a neighbor witness this, though not making a big deal about it. Mom already had a legal will and the usual legal documents, but there were little doodads that she wanted sent to members of our family in other countries. We're talking here shipping costs. Knowing my siblings, for sure the distribution as Mom wanted would not have happened if I didn't have backup. They would say, "Mom had dementia. What did she know." They always fell back on that even when she was alive. They appeared to be caring, but each person takes a terminal illness and impending death in their own way. Thanks to those pieces of papers I was able to do as Mom wished. Peace to you.


Anonymous said over 4 years ago

If your mother is of sound mind then do what she wants it her last wish and screw your siblings its all about control.


Anonymous said over 4 years ago

When someone you love is dying or has died you are so full of emotions. I understand you want to carry out your mothers wishes. When my mom dies I want to carry out her wishes, but I know my sister will disagree with some of the things she chooses. I have decided that there is one thing that I will insist on that I know my mom really wants and the other things will be negotionable. That way we both get a say and hopefully no hard feelings.


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