Dear Family Advisor

Help! My mom's in hospice and my sister and I are arguing about her funeral.

Last updated: Mar 15, 2008

Our mom has said she wants to be cremated "so you don't have to waste your money on hair and makeup," and my sister says we should abide by her wishes. But I think Mom is just being her frugal martyr self to the end, and she deserves to be properly laid out. I also think an open casket is helpful in the grieving process. Who's right?

Why not ask your mother? If she's able to have a real conversation about this, she's the one who should really make that decision. And if she does, it will allow you and your sister to avoid arguing about it and focus instead on her at this time. If your mom is still lucid, I strongly suggest a heart-to-heart conversation with her. You might try telling her what you'd like your own memorial to be like. By taking the focus and pressure off her, she might open up. Be sure to be specific -- what kind of flowers, what kind of music -- anything that will allow her to forget herself for a few moments. If she recoils, then she may be too sick or too depressed to care. She is, by default, allowing you and your sister to decide. If your mom isn't able to share her desires with you, then it becomes about what you and your sister need. In that case, I suggest you ask your sister for a compromise. Decide what you need to bring closure to your mom's death, and ask for those things. Share how important they are to you. Funerals and memorials are usually more about the living family members, and there are two of you. So be willing to let go of the items that are less important to you so that your sister feels she is an equal partner in the process. It will help if you and your sister can give each other a break during this stressful time. About three weeks before one of my daughters was getting married, I let our three girls know that if anyone had a meltdown between then and the wedding -- if they ran through the house chasing a family member while naked, or cried uncontrollably and locked themselves in the bathroom -- all would be forgiven and forgotten. Emotional ceremonies can stir all kinds of chaos and panic. They can bring out the best in us and, often, the worst. You're in unknown territory, and your journey will be easier if you can let each other off the hook when either of you has some ugly moments. I've seen end-of-life issues almost destroy families. It seems that you and your sister both love your mom. Listen to each other, give a little, and promise to love each other after this sad and difficult time reaches its conclusion. With Mom gone, you'll need your sister more than ever.