My family had a disagreement over my mom's final arrangements. How can I help ease this conflict?

2 answers | Last updated: Nov 20, 2016
Yngheart asked...

My sister and I had Mom cremated, but my oldest son wanted her buried. He didn't come to her memorial service and has stopped talking to me. What can I do to ease tensions and help settle this conflict?


Expert Answers

Martha Clark Scala has been a psychotherapist in private practice since 1992, with offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco, California. She regularly writes about grief and loss, the necessity of self-care, and substance abuse. Her e-newsletter, "Out on a Limb," is available to subscribers through her website.

How unfortunate that in the aftermath of your Mom's death, you must face your son's wrath, too.

It's not clear whether your Mom made her wishes for the disposition of her body clear before she died. If she explicitly asked to be cremated, and you and your sister carried out her wishes, they really should trump your son's preferences. He's allowed to feel differently about it, and to protest in whatever manner he'd like, but at this point, it is not going to change the outcome.

If you did not know what your Mom wanted, it seems fair to assume that you and your sister as her offspring would be appropriate decision-makers regarding the disposition of her body, and in fact, most state laws provide this.

Without knowing why your son protests this decision so much, it's hard to weigh in on who has the better sense of what your Mom would have wanted. For example, if her wishes were not explicit, and if for some reason, your older son was much closer to your Mom than either you or your sister, he may actually see himself as the more appropriate person to make a decision about this. Or he may have had a conversation with your Mom that led him to feel so strongly about her being buried rather than cremated.  

Bear in mind that in the aftermath of the death of a beloved person, sometimes the bereaved get mad. The object of their anger varies. For example, some are mad at the deceased, some are mad at a doctor or an institution – which explains the abundance of malpractice suits -- and some are mad at God or at others whom they see as unhelpful helpers. Often, the anger itself is fueled by feelings of powerlessness over the actual loss.  

And anger sometimes masks deep sadness. Perhaps this is what has your son so upset. To ease tensions, see if you can find a way to listen to your son's anger. Hard as it may be, if you can validate his feelings without either feeling that you need to agree with him or getting defensive, you may get somewhere in your attempt to resolve this conflict. If no progress is made, consider consulting a family therapist for help.

What's done is done. You can't resolve the conflict by making a different decision about the disposition of your Mom's body at this time. Ultimately, it will be your son's task to find a way to make peace with this outcome, whether it's what he would have chosen, or not. It is indeed an important life lesson that we don't always get to have things go our way. With luck and perseverance, the conflict will abate so that you, your sister, and your son will all be freed to grieve this major loss, rather than remain lodged in the conflict.

One last thought: Cremains can be buried. Perhaps that would work as a compromise.

Community Answers

Bibi upstate ukie answered...

Wow, I thought that this was a good response. I am in the process of pre-planning my own arrangements (at age 53) and getting all of my legal paperwork updated. I am opting for cremation, which may cause some family angst (among the older generation), but my wishes will be followed with pre-planning arrangements.

Hope that your family conflict will abate with time.