Q: My ex-husband just died. We've been divorced for five years and both remarried. Our daughter is 14 and she wants me to go with her to the funeral. It wasn’t a friendly divorce, and his new wife hasn’t even spoken to me. Should I go to my ex-husband’s funeral with our daughter? Or should I check to see if there is someone more neutral who could take her?

The short answer is of course you go to your ex-husband’s funeral. But my guess is that you are already feeling that instinct to support your daughter, and you just want to make sure that’s okay and people won’t gossip about your horrible judgment. Here’s why it’s not just okay, but really the only right thing you can do.

Sure, it’s complicated if the person your daughter is crying over is the guy who made your life miserable and didn’t even help pay for her braces. And you don’t know how the new wife feels. That can be a tough situation to walk into, and I totally get that. But ultimately this isn’t about you.

This funeral is about helping your daughter through a very difficult loss. As her mother, do you really want someone else holding her hand during the service? Or even worse, for her to sit in a church pew alone? Of course not. You want to be right there, as you probably always have, to give her a comforting hug and a fresh tissue.

You don’t need anyone’s permission to attend your ex-husband’s funeral. Funerals are public events unless the obituary says otherwise. Even if this is a private funeral you would go because your daughter obviously meets the definition of “close family.” And the fact that she exists testifies to your former relationship with her father – a relationship that was ongoing while you were her parents, married or not.

 

Truthfully, everyone at the funeral will have a lot more on

their mind than noticing who is and isn't there.

 

The key is not to go with negative intent. You might be tempted to snort and roll your eyes during the eulogy if you don’t exactly remember your ex as kind and generous. But keep negative thoughts to yourself, and remember you’re there to honor a relationship that was important to your daughter.

This also isn’t about your relationship with the new wife, or all those who sided with your ex after the divorce. Believe me, I’ve been there. I went to a funeral where the best friend of the deceased hated my guts, and we sat five feet from each other. But we both loved the person who had died. We didn’t console each other, and we didn’t reach to each other for support. Just because two people had a close relationship with someone who dies doesn’t automatically make them friends.

Truthfully, the new wife (and everyone else at your ex-husband’s funeral) will have a lot more on their minds than noticing who is and isn’t there. They’ll be busy and preoccupied, so don’t feel like you need to go out of your way to say anything to any of his new family members.

But back to your daughter. Focus on some positive things you can share with her as she grieves her father. You must have been pretty captivated by him at one point, so help her tap into those memories. Funny stories and permission to love him (even if you no longer do) will help her mourn and move on. 

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Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.