Interfaith families may disagree on funeral arrangements and faith traditions. Feuding relatives may find a focus for long-simmering resentments. What can we learn from other families who have gone through this before us? Here are five things to keep in mind to help you and your loved ones get through a very difficult time:
1. Stressful events sometimes bring out the worst in people.
Most men and women who can keep it together during calm moments find their resentments, judgments, and clashing values are impossible to hide or control when something as intense as a funeral or a long-term caregiving situation presents itself. This happens notonly because of your differing beliefs andvalues, but also because a situation like thisbrings up strong feelings of shock, grief, andloss. To be fair, you might need to forgiveyourself and your loved ones ahead of time forsaying and doing insensitive or volatile thingsthat they might not do under less upsettingcircumstances. Or you might want to take a step back for a moment and say to yourself and your loved ones with a bit of spiritual wisdom, "This is going to be an intense ride for each of us. Let's not get bent out of shape if there are some extremely bumpy moments along the way to making some very complicated and imperfect decisions."
For example, if there are substantial religious differences in your family and one relative feels the caregiving or burial must conform to a particular tradition, while other relatives feel the caregiving or burial should be closer to what the ailing or deceased relative would prefer, a legitimate disagreement or discussion is to be expected. Don't hate or condemn your relative for wanting things to conform with his or her cherished beliefs, and at the same time don't ignore or deny your own strong feelings on the issue. It's quitenormal to disagree about which clergy to choose,which type of words to say at the funeral, whereto bury (or whether to cremate) your loved one,and other highly divisive issues. It's verycommon to have one faction of the family thatwants everything done according to the letter ofthe law, while another family faction wantsthings done in a less traditional or moreprogressive way.
2. Call on a mediator for help.
Rather than getting embroiled in a debate or apower struggle, it's extremely important to bring in a mediator or family adviser who can help the two sides brainstorm on a unique solution (orsequence of traditional and less-traditionalevents) that will honor the diversity and clashing views that exist in your family. It might be a priest, minister,rabbi, pastoral counselor, unbiased friend,psychologist, lawyer, hospice professional, orconflict-resolution specialist. This mediatoror family adviser should be someone who has theskills and perspective to help you designsolutions that take each faction in the familyseriously (someone who can step outside his orher own biases and say "Let me hear what each ofyou feels is important so we can build upon whateach of you believe is the right way to honoryour loved one who has died").
3. Realize that you don't have to control the entire proceedings.
Quite oftenat a funeral service or a post-funeral ritualwhere one faction or individual in the family is doing thingstheir way, you may need to just let go of controland focus on your own personal relationship toyour loved one who has died and to your personalview of what the funeral means in your own beliefsystem or in the spiritual or religious path thatyou practice and that might be different but noless valid than the one practiced by yourrelatives.
You can have a beautiful moment of honoring your beloved relative and helping his or her soul make this mysterious transition even if there are words or rituals during the funeral or afterward that make you uncomfortable. For example, if a family member, perhaps out of religious conviction, says of the deceased, "We are sohappy that she is in a better place now" and ifthat sentiment is not what you're feeling at themoment, there's no need to debate variousafterlife views right now. Simply let them havetheir own way of dealing with the loss, and makesure you get some support and allies for your ownparticular way of viewing death and what happensafter the heart has stopped beating.