My mother (Ann) married my step father (Lee) nearly 21 years ago. They dated for 3 years before that. My brother and I were 4 & 5 yrs old when he came into our lives and we always thought of him as a father to us and we got along very well. We grew up on our family farm together that my parents shared for 19 yrs.
Lee had previously been married to a woman and they had three children together. Their marriage lasted 30 years though they had been separated for many years before the divorce was finalized. His Ex and two daughters made no secret that they blamed my mom for the ending of their marriage and his children were in their 20s and late teens when my parents married. Lee and his Ex didn’t speak after their divorce and it would not be described as amicable. His son who sadly passed a number of years ago, was the only one of the 3 children that developed any kind of relationship with us. Lee’s two daughters (Patty & Jane) were seldom seen or heard from in the 25 years they were together. For example, it was 10 years after they married when I met Jane for the first time. We knew Patty better but she only visited a few times a year. I would describe Patty as passive aggressive towards us and Jane was outright hostile when we did see her. Most visits or phone calls between us corresponded with weddings/funerals/births/holidays and almost never “just to say Hi”. My Mom attempted to make a relationship with them and eventually with Lee’s grandchildren but it never really worked out. I would admit, we did see them a bit more after the grandchildren were born but not by much and usually just as free babysitting while they went on holiday.
A month ago, Lee passed away very suddenly right in front of my Mom. He was 73. This story is about his wake. He didn’t want a service or announcement of any kind but since it was so sudden, my Mom wanted to give his children a chance to say goodbye and a small obituary to tell the community as he was well liked. The plan was to arrange a small family only viewing and he would be cremated. At a later time, we would spread his ashes. Jane insisted on going to the funeral home with my Mom to make arrangements even though she was told it would not be necessary as the arrangements were very simple. She made the 6 hour round trip anyway. This was less than 24 hours after his passing.
As we were leaving, she bullied my Mom into retelling the specifics details of his death in the parking lot of the home. Picture my sobbing mother re-enacting a seizure in -20 degrees in front of a funeral home 20 hours later. As I cut in to take my Mom to the car saying, “This was inappropriate and can be done at another time”, she starting screaming that, “He was my father and she MUST tell me exactly what happened,” and, “Who do you think you are”. She then informed us her mother (the Ex) would be attending because after all “they were married 30 years and she was the mother of his actual children”. This was so very hurtful to my Mom but we just left.
The next day, we learned that Jane had contacted the funeral home to make changes to the obituary. Among the various changes she tried to make, she wanted to add her mother and move my brother and I to the end of the obituary. At the service, the Ex did arrive and they all barely acknowledged us. Essentially, two services happen at once. My Mom, who wanted to show she was ok with the Ex coming, went up to her at the end but before she could speak, the Ex snapped at my Mom, “What do you want?” Shocked by her tone, my Mom burst into tears and blurted out, “He always said you were a good mother, thank you for coming”. Before my Mom could even finish, the Ex told my Mom that she, “…knew this already and certainly don’t need you to tell me”.
My Mom thought it was ok that the Ex attended to support her children but the Ex stood at the head of the casket most of the service, the spot usually reserved for the widow. She kissed him and rearrange the items in the casket included pushing the love letter he gave to my Mom out of sight. She behaved like she was the widow even though her spouse of 20 years was there. Jane and her family ignored my mother and us completely. As Patty arrived, she rushed up to my Mom to hug her. My grandmother was sitting with my Mom and holding her hand when Patty arrived. Patty pushed my Grandmother away from my Mom saying, “She doesn’t need you right now, go sit down”. My grandmother had severe dementia and would pass away herself only two weeks later. Other than this, Patty would not speak with us for the rest of the wake.
The next day, the Ex wrote a long and awful review of the wake on Facebook. It included several references to my Mom as “that B***h he married” and details about the spreading of the ashes which we knew nothing about. Jane and Patty both “Like” these comments. These comments devastated my Mom. Their behavior over the last few weeks did everything to reinforce that they were first family and we were second. Never have we felt so dismissed and unimportant. We blocked them on FB and their phone # in an effort to give my Mom some time to grieve her husband and very shortly afterwards, her mother.
Through family friends and Lee’s sister, we have learned they have already made the plans for spreading his ashes and that his Ex intends on attending. An urn has been purchased and a date set. The location is over a day’s drive away and they have attempted to get the ashes from the funeral home. They have been calling my Mom daily despite her request to them to give her some time and peace before making any further plans. They even called the day of my grandmother’s funeral, a detail they were well aware of. My brother and I have spoken with both of them to ask they give her some time and when she is ready, she will call them but they appear to be going ahead with their plans. We are at a loss of what we should do. My Mom doesn’t want to attend the plans they have made as the Ex made it clear she will attend and it is so far away that our family will not be able to be there to support her. She does accept that Lee would likely want to buried where he was born but is not ready to separate herself from him so soon and wants to keep him with her for a bit longer.
So my questions are, is it appropriate for an Ex to go to a wake and not at least ask the widow if that would be ok first? Is it ok for us to ask her not to attend the spreading of the ashes? Does my Mom have the right as the widow to make final decisions or do the daughters have as much of a say in it as they seem to believe? Is it ok to split up ashes, send some to them and keep some? Do we have to tell them if we do that? Is there a time frame in which Mom needs to decide what to do with the ashes, can she not keep them or must they be buried within a few months? Does she even have to share the ashes with his children, could she not just keep them for herself?
This has been a tough month for us and all this family drama has only made it worse. I implore people to remember that death is not an opportunity to unload all the things that were unsaid. If you didn’t say it during someone’s life, their death isn’t your time to unburden your soul. Grief is different for everyone, try to understand that. Use the ceremonies of death to celebrate life, not as your chance to prove you are the most affected or to make amends for things you did or didn’t do during their life. Family is more important than the money or trinkets left behind. Don’t lose your family over material possessions or to prove you are more right. 0221-14
First, my condolences on the deaths of your step father and grandmother. Two loses in such a very short span of time is a double dose of grief.
The Ex, Patty and Jane can make all the plans in the world regarding the dispersal of Lee’s ashes but unless the funeral home releases those ashes to them, those plans are vacuous. The funeral home should only release the possession of the cremains to the legally recognized survivor which is your mother and I would confirm with them that they are under directions to not release Lee’s ashes to anyone but your mother. And as the surviving widow with, I assume, full authority to manage her late husband’s affairs, your mother has final authority on how her husband’s last wishes are to be carried out. If she wishes to wait to disperse the ashes, she is free to do so.
As for the rude and presumptuous behavior of the Ex at the wake as well as her ugly comments on Facebook, one has to trust that close friends, relatives, neighbors who knew Lee and know your mother are not going to think poorly of your mother just because the Ex spews garbage. People can and do recognize trash when they see it and trust me, the Ex and her hag daughters are not scoring points with anyone.
The Ex, Patty and Jane are petty people who will squabble over the possession of a dead body, as if the last hands to touch “Lee” is the winner. But your mother was the one who had the honor (and I do consider it an honor) to be with Lee as he died and it was your mom’s hand that held Lee’s as he passed into eternity. I know your mom is so racked with grief that she cannot appreciate that right now but she will eventually. Her presence at his death was both a gift to Lee and to herself….so special. The Ex and daughters cannot take that from her.
Don’t wrestle with the pigs. Lee is not there in those ashes anymore and in the grand scheme of life, it seems a poor waste of time to argue over the contents of a small box that will quickly “melt” into the ground, never to be seen again. The spreading of ashes is largely symbolic and it is not uncommon for the cremains to be divided with dispersal in several locations. Either make an authoritative decision as to how and when and where Lee’s cremains will be buried/spread at your mother’s convenience or give Patty and Jane a small portion of the ashes, perhaps 1/4, to do with as they wish. I’d choose the latter myself so as to separate myself and family from the drama queens.