Dear Virginia, I'm a gay man and I had been having an affair with a married man for 10 years. We loved each other very much, but he would never leave his family for me. He led a completely double life and his wife and children never knew. A year ago he got cancer, and he died recently. I feel utterly bereft. I know when the funeral is, and where, and it would mean a lot to me to go, but I haven't been invited, of course. Can I just turn up? I keep agonising over what to do. Yours sincerely, Patrick

What a terribly sad situation. But I think you know exactly what you must do, or you would not have written to me. You have two strong instincts fighting inside you. One part of you longs to go, because you feel it would be healing to attend the funeral; and the other part knows that it would be completely unacceptable. No doubt you're wondering whether you could have your cake and eat it – by perhaps slipping in just after the service has started and hanging about like the guilty secret that you are, in the shadows at the back.

But you know what is right, really. You know what your friend would have wanted. He spent all his life trying to protect his family from this other side of himself, so why should you risk undoing all his hard work in a single selfish stroke?

Of course, you might argue that no one would know who you were, and might think you were just one of those sad creatures who seem to sneak into funerals without having any right to be there. They like the feeling of sadness, the singing, the prayers, the feeling of being part of a group for an hour or so. But let's say that, overcome with grief, you suddenly burst into noisy sobbing at the back? Everyone would turn to look and wonder what your relationship was with your friend.

Or, another scenario, let's say his wife had always, at the back of her mind, suspected something was going on and in fact knew much more than either of you realised? Let's say that in his private papers after his death she'd found incontrovertible evidence? A photograph, maybe? Think how painful it would be for her to realise that the shadow in the back of the church was her husband's lover.

If you really feel you can't stay away, then take your car, park it round the corner from the church (and I mean round the corner, not at the front where you'd look odd and creepy) and simply sit there for the duration. But wouldn't it be better to book a train ticket to some place where you and he enjoyed happy times and, over the time of the service, have your own ceremony of remembrance, even if it just involved sitting quietly in a wood for an hour? If a friend of yours remembers him as well, you could invite them along.

Of course you want to mark his death in some way, but the occasion doesn't have to be in a church, alongside his family. You could plant a tree in his honour, or set a small plaque in your garden wall, perhaps, using only his initials. You could write a poem and try to get it published, or, if you really feel the craving for something religious, talk to your local vicar and explain the situation.

I have no doubt that you aren't the first person to be in this situation to experience such pain. Sadly, there must be many a man – and woman – who has suffered in exactly the same way.

You never betrayed him when he was alive. Don't betray him now.

Readers say

Don't ruin your happy memories

You shouldn't even consider going to the funeral. If you and your friend "loved each other very much", this must be your last effort on his behalf – to continue what he wanted and keep your affair secret. The hurt you might inflict on his widow and children by turning up and, perhaps accidentally, revealing the truth is unimaginable. When my father died, I found out by chance that he'd had an affair with an old family friend for many years. She behaved with impeccable discretion, and I made sure my mother never knew. This is what you must do. By revealing anything, you also risk spoiling your own memories.

Michael Connal by email

It's OK to go

As his wife and family never knew about you, I think it would be acceptable to go to the funeral. But you must not let anyone know how you really knew the deceased, nor be overly distressed. If you think you can't do this, keep away. If you can, sit at the back and do not draw attention to yourself. If anyone asks how you knew him, have a plausible answer ready. After the service, slip away. People see a lot of faces at funerals they do not recognise, so no explanation is needed.

Linda Acaster, Leicester

Let the family grieve in peace

As a woman who's seen her mother's and sister's lives fall apart because of their husbands' affairs, I have no sympathy for Patrick. When my father dies, I won't allow his mistress to attend the funeral. Is it not enough that Patrick took his lover away from his family for 10 years? What Patrick really wants is not recognition that his affair happened, but to make sure his lover's widow and children are made even more miserable by this revelation. Patrick has had his fun. It's time to grow up and behave responsibly. It is a coward who will not leave a bereaved family to grieve in peace.

Name and address supplied

Who is this for?

Who would you be doing this for? For him? You should look at your understanding of death and our relationship with the dead. Do you believe in an afterlife? Do you think that what we do after someone's death has an impact on their soul or spirit? Without belief in an afterlife, it is hard to see how attending his funeral is going to be "for him".

Or are you doing it for yourself? Is it to lay to rest the memory of him? There may be other ways for you to honour his memory, such as going to a spot that was special and remembering shared times. I send you blessings for your own journey at this difficult time.

Abigail, Bristol

For their sake, stay away

You know he loved you, but you also know he never wanted his family to find out. Your presence at his funeral would raise questions. Imagine if they found out who you really were. Their memories of him would be for ever tainted. Do you want to be responsible for that? Do everyone a favour and stay away.

Sandra Griffiths, Lowestoft