Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: Should I change the funeral date at my stepmother's request?

"You’re the one who matters in all of this, so don’t even think twice about it"

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

My boyfriend has just died. He had been ill for a long time, so it was no surprise and in the end we were glad that he ended his suffering. But his stepmother, his only “relative”, insists that the funeral shouldn’t be until July. She doesn’t want it to interfere with a holiday she has booked. I must add that they never got on. I’m one of the executors of his will, and I feel upset thinking about his body waiting in the morgue for so long. Do you think I would be justified in insisting on it being earlier? The other executor agrees with me, but I don’t want a row.

Yours sincerely, Erica

Virginia says...

Get him buried as soon as possible. As his girlfriend, and the one who was, surely, the closest to him, you’re the one who matters in all of this, so don’t even think twice about it.  Many people find it impossible to grieve until the funeral is over, and to have to put your feelings on hold for a month would be needlessly painful.

If you feel really bad about your boyfriend’s stepmother, you could always organise a special little memorial lunch or tea when she gets back, which would be some kind of ceremony to make her feel she’d done her duty by him. Or, if she’s really keen, she can jolly well hop on a plane and whizz back from her holiday for the day.

Now, I know you don’t want a row, so don’t have one. You’re lucky enough to have another executor, so put everything in her hands. Get her to say to your boyfriend’s stepmother that she believes the funeral should be held as soon as possible. She can say she has some kind of belief that until the person is buried properly, his soul can’t rest, and she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if you delayed it. Or she can say that she fears you are on the verge of a breakdown with grief and have been advised by the doctor that the funeral should be held as soon as possible. The role of the executor is what it says it is – someone who can take executive decisions. And if your fellow executor has any nous, she’ll be happy to lay down the law.

If she’s a bit of a wimp, then use her as a scapegoat. Say to the stepmother that it would be fine for you to wait, but your fellow executor is adamant that the funeral must be held as soon as possible and you can’t shake her views. Shrugging your shoulders and blaming someone else for having to make the decision is a brilliant way of wriggling out of confrontation – we’ve all done it, and I’m sure your fellow executor wouldn’t mind, since I don’t imagine she has any kind of relationship with the stepmother.

Or you could always lie. Explain that your boyfriend had a horror of being in the morgue. Maybe he had some terrible experience in the past with a friend. He’d made you promise that you would make certain that he would be buried (or cremated, whatever his wishes were) as soon as humanly possible.

Often, people who feel rather guilty about the relationship they had (or, more likely, didn’t have) with the dead person like to put their oar in when the person dies. It’s as if they’re saying, “I couldn’t make a difference to him when he was alive, but I’ll make a difference now in one way or another.” I suspect that this is partly what’s going on.

Your boyfriend obviously thought she was a bit of a wicked stepmother in life. Don’t let her be a wicked stepmother in death, too. 

Readers say...

It’s only a funeral

Your beloved boyfriend is now in your heart, and (to a lesser extent) the hearts of those who cared about him. This is the very first, and only, thing to remember here.

Funerals are curious events, largely irrelevant to the departed, gatherings of a generally disparate group of people, who probably won’t meet again until the next “event”, if ever. Often, seething beneath the surface, exists a host of competing tensions; with people muttering about others, whispering things such as ; “they hadn’t seen the departed for decades!” or “she’s just crawled from the woodwork!” A veritable powder keg.

It’s just one day, even part of a day, an effective rite of passage in life, but which,  by and large, has to be undertaken with care and caution.

Within this febrile atmosphere, you have your effective stepmother-in-law, and while not wishing to traduce her, and from personal experience, I cannot imagine a worse combination! In addition she might well have the authority, as a family member, to call any tune she wants.

As I’ve already suggested, your boyfriend is in your heart with you. For the sake of his memory, let this day pass without trouble.

Lee A, by email

The decision is yours to make

You’ve been through enough, Erica. Sometimes you need to think about yourself and act accordingly.

It is often the case at family occasions such as marriages and funerals that some family members feel upset at decisions made by others. My first wife died 18 years ago at the age of 32 after a two-year illness. It was a relief when she died, as she was suffering horrible pain. We had three children under the age of nine when she died. I made decisions after her death that upset some of her family. I made the decisions according to what I thought would be best for the children, and because I knew I was doing what she would have wanted. I have no regrets about doing  what I did.

Your boyfriend’s stepmother may feel put out or inconvenienced. But that’s not your problem. Don’t worry about it. You’ve got enough to deal with. Please have courage and bury your boyfriend in a timeframe that suits you.

Alan, by email

Next week's dilemma

I have been with my partner for nearly three years. We each have two children the same ages; boys (13) and girls (11). The girls get on well; the boys less so. My partner has her children full time; I see my children on average two nights a week. It would make economic sense for me to move in with her, and there would be room for the girls to share and the boys to have a bedroom each. But my children aren’t keen and would rather things “stay as they are”. I don’t know what to do. Risk sacrificing my relationship with my children by moving in? Or stay in separate houses?

Yours sincerely,


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