Skip to main content

How to Keep Out Unwanted Guests at Family Funerals

Mighty Mom is a keen observer of life. She shares her personal experiences and opinions in helpful and often amusing ways.

What if you have an estranged family member who you don't want to attend a funeral?

What if you have an estranged family member who you don't want to attend a funeral?

Are Funerals Public or Private?

When planning a wedding, it's easy to ban unwanted family members—simply don't invite them. The bride and groom, bride and bride, or groom and groom (and possibly their parents) get to choose who does and doesn't share the special day. No invitation means no entry.

But what about funerals? Although they are also highly personal occasions, they typically are wide open. Anyone and everyone who knew the deceased could come and pay their respects.

If you are in the position of planning a funeral or memorial service for a loved one, you have a lot to do in a short amount of time. If there have been estrangements, feuds, or tensions within the family, you have those to contend with as well.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Can you restrict attendance?
  • Should you restrict attendance?
  • What if the person you don't want at the funeral is an immediate family member? How would you achieve that restriction?

5 Ways to Restrict Funeral Attendance

There are five different levels of restriction and, I daresay, variations within each:

  1. Make the funeral (typically a religious ceremony) open, but make the interment (burial) for family only.
  2. Make the funeral ceremony open, but make the after-party invitation only, and disassociate the interment (if applicable) from the day's activities.
  3. Announce the death with a notation that the funeral is private.
  4. Publish the obituary after the funeral and interment have already occurred.
  5. Don't have a funeral at all. Have a memorial service scheduled some distance in the future. Don't promote it. Make people call you to find out your plans. Then, you can decide on a case-by-case basis who you want to invite.

Each of these suggestions has its pros and cons—especially number five because the last thing you will feel like doing while trying to grieve your loved one is to try to remember who you did or didn't speak to and who you did or didn't tell about the memorial service. Oy! Too much work!

Should You Restrict Funeral Attendance?

Only you can answer that question. The following are a few scenarios in which limiting the guest list should be considered:

1. Your loved one explicitly told you their wishes.

Both of my parents were very explicit in their instructions. Well, technically, Mom was explicit. Dad simply said, "I want all the same readings and songs that your mother had." Easy-peasy.

Neither of them put any caveats on who could or could not come to their funerals. That would not have been their way.

On the other hand, your loved one might have explicitly told you that they didn't want any kind of memorial service, and you may choose to honor their wishes.

2. You have a limited budget.

Let's face it. If your loved one was so popular that 350 people might show up to bid him/her adieu, it may not be financially feasible to invite them all out to eat afterwards. Of course, not everyone who comes to the ceremony will have the time/inclination to go to lunch.

Socially acceptable ways around this "problem" include:

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Wehavekids

  1. Having the reception at the church or house of worship. Have everyone adjourn to an anteroom to have coffee, cookies, and fellowship. You'll probably capture more of the audience this way as they don't have to get in their cars and drive somewhere.
  2. Have the interment directly following the funeral. This way, you will lose some (or all) churchgoers to attrition. You will then lose some of the cemetery-goers, especially if the drive to the ceremony is long and the interment service is drawn out. In short, you will end up with a smaller group for the after-party.

Remember, you can make the interment private, thus cutting your ultimate number down to a couple dozen or fewer.

3. There are geographical constraints.

This probably goes under "can you restrict" rather than "should you restrict," but I'm leaving it here, as it calls for some value judgments.

Let's say a patriarch lives for 40 years in Smithtown, RI, but when he becomes elderly, he moves in with a daughter in Flagstaff, AZ. He dies in Arizona, but his roots are in Rhode Island. For argument's sake, let's say that the matriarch predeceases him and is buried in Rhode Island. Where should the daughter have her dad's funeral? Do you see where I'm going with this?

If she chooses Arizona because Dad has made some friends out there, the funeral will have very few guests. If she chooses to bring Dad back to lie in eternity next to his wife, it will be financially limiting (considering the cost to get herself, her family, and the corpse across the country).

Is there a right answer? Is there a wrong answer? Yes and no.

Can You Ban a Family Member From a Funeral?

I've written extensively on family betrayal and estrangement. Many of you know that this subject is quite near and dear to my heart, and, after receiving more comments than I ever expected on my related articles, I see that I'm not alone (not hardly!).

So, what about those black sheep of the family?* Can you prevent them from coming to pay their last respects? (Given their prior behavior, this would be something of an oxymoron as "respect" is seemingly not in their vocabulary).

*The feud may not be with a family member. It could be with a business parter or ex-business partner. For the sake of brevity, I'm using family member as my example. Extrapolate as needed.

I am genuinely curious to hear how others have handled this or plan to handle this when the time comes. Here are some of my thoughts and ideas on the subject based, of course, on an all-too-real situation in my own family. You can hope that the person in question "honors" their previous estrangement and stays away of their own accord, but this is risky. You can't count on estranged family members to behave in a predictable or rational manner. There's a reason the word "strange" is embedded in estrangement!

What Your Unwanted Guest May Do

  1. They may not recognize their estrangement from the deceased. Even though they haven't seen or spoken with their mother/father/sister/brother/child for 17 years, in their mind, they are fully entitled to sit in that front row and bawl like a baby. Denial is a powerful tool.
  2. They may see the funeral as an opportunity to either vindicate themselves or atone for their past behavior. They may feel like this is their last chance to make peace with the deceased by either offering forgiveness or seeking it.
  3. They attend to spite the other family members to whom they are also estranged.
  4. They show up so that no one can later accuse them of not being there. This typically is financially motivated (read: inheritance) and has nothing whatsoever to do with their feelings (or lack thereof) for the deceased.

There are probably many other motives. Not being an estranged family member myself, it's difficult for me to think like a black sheep who would crash someone's funeral.

Ways to Handle the Black Sheep of the Family

Let's say your resident black sheep has the audacity to show up. For whatever reason, you choose not to exclude him/her from your loved one's funeral. Now what?

1. Forgive Them

Let's get the Christian solution out of the way first. There is no disputing that this is the best for all concerned. If the prodigal son or daughter chooses his/her parent's funeral to reappear into the fold, take it as a good sign. Assume that he/she is there with good intentions. Realize how difficult the estrangement must have been on him/her all this time. Understand that he/she is a broken, damaged soul in need of forgiveness and treat him/her like any other guest.

2. Ban Them

If you happen to know that the deceased would roll over in their grave if they knew that the black sheep relative dared to show up, that's a different story entirely. We have a similar situation in my family. My mother-in-law has made it patently clear that she does not want anything to do with her daughter. She chose not to attend her daughter's recent wedding. She has not seen her daughter in over a year. She freaks out when the daughter's name is mentioned. I think it's safe to say that if she were alive, she would not want to see her daughter at her funeral.

But, of course, by the time we're planning her funeral, my mother-in-law will only be with us in spirit. So we will be interpreting her wishes and adding a healthy—or unhealthy — dose of our own injured feelings. Nowhere is it written that the daughter is not to attend. So the call will be ours. Needless to say, in over two long, intense years of family feuding, I've had plenty of time to think about this.

My Plans to Mitigate This Situation

  1. As the family eulogist, I could offer my services. Having honed my not-quite-personal but, nonetheless, biting insult skills in online forums, I'm confident that I could make a few pointed jabs without invoking a slander suit. It would be a challenge, but it's nothing like the challenge my "dear" sister-in-law has put us through already!
  2. We had my father-in-law's after-party at our house. That is now tradition, and we see no reason to break with it. Accordingly, it is a safe assumption that the wayward daughter wouldn't dare show her face at my door. If she does, I would take great pleasure in slamming it in her face. She is not welcome in my home under any circumstances. (No, wait. I take that back. In the unlikely event that she offers to make amends and is genuinely repentant of her sins against her mother and brother, I would definitely want to hear her out.)(
  3. We have also tossed around the idea of forgoing a church service entirely. Since the family church no longer exists (it was sold), and my mother-in-law has no affiliation with any other church, we'd have to shop for a place to hold her funeral. That seems a little odd to me. Our hope is that we can invite the family pastor (assuming he's still with us when the time comes) to our house for a memorial service.

You may call this plan diabolical; I call it practical and efficient.

Best of Luck

Note to self: It's not about you.

The important thing is to make the event a fitting tribute to the deceased. That's what really matters.

Whether you invite the universe or keep things private; spend lavishly or go the simple route; include or exclude certain people, do it from your heart. If you follow your heart, you will end up doing the right thing.

It is probably premature, but I would like to say that I am sorry for your loss. I am doubly sorry that in your time of sorrow you have to think about such a crazy idea as banning your own family member from the funeral! I hope my musings have given you some comfort.

All the best to you and your loved ones.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Anonymous on May 15, 2020:

I have extended family through a second marriage of my father. They disrespected him in life and since his passing as well as myself his next-of-kin. I have planned a private cremation with a memorial mass at a later date but fear this will not be respected. It really seems that this is an alien word to some people.

I'm the Black Sheep -Anonymous on May 07, 2020:

I'm considered the Black Sheep 2 of the family because of a nasty rumor and I've been told not to worry because G-d knows. This situation has broken this Black Sheep's heart and destroyed so many relationships/memories but before you point a finger at me, know that every attempt was made to reconcile, the other parties cut ties completely from me.

If i go, I've been threatened with physical violence and if I don't go, I'm heartless-Dam, if I don't and if I do. I was told to ban some of the same people from a certain funeral and I didn't do it because it wasn't the right thing to do but I know that those same people are waiting to drag me out the door and face first into a curb.

Where's the forgiveness? that we are supposed to forgive our brother 70 x 70's times?? I will count myself lucky if I can sit in the back of the funeral home or in the parking lot as the Black Sheep of the family silently.

Just think of it if you were in my shoes.

Bemijo on March 16, 2020:

As a “black sheep” I am frustrated with your article...I was ousted because I broke from a fundamental religion and divorced my husband by having an affair to get kicked out of the church and my marriage. Drastic, yes, but until you live in a ultra conservative, fundamental religion you wouldn’t understand. I have spent eight years trying to have my parents ‘move forward’ from the divorce. They insist I apologize for breaking up the family and causing my mother to have a ‘broken heart’ because I befriended another mother figure. I won’t apologize so I have lived on the ‘outs’. My mother passed away this past weekend. My heart hurts because we were unable to move past the past before she left this world and now my brother is telling me I am not welcome at the funeral. I have done nothing but live my life outside their religion; I am happily married, successful, and content. I do not believe I should be excluded from saying goodbye to mom. I am going. Maybe your article hit a nerve but I believe it is very jaded and narrow-minded.

French Traveler on March 07, 2020:

This article seems somewhat mean spirited to me. I am the black sheep of my husband’s family. I have been abused, made fun off, isolated, had my children bullied/abused by that family, been humiliated and embarrassed for starters. What did I do to justify this behavior you ask? I got my husband off drugs, I helped him graduate college and find a great job and I’ve dealt with all the abuse and luggage he brought into our marriage from his extremely abusive upbringing. The fact that I was educated, successful, driven and believed that both spouses should work as a team and share households duties was highly shunned upon.

Those People feel the same contempt and hate for me that you do for your sister in law. As a matter of fact, a SIL caused a lot of fiction and drama so she could the be favorite of that family. It’s mostly inheritance, need for control and greed motivated. I haven’t spoken to them in 12 years, nor have I allowed them to have any relationship with my kids. Now, they finally have a reason to hate me but they abused my children and that will never be tolerated. So the question is, will I banned from my husband’s mother’s funeral? Most likely. Will I attend? Absolutely, I will be there by my husband’s side to support him as I always have and always will be whether his family likes it or not.

Merry Mary on December 26, 2019:

“I have made ADA list. A Donot Attend list and have notified my husband of said list.”

————————

What a perfectly narcissistic response. Just in case it wasn’t enough to nurse hostilities and bitterness in life, Barb wants to make sure she maintains hostilities posthumously. Must be a fearful thing to go through life so nervous of what people might say and think of you that you try to maintain control even in death.

Does everyone not on her paranoid Do Not Attend list feel the same about barring those who are? Expecting one’s surviving spouse, siblings, children, grandchildren, and cousins to maintain hostilities on behalf of the deceased against other siblings, children, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc., will say much more about the deceased than any polite eulogies.

As to Susan Reid’s conclusion that a funeral is about making “a fitting tribute to the deceased,” I disagree. A funeral is about the living coming together to comfort one another in response to the passing of the deceased. For some, they will find comfort in making tributes. Others may simply seek the company of their extended family, and perhaps the reminder that life goes on, in the form of existing relationships in the family, and the generations yet to come.

The best tribute anyone could hope for is leaving behind a legacy of love. Instead, others hold on to bitterness, and leave behind a legacy of brokenness. While the Barbs of the world will bathe in bitterness until their final breath, only fools will carry forth the vendettas of the deceased.

Barb180 on August 25, 2019:

I have made ADA list. A Donot Attend list and have notified my husband of said list. If you cannot see or talk to me alive dont bother with me when i am dead.

Kristina on August 20, 2019:

What if the estranged

Is not the black sheep? In my case, I’m estranged from my parents because my dad is a narcissist and he’s brainwashed my mom against me. I’m sure she’s going to die first, although we may still have a few

Years ahead of us. Can he keep me from coming to her funeral/memorial service? Because he would out of spite. He is against me because I stood up to him and stopped him from being abusive to my children. But surely I would like the chance for a proper goodbye to my mom when that day comes. Can he legally ban me?

Sara on May 21, 2019:

My great uncle bobby recently passed, and as a family we all agreed to let the immediate family grieve and they told us they would have a memorial service/picnic at a later time... they set the date, and family is coming from near and far, but a member of the family just texted us a week before the service to tell us only certain family members are invited(we were part of the chosen few to attend).... but others who had already asked for time off work, and others who knew the deceased well are not invited.... please keep in mind that the deceased always made a huge deal for family gatherings and welcomed everyone with open arms- he wouldnt have ever excluded anyone from his gatherings for any reason... now I can understand that they only want a small gathering for the memorial service but for the picnic afterwards I don’t understand why everyone cannot pay their respects... is it dishonoring the memory of the deceased?

Lisa on May 17, 2019:

Brother is over bearing narciscist. Kept me from my mothers life last 5 years. But he intentionally chose not to let me know and beibg blovked could not visit. Mom didnt want me blocked. He did it for spite. Intentional harm. Well there you have it. Proving not all black sheep are bad just mom made bad choices under duress. Won't get a chance to say goodbye. They cheated her of proper send off. Leaving me to answer other family as to why he did not have wake like we did Dad. I can not answer and explain was not my doing nor my deceased mothers devision was a power controling idiot trying to be a big shot. Well he really stirred the pot this time. As everyone knows it is lies. So frankly their should be a law that you cant bann just because you didn't like the person. Mom never told him to block. Yet he did it anyways after her demanding he unblock. Now she is gone and now he thinks he has it all. But we all paid into her life insurance. I am trying to get what was promised to my kids. We paid into it so thus needs to be divided 3 ways. I won't pay for services that we were not included in from obituary to burial.

Pat Crawford from Falher on May 15, 2019:

I have more of a question than comment. I just wondered if all the siblings have the right to be at the funeral. For instance if one sibling is living afar and the other siblings make arrangements without consulting with one another and then the siblings living afar hears the news but can not get themselves home in time. Do they have any rights to prevent the burial for a few days if they’re coming back home buck it’s going to take a couple days before they get there.

Wilda on April 12, 2019:

My father had us get together to so we were on the same page and to discuss his will. My sister suggested that she should be the executor and when the suggestion of a co executor she convinced us that she would be fair and it would be a hassle if someone else was involved. (Very bad choice)

When my dad died she Had my mother sign full power of attorney to her and would not let us know what she was doing with the estate of my mother mom died 6 years later in the interim she had my mother changed her will. Not notifying anyone. She promised she would honour my dads will and said she would keep us updated with the estate.

So we have not talk since we got the copy of will and I have contested will.

She took money out for memorial expenses and did not let me know and invited everybody but me. I’m a daughter and beneficiary is not part of her job is to include direct family ?

What kind of sister does this?

Justin on March 18, 2019:

The way I see it is this: If the person is going to die, write out a final will and testament in who you do not want at your funereal and make sure no idiot lawyer or judge will overrule it. However if that doesn't work (or you think it may not), tell only certain close friends/family who you want to show up and not to disclose it to nobody else, wait a few weeks/months or years after the person is buried, then disclose what happened and state why, or not say anything at all.

Cynthia Cervantez on March 14, 2019:

I have a question if anyone can help, I would greatly appreciate it. Is there a document I can use so that no one in my immediate family is notified of my death? One day I came to the heartbreaking conclusion that my mother, father, sisters and I would never be the family I wished, quite contrary we are toxic for each other. . I have no hard feelings towards them, but if they want nothing to do with me now that I'm alive I don't want to them to be bothered should anything happen to me. Thank you.

mirandaace on January 14, 2019:

In response to Caroline 5 months ago: There is nothing repugnant about banning family from funerals. You need to be aware of the circumstances surrounding why these people are banned from the funeral. And unless you know the full story of each family, there is no comprehension from an outsider what the actual breakdown was in the family. My ex extended family were evil to me in such a gross way that they were cruel to my immediate family and disrespected us all in the same way and the crescending part was when they laughed, ridiculed and mocked my youngest sister's internment and that was the very last straw for me. They also threatened me regarding my mother's funeral and what they were going to do to me if I succeeded in banning them. So unless you know the full circumstances of each family, nobody has the right to pass judgement on all of the black sheeps and there are many in my ex extended family, whom I have no association with whatsoever.

olivenea@hotmail.com on January 13, 2019:

I'm having huge problems trying to support my mum and my stepfamily in planning her husband's funeral. When the time comes for me to plan my mother's funeral, I plan on banning them from attending. They have shown no respect for her losing her husband, their father! She gave them over 30 years of her life to them. I'll be dammed if I allow them to turn up to my mother's funeral.

Life without Annette on November 15, 2018:

Personally, I look forward to attending my estranged mother’s funeral. It will be a day of relief for me, knowing that the bile and narcissistic contempt she heaped on me throughout her life will have finally come to an end. It will mean my children are finally safe from her trying to get her claws into them. It means closing the final chapter on what has been a painful, scarring relationship from a childhood full of profound dysfunction.

I will drive in the funeral procession to the cemetery, I will stand amongst the mourners, I will see her casket lowered into the ground, and I will throw dirt on her grave.

In a family marked by violence, crime, and abuse, I was never the black sheep so much as a beacon of reflected light in a sea of darkness.

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

— John 3:20

Dawn on September 25, 2018:

When my father passes away he has

made it adamant not to allow one of his nieces, To the wake or the funeral.

Unless she pays Me his only relative back but $4000 that she borrowed.

She has never made any upper to pay this money back it's only been a year.

She claims she's come to Terms with what she's done and will make amends

Well with my father she has 5 years or less and I'll believe it when I see it.

Caroline on September 01, 2018:

I wrote a reply because my mum died about 3.5 weeks ago. I found this article very one-sided as it referred to the black sheep of the family. I thought I would give an update of what happened and perhaps help others understand what it's like for the 'other' family member whose not close.

I finally got to say goodbye to my mum at the Chapel of Rest and spent a couple of hours there, not speaking, but had lots of memories that i replayed in my head. It was upsetting, but also nice to have time with her alone where I could start to put to rest all the hurt, anger and trauma. One thing I will say is that I really wished I had called, and the feeling of regret is huge for me. I cannot stop thinking about my mum, and it's been a very hard process so far.

I saw my younger brother afterwards who couldn't listen to why I had not spoken for five years because he had a different relationship with her. When I met with my sister who has been estranged for more than 19 years, we discussed if we should attend the funeral. I have realised that every person who knew my mum had a different relationship with her, compared to ours. Therefore, they won't be able to relate to what we feel or think because that's not the person they know. We both decided not to attend because it would be disrespectful as a funeral is to celebrate someone's life and not cause stress for people who wanted to do that and say goodbye to her.

I also learned this week from my sister that we have a history of mental illness in our family. Estrangement has been running through our family for at least one generation. My mum never spoke to her brothers and sisters from her mid-twenties onwards.. Both myself and my sister have started to come to terms with our abuse and now understand that the family has been through a lot of trauma. My mum had a nervous breakdown when I was born and me and my sister were put in to care. Our Aunt's & Uncles saw my sister being beaten, but they never intervened. We're angry, but also very saddened by the fact that nobody stepped in because what we experienced growing up has affected us for our entire lives.

My feeling is that unfortunately, estrangement is far more common than we realise. A charity in the UK called 'Stand Alone' that support both parents and children who have become estranged have stated that 1 in 5 are estranged from their family. My sister and I would like a relationship with our younger brother, but that's proving difficult. We now know that we cannot talk about the past if we want to try and build bridges, and I need to work on myself quite extensively to put aside all the concerns, anger and resentment.

I don't know other people's stories about people who have posted here about why they don't want family members attending, but I hope that my story will help shed light that sometimes you might not know all what is going on / happened in the past. I don't think anyone chooses estrangement lightly, myself and my sister certainly didn't.

Alex on August 29, 2018:

I have made it clear to my husband and close friends that I do not wish to have my brother at my funeral. We are currently not on speaking terms and even when we were, he never made the effort to visit me and my family, when we go back home at least once a year. If you can’t make the effort when I’m alive, I don’t want you there when I’m dead. He’d only be there to make himself feel better, not because he really cares. Sad, but true.