Proper Etiquette for Ex-Wives at the Funeral of an Ex-Spouse

When attending an ex-husband's funeral, balance your own feelings with sensitivity to his family.
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The funeral of an ex-husband can present a delicate situation. When a former spouse dies, it is appropriate to focus on the joyful and loving time that was spent together and to honor those memories. However, should you attend the funeral? Where should you sit? What should you say -- if anything -- to his family? The key is to balance your own feelings and need to grieve with sensitivity to the family of the deceased.

1 Attending the Funeral

When deciding whether or not to even attend the service, your decision should be guided by the relationship you had with your ex-husband and his family. If there are hard feelings between you and your ex-husband’s family, ask yourself whether your presence would cause pain. The immediate family’s needs and wishes must take priority. Another option in this case is to attend the service to pay respect to your ex-husband, but bow out of any visitation or reception.

2 Your Position at the Service

At the funeral, remember that no matter how you feel about your former spouse, you are no longer a member of the family. Unless you have a particularly close relationship with your former in-laws – or you are accompanying children who need your presence – do not sit near the front. These seats are customarily reserved for family and close friends. Also, if you are not specifically asked to, you should not expect to ride with the family if limousine service to the burial is provided for them.

3 General Tips

Of course, some general rules apply to your ex-husband’s – or any – funeral or memorial service. Dress simply and conservatively, observing any religious dress requirements if the service is at a house of worship. Arrive in plenty of time to be seated before the service begins. Out of respect for the other mourners, remain in your seat throughout the service. If a burial follows the service, attendance is not mandatory. Some families choose to have a private service; if this is the case and you are not asked to attend, respect the family’s wishes.

4 Expressing Condolences

Whether you attend the funeral or not, some expression of condolences to the bereaved is always appropriate. Tailor this to your relationship with your ex-husband’s family. If you are on friendly terms, an offer of help with food or details of the arrangement is considerate. Even if you are not on good terms with the family, you should send a note of sympathy. Finally, a flower arrangement and a memorial gift to a charity close to the heart of the deceased is always appropriate.

Kelly Tracy is a copywriter and educator based in Savannah, Ga. She holds an M.A. in applied linguistics and a B.A. in mass communication. Tracy has been writing professionally since 1998 and teaching English to international students since 2002.