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Atheist Husband's funeral

My 41 year old husband is dying. He has been an atheist throughout his adult life. His father and stepmother have a family friend who is a Catholic priest who has offered to do the funeral service. My husband is too weak to ask about his preferences, and honestly I doubt he would care one way or the other because anything religious is just a bunch of crap to him anyway, but I feel like it’s kind of insulting to him to give him a Catholic funeral service. He was raised Anglican, but I don’t think any of his family members know that he’s an atheist, which is another issue. Personally, I’d prefer a small funeral home and a low key kind of service, but they want to pay for it and arrange everything, and it DOES make things easier for me to not have to think about those details. Relations between me and my inlaws are already quite strained at times; I’m not sure if I want to say anything about it anyway because it might just lead to more fighting and it’s hard enough losing my husband without having to fight with his family. What do you think I should do?

Posted: March 26th 2012

Eric_PK

First off, funerals are for the living, not for the person who has died. I think it’s important to honor the beliefs of the person who has died – this past spring I sat through a very long and very religious service when my devout mother died – but I also think that it’s important to take care of yourself as much as possible. Since you think that your husband wouldn’t care much one way or the other, you have a lot of leeway in what you decide, and as the spouse, it is your choice.

My advice? Well, my advice is to tell your inlaws that your husband is going to have the kind of service that you want him to have; not because of his atheism, but because that’s what you think is appropriate. If you think there is going to be a lot of resistance if you do this, tell them that that is the kind of service that your husband specifically requested.

And then ask them kindly if they are willing to help make it happen.

Posted: April 7th 2012

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flagellant www

My condolences to you over the imminent loss of your husband. I am sorry that he is too weak to be asked about his preferences and I understand your dilemma about the type of funeral to have, given your difficult family circumstances.

I assume that he has a written will; there may be some indication there. If your husband’s will was drawn up by – or is lodged with – a lawyer, it would be reasonable to ask him if your husband specified his funeral wishes. If not, I would suggest consulting a secular celebrant. The ‘best’ funerals I’ve been to have involved eulogies from friends and relations as part of secular occasions.

I can see that it would be ‘kind of insulting’ to give him a Catholic funeral service although the priest might agree to conduct a secular service, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If you want an occasion devoid of references to ‘God’, ‘Resurrection’, and ‘The Afterlife’, I suggest you plan for a funeral secular in all respects. I do not think that anyone could object to that because you are following your husband’s wishes to the best of your understanding.

Given the offer from your husband’s family ‘to pay … and arrange everything’, you need to be aware that, if you agree to the offer, you may find the occasion hijacked, particularly since it would make things easier for you in your grief. Are there, perhaps, close friends of your husband’s with whom you could discuss the problem and plan the occasion together?

I do hope that this contribution arrives in time to be useful and I send you my best wishes for a memorable occasion to celebrate the life of your belovèd husband.

Posted: April 7th 2012

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logicel

I am very sorry to hear that your husband is dying. I hope that you have and will have the psychological support that you need to cope with this great sadness.

As your preference is for a small funeral, check out in advance your in-laws’ planned proceedings. You can then selectively choose what parts you feel would be best for you to attend, keeping with your emotional needs and focus on a smaller scale. Funerals certainly are for the living, and that includes you.

If you are up to it, you can explain your actions or not, giving as much details as you wish. Roman Catholicism (not clear if this is the religious brand they practice) is certainly insulting to the whole of humanity, but there is a time and place to handle insults and this probably is not one of them.

Posted: April 7th 2012

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Stefan www

First off, I’m very sorry to hear about your husband’s condition. I can’t imagine what you’re going through and I’m sure being confronted with this dilemma isn’t helping. My thoughts are with the both of you.

Obviously I can’t speak for your husband, but in my personal opinion being an atheist doesn’t mean I have to somehow fight religion wherever I go. A big part of religious life is very much secular such as precisely those ceremonies we hold to mark life’s big transitions. Most of my family is religious, so if I died right now, they would more than likely hold a Christian funeral and I’m ok with that.

You said that you think he wouldn’t care one way or the other, but that you feel like it’s kind of insulting. Based on that I’d say, don’t worry, it isn’t. Being an atheist means seeing the world as it really is and knowing what really matters. What matters isn’t the Hocus Pocus that happens at the funeral, but that your loved ones are there and have a chance to say goodbye. If he didn’t tell his family about his atheism, he obviously didn’t want to create any conflict over it, so I don’t think he’d want you to bring it up now.

Ultimately it is your decision I would say. If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of a religious funeral then don’t do it. But I don’t think it would in any way take away from your husband’s beliefs in life – he put compassion above “being right”, there is nothing wrong with that.

Posted: April 6th 2012

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brian thomson www

I’m terribly sorry to hear about what’s happening, and I sincerely wish you all the strength possible in this difficult time. I have had medical issues myself and have wondered about what I would think if I was in your husband’s position. I think it would be something like what you described: I am not too concerned about the details of my future funeral since – when it happens – I will not be there.

Instead, I recognise that the funeral will not be for me as such. It would be for those who are still around after I am gone. I would certainly want my opinion about religion to be known – e.g. in a speech at the service or in the form of a donation to a secular charity. But I would not feel that I had any right to make life any more difficult for those whom I have left behind. Life is here to be lived by those who have it.

Posted: April 6th 2012

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