Dear Amy: There seems to be no protocol for what might be expected concerning the presence of an ex-spouse at a memorial service.
My ex-husband “Bert” and I were married for 40 years and have three adult children. We divorced because of his involvements with other women and then, at the end, a long-term affair with the woman that he later married.
After Bert’s recent death I am feeling a lot of ambivalent emotions (mostly anger) at his selfish and hurtful behavior toward me, along with other lies he told, which have had a huge impact on me and our children.
Our children want me to attend the service. But what should I do when people offer me their condolences or tell me how wonderful Bert was, and how terrific his wife “Brandy” is? I certainly don’t feel like agreeing and thanking them.
How do I behave in a dignified way that doesn’t betray my own integrity and feelings? Upset Ex
Dear Upset Ex: If you behave in a dignified way, you won’t have to worry about your integrity, because dignity is the outer manifestation of integrity.
Your presence at this service is not as an honored principal, but as a guest of your children, and any focus or attention directed toward you should be deflected toward them. Please, leave your ambivalent feelings and anger behind, and if you can’t — then stay home.
If you do attend, you should maintain a discreet presence. If it is uncomfortable for you to sit with your children and your ex’s family members toward the front of the venue (or if you believe it would be uncomfortable for your ex’s wife), you should let your children sit together with other family members, and you should sit in another area.
People are not likely to gush to you about how wonderful your ex-husband was (the gushing is generally not directed toward former spouses). But if they do, you need only say, “Well, I knew him for a long time, and I know he will be missed” (not by you, necessarily).
This event embodies the dictum: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”