My mother is old and dying. We’ve never gotten along and everyone knows it. I can’t think of one nice thing to say about her. She was/is [insert all the negative things about her here]. But I feel obligated to say something nice about her at her funeral. Please help me figure out how to handle this when the time comes.

Dear you…

So first – despite it feeling like you don’t have a choice – give yourself the gift of having a choice. You can choose not to go. You can choose to go and not say anything. You can choose to go and read a poem. You can choose to go and tell everyone all the negative things about her. You can choose to go and say “nice” things that aren’t true. All are valid choices.

You can also choose to go and tell the truth.

Which is different than saying something “nice” and different than recounting all the negative things.

It’s also different than trying to “spin” something negative into something positive.

It’s likely you will be judged no matter what you do or don’t do (read more on why, here).

Here’s the thing about “nice” – it’s not the truth. “Nice” is fake sweet. The truth isn’t one-dimensional. The truth isn’t simply that she was/is [insert all the negative things about her here] although that is certainly part of it. What else was she? WHO was she? What do you know about her as a woman, not as your mother?

What is the truth?

Here are some examples from women who have shared their truths with me (in the first one, her mother hasn’t died, but it’s a great example of telling the truth).
“My mother came for a four-day visit at Christmas. It was the first time without my Dad and she drank more than usual and without him around there was no buffer. Whenever my 8-year-old daughter spoke, my mother interrupted her. At one point my daughter said to me, ‘I’m sorry Mom. I’ve tried to love Grandma, but I don’t.’ I found myself responding, ‘That’s okay. I don’t either.’ I had never said that out loud or owned it. In that moment, it felt like a 50-year burden of guilt and duty had lifted off my chest, freeing me from the belief that I ‘should’ love her. It was the truth I hadn’t claimed until my daughter did. AND it has made it easier to care for her and forgive her, instead of pretending to love her. Amazing.”

“We just had the preacher preach. He called her ‘feisty,’ which was definitely true.”

“We did the best we could in the time we were given together.

Here’s one of my own:

My mother divorced my father when I was two. It was the mid-1960s and she got herself on a plane at age 24 and flew to Mexico where she got a “quickie” divorce because as a woman, she wasn’t able to file for divorce in Connecticut where she lived. For years (well into adulthood) I was hurt and angry that my parents got divorced and I blamed her. And she was spirited and strong and brave and wanted something different for herself and it had nothing to do with me. Now when I think of her getting on that plane I think, “She was a total badass!” I can admire that in her now because I have taken responsibility for healing my hurt and anger.
Both/and.

I say this not because my mother and I now have a Hallmark relationship (we don’t) but because I am able to tell the truth about our relationship, and when the time comes, I can see myself standing up at her funeral, in front of her friends, and sharing the whole of who she was to me.

The truth is powerful. It doesn’t deny, resist, or hide. It doesn’t blame and shame. Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it makes us cry. And it’s always human. It makes room for being whole.

Work on healing yourself and the truth will reveal itself.

And ultimately? Like and respect your reasons for whatever choice you make.

What do you think?

Much, much love,

Karen

P.S. Here’s a beautiful example of someone telling the truth about her difficult mother after her death, along with some writing prompts to help you do the same. It could be a nice way to spend this Mother’s Day.