Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Q: I've debated asking you this question for years, but it has never seemed to be a serious enough problem.
I'm a middle-aged gay man, one of two sons raised by a widow with physical (and mental, I suspect) health issues that filled her with rage, which persists to this day, though she does function better. Or maybe I'm more inured to it, I'm not sure.
Anyway, two close friends of mine lost incredibly loving parents recently, and that has gotten me to thinking about what I could possibly say about mine in a eulogy. I'm not sure my brother would even attend the funeral, and her current husband is almost certain to go first.
Somehow I've turned out semi-sane, and I'm sure I could cobble together a few vague sentences about how she did her best for me and I will always be grateful. That's actually true as far as it goes, but I feel a lot of other emotions that would not be appropriate to express. This is a comparatively low-intensity problem, but I'd welcome any insights.
What to Say?
Carolyn: A mother with rage issues is about as serious as it gets, no? But I get what you're saying — it's mostly behind you, you "turned out semi-sane," and all that's left is the period at the end of the sentence. (That image works on two levels, doesn't it?)
Surely what you're after is a way to reconcile your conflicted feelings about her, especially as you watch your close friends grieve in a pure way that you know you never can. So why don't you really try writing a eulogy for her? Write it not for an audience but as an exercise in exorcising — though, who knows, you might find enough beauty in it to say it out loud.
That is, if you want to; you certainly have every right to decline to eulogize her.
Anonymous: Just curious: What is the harm in being honest about a toxic parent after their death? It seems like whatever he'd say wouldn't be malicious or vindictive, but rather honest and sad. If funerals are "for the living," why not share that if you alienate those closest to you with rage and bitterness, you will leave a legacy of resignation and sadness where purest love should be.
Carolyn: There's a fine line between being honest and settling a score. If the latter is the ulterior motive, even an unacknowledged one, such a eulogy could leave a nasty film of regret for the one giving it.
If it's about coming to peace with someone whose life seemed dedicated to making that impossible, then that has the potential to be healing in a way whitewash could never be — but even then, it risks offending mourners who have warm memories, as well as grief of their own.
Anonymous: "I'm not sure my brother would even attend the funeral … ": Problem solved. Don't hold a funeral. Seriously. We've all seen the "services were private" notice in the newspaper. You can do it.
Carolyn: The non-funeral can be for the living, too. Thanks.