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Ask Dave

Obligated to Pay For Grandma's Funeral?

Debbie says her husband's family has asked for money to pay for his grandmother's funeral. Her husband feels obligated while Debbie doesn't feel the same. How much obligation do they actually have?

QUESTION: Debbie in Los Angeles is calling because her husband’s family has asked for money to pay for his grandmother’s funeral. Her husband feels obligated to help while Debbie doesn’t feel the same obligation. How much obligation do they actually have in this situation? Dave thinks this situation is on the grandmother’s kids and not the grandchildren.

ANSWER: The obligation would be to Grandma—not to Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad should be paying for their own mother’s funeral. Why would they ask the grandchildren? Because they’re broke. I don’t think you have any obligation to pay for your grandmother’s funeral unless you’re the only one left standing and you and Grandmother were very close.

What happens here is this family never talks about misbehavior, and there’s a lot of it. But they all talk about covering up the misbehavior. This is known as codependency. That’s what’s going on here. In other words, you’re telling me that your husband’s parents or their brothers and sisters basically used up all of this poor woman’s money, and now they don’t even have the money to bury her because they spent her money. I think that’s on them. If your husband had a unique relationship with his grandmother that maybe the rest of the kids didn’t—the rest of the grandparents didn’t—and he wanted to do this for his grandmother, that’s fine, but I don’t hear that in this discussion. What I hear in this discussion is he’s a member of a toxic, screwed-up family, and he feels sucked in to the family script, which looks like a Shakespearean play.

Since they had a distant relationship, I would feel almost no obligation. That would be almost like burying a stranger. Let’s say my parents call up and they’ve got a good friend who passed away. My parents don’t have any money because my parents misbehaved. That’s what your husband’s saying. Then your husband’s supposed to write a check for that. No.

All this is your husband doesn’t know how to tell his family no. That’s at the core of this. It’s not because he feels obligated, and it’s not because it’s a sense of honor that he needs to do something out of honor or dignity. Every bit of this is he doesn’t know how to tell his dysfunctional family no. He calls that obligation. It’s not obligation. It’s cowardice. It’s not because your husband’s a bad guy, and in a lot of other areas, he may seem perfectly sane. What I would tell him is before he makes a decision based on what I said, get the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. Read that book cover to cover and see if he doesn’t read his family’s biography in there. He will. When he finishes, he will be ready to tell his parents no. And he should in this situation.

I’m not above helping bury Grandmother. That’s not the point. The point is all the reasons for doing it here are the wrong reasons. I’m not going to involve myself in that.