The reader’s best friend and roommate was recently killed in a car accident and his conservative parents have stuffed his corpse back into the closet by referring to his roommate as his fiancée.
Q. Not Sure—Family? Etiquette?: David and I have been best friends since we met in undergrad. When we were accepted to grad programs at the same university, we got an apartment together. Two days ago, David was killed in a car accident. I have been devastated ever since. When I looked up David’s online obituary, I was shocked to see myself listed as his fiancée. As close as we were, there was never anything romantic between us. David was gay. The only person I really know in David’s family is his brother, and I called him to ask him why I was listed as his fiancée in the obituary. His brother explained that his parents are ultraconservative and very religious and, even though they knew David was gay, they never quite accepted it. I guess people in his hometown town knew he was living with a girl, and his parents explained away this “sin” by saying we were engaged, rather than saying we were just friends or even just roommates. The funeral is Tuesday, and I don’t know if I can go or not. I know David would have hated the lie his parents told, but I also know he loved them very much and wouldn’t want them to be hurt. I’m not sure what people would say if his “fiancée” didn’t show up for the service. But I am also not comfortable accepting condolences from people for something that is a lie. I know how much David struggled with coming out to his parents and how he fought for acceptance. There is a part of me that would like to demand a retraction and correction of the obituary. Another part of me says to let it go because David is beyond hurting now. What should I do?
A: Go to the funeral and quietly accept people’s condolences. You have lost one of the dearest people in the world to you, and however mixed your feelings about his family’s behavior you should be at his funeral to pay your respects and be comforted by those who loved him. The immediate aftermath of the sudden death of a vibrant, young person is not the time to be making demands on the grief-stricken family, however misguided their actions. I agree it’s terrible that his family felt it necessary to make up a lie in order to present a more acceptable face to the world. Fortunately, that world is changing and had David lived it’s likely that over the course of his life his parents might have been able to accept a partner of David’s. But that chance is gone and his parents are suffering the worst torment imaginable. Go to the funeral and hug and cry. If there are people insensitive enough to ask you for details of the “wedding” just shake your head and say you hope they understand it’s something you can’t bring yourself to talk about now.
“Playing along” would seem to be the most logical thing to do, since a funeral is already difficult enough without having to “out” yourself and the guest of honor. On the other hand, their actions are certainly selfish and a dishonor to their son’s memory. Does grief justify what they did? Should this woman wait a month and then lay into David’s parents?
What would you do in the same situation? Play Dear Prudence and offer your sage advice in the comments section below