ADVICE: What Do You Do When You’re Expected To Be A Dead Friend’s Beard?

Emily Yoffe, otherwise known as Dear Prudence, recently advised a woman caught between a rock and a sad place.

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.

From Slate:

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

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  • redspyder

    ‘Dear Prudence’ is mental. Her best friend just died, and Prudence is telling her to go to the funeral and “quietly accept people’s condolences”? Why? And why should she be at his funeral to pay her respects and be comforted by those who loved him?

    From her letter, the only person she knows is her best friend David’s brother. With David’s death, she should be able to pay her respects and comforted by people who loved him – for who he was! She shouldn’t have to be a prop in a morbid fiction to soothe his family and their friends.

    She should organise her own memorial – it doesn’t have to be large, but would allow her to accept comfort for her real loss of a good friend from people that actually knew David instead of the stress of having to lie to a bunch of people who clearly didn’t know him at all.

  • Empyrean

    I would play along throughout the whole funeral. Then at the wake or formal gathering afterwards I would toast the dearly departed and set the record “straight”. Then everyone would know the truth.

    I believe in celebrating the life of a person, not acquiesce to the living. Not telling the truth, in my mind, would be the greater dishonour.

    Then again I look at death and funerals differently than most.

  • Thomathy

    The advice columnist is wrong, but not mental. Probably just stupid.

    If she is indeed introduced as his fiancée she should be truthful about that, his parents be damned. He’s dead and she doesn’t know them; they haven’t earned her respect and they sure as hell haven’t tried to gain it. The funeral is about their son, not their lies. This woman deserves every bit as much as them, if not more, to grieve of the loss of her friend and to be honest about her relationship with him and the real love she felt for him as his best friend. It’s pretty disgusting to suggest anything different and it’s petty of his parents to use her in order to cover up for their bigotry.

  • RomanHans

    Really? Her best friend and roommate died and now she’s expected to play along with his parents’ lies?

    And how respectful is it to an out gay man to be shoved back into the closet after his death?

    Real answer: Go to the funeral, and when people ask, say “We were just friends and roommates. Though his parents don’t like to admit it, he was gay.”

  • Cam

    The answer is idiotic.

    The family isn’t just trying to put their son in the closet, they are attaching a history to THIS woman’s life that is false. What if a two months later, a friend of hers wanted to fix her up with a great guy and he came across an obit that says her fiancee just died, he would run screaming away from her. What if years later she is about to marry a great guy and he finds the obit and gets mad at her for not telling him about this part of her life.

    Even if those scenarios are far fetched, the fact is, they are messing with HER life not the son’s, and I think that if they wanted somebody to pretend to be white, or male, or something else that Prudence would have answered differently, it’s only because she still feels it is something that the family can be legitimately ashamed of that she answered that way.

  • hyhybt

    The parents didn’t have the decency even to tell her they were involving her in their lie. I’m stuck between going and correcting people as it comes up, acting confused and pretending to know nothing about the contents of the obituary, or else playing along for the sake of being polite to the other people there (those who are recipients of the lie, who do deserve time to mourn without having this brought into it right then) and then taking out an ad in that same paper a month later explaining the truth and why I’d gone along with it.

  • NateOcean

    Oh Hell NO!

    The dead man’s parents are dishonoring his memory and now are asking his dear friend to join them in their lie. There might be reasons to lie about the circumstances of a person’s death, but this is not one of them. The parents are self-serving assholes.

    To anyone that offers their sympathy, she should inform them that she and David were great friends that decided to share a household after they met at the Campus Gay & Lesbian Club. She can add that David was of such fine character that if they’d both been straight, they likely would have married in a heartbeat. Hence the “miscommunication” about being the “fiancée”.

    “Miscommunication” is the kindest word I can come up with regarding the parents.

  • dvlaries

    I believe she should go and quietly correct people, one at a time, as she meets them, and not in the earshot of others, that she and David were just best friends. And only then, maybe, if the other mourners seem set on delving into the non-existent engagement matter.
    I would feel otherwise except the parents, bereaved as they are, weren’t so stricken that they didn’t find the nerve -before their son was even buried- to incorporate this woman in a deliberate and desperate lie without even asking her permission first. And why? To save face, and maintain whatever community status they’re used to?
    Effectively, the parents are burying the fantasy son that still lives in their head, not the man he really was. And it strikes me with disgust.

  • horace

    Definately do not go to the funeral to aid their reprehensible behavior.

    Call the funeral home and find out who is making the headstone and as his “fiance”
    call gravestone company and have the name and year of birth of David’s partner engraved into the headstone.

    Have the newspaper print a retraction after the funeral.

    There that should do it.

  • GreenmanTN

    You may DECIDE to participate in another person’s lie but you are never obligated to do so.

    I personally wouldn’t feel it was my place to “out” David to people at his funeral. He’s dead so that isn’t the point of the event, it’s for the people who knew him to grieve his loss.

    But that isn’t at ALL the same thing as participating in a lie that involves you, to pretend to be his fiancee because that’s the cover story his family told. The moment it requires YOU to lie you become an active participant, not just a by-stander. So if I were her whenever someone said something about being his fiance I’d just reply, “David and I weren’t engaged, we were just very good friends and roommates. I don’t know how that story got started.” Then I’d leave it at that. If they want to ask why they were mislead into thinking David was engaged they can ask the people who mislead them, his parents.

  • Rockery


    I totally agree, he has passed, I don’t know if I would feel right or see the point in correcting his lying parents. Unless I figured that is what he would have wanted.

    But she should say exactly what you said, UNLESS he does have a somewhat serious BF… in that case I would say she should bring him along and say “we were just friends and this is his boyfriend, his parents might have been mistaken”

  • Seth

    I’ve known plenty of out and proud gay folks, including community leaders, who went firmly back into the closet every time they went home. David may have even told his parents that she was his fiance. They certainly should have had enough doubts to leave her out of the obituary, but they may have told others, and things could have gotten out of hand. Other friends or relatives may be responsible for placing the obituary. The parents may also simply not be thinking clearly enough due to grief, embarrassment or panic.

    While I highly suspect that the parent’s worst torment is that they’ll be exposed and embarrassed, I would not go to the funeral with a plan for revenge. Go and be what you are; someone who loved David as friend and roommate. Treat the “fiance” thing as just a curious misunderstanding, and gracefully correct it as it comes up in conversation. I highly suspect close family and friends will be very careful not to bring it up, you know.

    Whether or not the parents were deceived, or are being deceitful, she has a need and a right to go to the funeral to pay her last respects to her roommate. Hopefully, she can go with a group of his friends. Hopefully, she can go at all, since I suspect she’ll be getting a call asking her to stay away so the parents can tell everyone she’s in a coma. If there is an eulogy, she can do good by David and show that he was loved and respected by his friends. Folks who know he was gay will respect her for the effort she made to be there. Folks who did not know he was gay will be clued in by the lack of expected references. Try to say and do nothing that will give the parents an excuse to exclude you, but feel free to leave plenty of clues that the parent’s version does not add up.

    In summary, hold back at first, so the parents don’t exclude you out of suspicion you’ll humiliate them. Don’t humiliate them, but be graceful with the truth whenever it comes up. Leave everyone knowing that he’d been important to his friends, and wishing that they’d known David better.

    But if friends and neighbors get together later over drinks, let the snark and bawdy stories fly!

  • LaTeesha

    I would go and if someone asked a question or made a statement that implied we were a couple, I would politely say, “We were best friends but not romantically involved since he was a proud gay man.” If people had further questions, I would tell them they needed to speak with his parents. There’s no shame in his being gay and if anyone is stressed out over the issue, that’s their fault. Lying is not.

  • Ogre Magi

    I am sooooooo sick of christians and all their crap

Comments are closed.