Two of my best friends rarely let me forget that I did not attend their daughters’ weddings. Forget the fact that both ended in divorce. Or that I would have had to postpone plans or fly long distance. Though we remain close, it is clear that my snubs hurt. Like many others at this time of our lives, I spend much of it deciding which weddings and funerals I choose to attend. Call it the latest twist on the sandWHICH generation. I’ve been trying to come up with some kind of rules or formula, and here’s where I’ve landed.
Weddings: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
For some, the wedding part of this equation is not an unpleasant distraction. Linda Latman, a 67-year old retiree in New York, is looking forward to the three weddings she will attend this year. Two are for the children of friends (as are most at this stage in life), but the one she is most excited about is for a 70-year old woman who lost her husband a few years back. “I know other widows,” she says, “but she is the only one tying the knot. I figure all the sad occasions will find me, so I try to go to the ones where I will eat, drink, and dance.”
I wouldn’t have missed the wedding: The groom is more than my friend’s kid; he has become mine as well.
Latman did decide to skip one wedding in Jamaica and another in Quebec City. Destination weddings come in for mixed reviews. On the plus side, they force some guests to think outside the travel box. Others resent that they are being asked to pay so much to get somewhere they had no intention of visiting. Jerry Seinfeld once did a routine on the subject. “I know you’re excited about your three-day plan,” he told his audience, “but no one wants to go to your wedding!”
No matter the distance, these things can add up, in money and mileage. One in New England recently ended up costing me at least two thousand dollars and involved a number of transportation mishaps. But I would not have missed it: The groom is more than my friend’s kid, he has become mine as well. Which brings me to…
Attendance Rule #1: Attend if you have your own relationship with the young man or woman getting married. Rick Feldman, a retired television executive, is making his way to North Carolina for the nuptials of an old friend of his daughter. “She personally invited us, and I always liked her,” he says.
I am invited to five weddings this year, all grown children of friends, and won’t be attending all of them. The most potentially touchy one is for the daughter of my oldest (as in since sixth grade) pal. But she took my decline fine (I think), when I explained I simply could not make it to Arizona during November’s holiday season.
Attendance Rule #2: Have an alternative form of connection or compensation. I suggested another, less hectic time to visit with her and see her new home in Scottsdale—and I will.
Funeral Attendance Etiquette 101: Can You Forego a Funeral?
Funerals, of course, are a different matter in that they are less prone to long-term planning. Plus your decision may not necessarily be about the one who has passed. “How I feel about the person who died doesn’t matter,” says writer Judith Newman, who incidentally honored her late husband’s odd last wish—that he be buried alongside his first wife. “But if someone in the family is close to me, I go.” My friend, Bonnie Strauss, who avoids most large gatherings, agrees and adds, “I go to weddings or funerals if it might make a difference, but not just to say I was there.”
Call me creepy, but I actually prefer memorials over the matrimonial events. Rather than the same drunken, boring toasts, you usually get real insight into the person who has passed. A few months ago, I attended a memorial for a man I thought I knew well. It turned out Jack had a harrowing childhood before becoming so accomplished. I listened to his wife, Holly, speak about how palliative care had made his final months endurable. I jotted myself a note and later wrote an article about palliative care, which Holly found gratifying.
Attendance Rule #3: Do what you can in your own way, especially if you cannot attend.
Which rolls right into Attendance Rule #4: Let the dying know how you feel before it is too late. This does not apply to those who die suddenly, of course, and it is not always easy. When our friend Mark was on his deathbed, friends were invited to say goodbye. I was too broken up, but my husband went. I asked what Mark—truly the least self-centered person in the world—said, and David replied, “He asked me how work was.”
Call me creepy, but I actually prefer the memorial to the matrimonial events. It’s rare you that don’t learn something new about the person.
I even find that celebrating the dead can bring more laughter than one finds at weddings. I recall the son of a recently deceased friend named Stan speaking at the service. Stan had been the music exec who brought John, Paul, George, and Ringo to America. Hs son recounted how, when he and his siblings left for school one morning, Stan said, “Please be home tonight. The Beatles are coming to dinner. But don’t tell anyone.” You can guess how that turned out.
Comedy writers are famous for the memorials they throw for a recently departed colleague, particularly at the Writers Guild Theatre in Los Angeles. Two friends, Frank and Carol Lalli, attended the memorial for their son-in-law’s father, a TV writer named Lorenzo Music. I saw them right after and noticed their red, dampened eyes.
“Was it really sad”? I asked.
“Are you kidding,” said Frank. “We laughed so hard we cried.”
And so we cry, we laugh, and we spend perhaps too much time having to make these decisions about which events to attend. There may be a lot of other things we’d rather be doing than traveling, putting on heels, sitting in unforgiving seats, being asked when our daughter is going to tie the knot. But these gatherings reflect that we have people we love in our lives. Not too tough a price to pay.