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Dear Annie: Family differences over Dad’s dying wish

A bereaved woman looking sad and pensive

Dear Annie: I thought our dad’s death three months ago would bring our family closer, but even when we were arranging his funeral, we had big family differences about what he would have wanted.

My older sister and her husband took over and buried Dad’s ashes, but he always talked about them being scattered where he and mum used to go walking. I feel like I’ve let him down and I’m really upset about it. - KL

Annie says: I’m really sorry to hear about your dad. And I’m sorry too, to hear that there have been tensions in your family. Sadly, this is quite common during times of stress and shock.

We might expect these experiences to bring us closer and often, they ultimately do. But certainly in the early stages there can be rather a lot of conflict and disruption to ordinary family dynamics. Everyone reacts to grief very differently, and combined with all the emotion whirling around it can make it hard for people to communicate well and support each other. This sounds a little like what you’ve experienced.

The most important thing to remember, is that you have not let your dad down.

I know very well the burden of responsibility we can feel when someone we have loved dies and we want to ‘do right by them’. This is a curious element to the experience of grief because it brings to question the real function of funerals – are they for the dead? Or are they for those left behind?

It might be, for whatever reason, that your sister wanted to bury the ashes, perhaps so that you have somewhere to visit? Perhaps she felt it would be easier? Only she knows.

I know that this may not have been what you wanted, and that is something you will need to talk to your sister about, when you feel able. That is where I would recommend you spend energy, rather than feeling bad for your dad. The one thing you can be certain of is that he would not want that.

If you have a question for Annie to answer in this column, you can write to her at

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling self-help book Speaking of Death (What the Bereaved Really Need), inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence

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