ASK THE SOPHIST: Should I Attend a Funeral With Republican Relatives or Is It Time to Start Running?

in Hmm Weekly
on February 8, 2021

Dear The Sophist, 
I haven’t spoken with my Republican relatives in five years. A close relative died recently, and there will be a funeral. I am torn between the guilt of obligation to attend the funeral, and a powerful desire to continue to not speak to these people. What do you think?

—Bereft and Begrudging

Dear Family Feuder, 
You already know the handy maxim that completely covers this: funerals are for the living. You just need to apply it properly to your case. Here, it does not mean that you should skip the funeral on the grounds that the deceased, being deceased, won’t care if you do. What it means is that you have not fully worked through the implications of the fact that your Trump-loving relations are dead to you

If you won’t talk to a person, why would you let that person dictate your plans one way or another? As far as you are concerned, your relatives have attained a condition of non-being. They do not matter to you. Therefore, they cannot prevent you from fulfilling your obligations—to yourself, to whatever living loved ones you may have, to your sense of proper human ritual—and going where you need to go, for your own reasons. 

By not showing up, you would be granting the MAGA faction control over your most private sphere, and you would be ceding them the high ground. You would be sending them a signal, and the signal would be that the reason you don’t talk to them is that you are some sort of weird hermit who doesn’t care about family—that the problem is yours, not theirs. 

This is the illusion that sustains their rotten politics: that they are the good people, who have good values, and they are in a struggle against their resentful inferiors. When they tell themselves this story often enough, they can tell themselves anything. They can convince themselves that 81 million other people, who desperately want not to live in a slaughterhouse run by a hate cult, don’t even really actually exist. 

Don’t protect their fantasies. You are better than them, and therefore you do what a better person would do: you show up at the funeral and you honor your dead—the physically dead—by being the unapologetically alive self they loved. The socially dead, you leave for the buzzards, under the withering eye of the sun and God’s judgment. Give them six feet of COVID distance and the same unseeing gaze you would give to some piece of tasteless funeral-home decor: you wish it weren’t there, but you have more important things on your mind in your time of grief. 

You may, however, temporarily acknowledge their existence long enough to tell them to put on their fucking masks. The silence is a gift, but it’s not worth dying for. 

Survey says…! Pour one out!
The Sophist

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