Why Are Weddings (And Funerals) Family Reunions? Because Everyone Shows Up To Them…

When you are in the event planning business, you often have a client asking if they “have to invite so and so?”  The truth is that weddings and even funerals bring the entire family together and you may very well be expected (or guilted into) inviting a friend or relative you don’t really like or risk upsetting another relative “who wants so and so” at the event.

Believe it or not, Inlaws and Outlaws are far more outrageous at funerals than they are at a wedding.  Why?  They have (in their mind) nothing to lose.  I’ve been pushed over a coffin by relatives trying to pry it open and see if the deceased was wearing jewelry or buried with a family heirloom.  I’ve seen family members get into fights at funerals and I’ve been amazed that respecting the deceased is completely forgotten in the quest for what these folks “expected to inherit.”

Let’s face it—death is a dark stranger that often brings out the worst in people.  When my dad asked me to officiate his longtime partner, Gretta Ozee’s funeral, neither of us expected her sister to “trump” him by calling the funeral home as the next of kin and saying that she wanted to make the funeral arrangements.  Because my father wasn’t married to Gretta and didn’t have a Body Disposition Affidavit, the “right to make burial decisions” was given to Gretta’s sister Kathy who By Texas Law was legally the Next Of Kin for a period of 30 days while Gretta was “put on ice.”  Sadly, since my father lacked a Body Disposition Affidavit and Gretta had no children, Kathy had the ability to stop funeral arrangements by “pretending” she was going to plan and more importantly, pay for them with the Funeral Home.  Kathy took advantage of being Gretta’s sister to specifically prevent my father from following Gretta’s wishes out of spite and also lied about not having a will to the Probate Court.  My father had a will signed by Gretta that left him the majority of the estate but left Kathy $75k.  Upset that she wasn’t getting everything, Kathy used her position as the Next Of Kin strictly to “get even.”

When I tell you that I’ve seen everything at a funeral, I’m being serious because many families never recover from fighting over assets after the death of a loved one.  In fact, after the death of my grandfather, my aunt and father didn’t speak to each other for over 20 years because they both disagreed over things and it would take my aunt having a heart attack for my father and Aunt to finally put that funeral behind them and make amends. Life is short and family fights can turn into lifelong grudges which is hard on other family members because so and so isn’t speaking to so and so.  

Sadly, many of my LBGT friends who lost a partner lost everything else to the family of the deceased including the right to make burial decisions.  Probate Courts in Texas became a battleground for LBGT partners who survived the death of a loved one.  My best friend Charles Thomason was one of those survivors.  Dewitt McKnight died too soon and his family literally “swooped in” to push Charles out of the way and make all of the burial decisions while also grabbing all of Dewitt’s assets.  Charles died one year later of a broken heart in a home that had been ransacked by Dewitt’s family.  

Prior to same sex Marriage becoming legal, survivors and domestic partners had no legal rights unless they were aware of Body Disposition Affidavits and other legal ways of protecting their assets for a partner.  I wrote a blog regarding 5 Legal Documents every LBGT couple needed and answered emails for months from couples having no idea that they could lose everything if their partner were to die.  People were shocked by this information but thankfully, they were finally educated about what could happen if they did nothing and expected a “fair” outcome.  

Thousands of people read my blogs because I’m honest and up front about everything in my life and if I can help someone else by using information, I do.  There are no grey areas in my life and I’m up front and honest regarding what is in my clients best interest.  

For more information on what a Body Disposition Affidavit is and does, visit this link on my sister site, The Pawning Planners-  Texas Body Disposition Affidavit Information.  If you aren’t married to your partner, it is certainly in your best interest to have this document on hand. 

It is my hope that by educating yourself to laws regarding death, you can limit the arguments over who is in charge (or paying for) funeral expenses and planning. 

While the days passed and Gretta’s body detiorated, I continued to make phone calls to the funeral director asking him to allow my father to proceed with the arrangements while preparing flowers for the ceremony.  Gretta had prepaid a plot at Greenwood Cemetery and while the plot was paid for, my father would (after 30 days of Kathy holding up the process) still pay over $10k for the coffin and other (padded) expenses to the funeral home.  When the time finally passed for Kathy to handle funeral arrangements, the director called me and said my father could come view the body and proceed with the arrangements.  As you can imagine, beautiful and sassy Gretta looked remarkably different after being held for such a long time at the funeral home.

I advised my father that the cost of a coffin was far lower in Dallas and that we could limit expenses by dressing Gretta in her own clothing but, my father was emotional (who wouldn’t be) after waiting such a long period to put Gretta to rest and purchased everything from the funeral home to expedite the process of finally burying her.

The Funeral Rule protects grieving families from being taken advantage of financially when making funeral arrangements in Texas but very few consumers are aware of this law that gives them rights to “shop around” and see the pricing at a funeral home.  For more information on The Funeral Rule, visit this link-Texas Funeral Rule.  Convenience is expensive and if you are buying everything from the funeral home, you are paying a premium.

While officiating at Gretta’s funeral,  I stood at the head of Gretta’s coffin and reflected on what Gretta would have wanted and the pain my father went through trying to honor her wishes.  Gretta’s sister Kathy did everything humanly possible to make my father struggle through the grief and loss after Gretta’s death and didn’t bother attending her funeral either.  It’s very sad Kathy didn’t attend the funeral especially after holding it up for so long.  Gretta was incredibly generous throughout her life to Kathy but Kathy used her death as an opportunity to control my father.

Funerals are fiascos when hotheaded family members “get in on the action.”  I witnessed this again at the funeral of Paul Rodden.  His sister, Angela has been a family friend for over twenty years and that funeral was another “stand out” of  fighting and petty arguments amongst the ex wife, the baby momma, his children, his parents and his sister.  

Angela felt completely left out of the funeral planning process because she was.  Paul’s ashes were never “split up” among his children or his only sister Angela.  Since Angela knew that I was traveling to California a few months ago to plan and officiating a wedding, I went to the Santa Monica Pier where Paul’s ashes had been scattered by his ex wife and collected the sand in a small container to bring back to Angela so she could have something to remember her brother with.  Angela never received one item of her brother Paul from his ex wife, baby momma or children.  Not a photo, not a memento and not even a small portion of Paul’s ashes.  I could tell you how emotional she was when I flew home with that sand but words will probably never express the relief she felt to finally hold something that she believed had “a wee bit” of Paul in it.  That sand was perhaps the greatest gift that I have ever given Angela and I’m a very generous person when it comes to gift giving!  The sand was a priceless treasure that will always remind Angela of walking the Santa Monica beach with her big brother.

Fighting over the ashes may sound unusual but, assets are always a hot issue.  Please plan and execute your will properly, you can certainly ease the burden for your survivors and while no one wants to think about death- if you want to spare your loved ones, you certainly should plan ahead!

On the flip side of death, a wedding is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration but, if you haven’t went to the trouble to let everyone in your family feel like they had a part or a role in your wedding, chaos will follow.

My sons wedding to Stephanie was one of those moments where everyone who didn’t do anything to contribute, bothered to do everything they could to screw it up.  I spent months on the flowers for the wedding, the centerpieces and every detail to make it a beautiful affair.  What went wrong?  Her mother who bothered to show up at the wedding “wanted to make it about herself.”  Her grandmother who had PAID for the venue felt slighted as did I because we literally were the only people interested in having a perfect day.  

My ex husbands mother also “acted a fool” by being too belligerent to wear the corsage I had carefully made and making a scene when she kicked my chair (in front of hers at the reception) away from her.  The truth is that Inlaws & Outlaws make everything about them and don’t care if they look like idiots doing it either.  My sons wedding was a fiasco that (years later) continues to be one of the most talked about events in Texas Twins Events history because everyone was arguing with everyone else the entire time.  I took the “higher ground” and didn’t fall for the pettiness exhibited by a handful of people because I was there to support my son and make his wedding beautiful.  If I can manage to be civil to idiots for 3-5 hours, you can too.  Contain your biting comments and comebacks to these types of people who don’t know how to act at a wedding.  Everyone has a camera and can video you so be aware that confrontation at a wedding will (almost always) be captured on film.

A “fluid wedding” is one where the families of the couple are on the same page and work to get along with one another.  These weddings are literally a joy for the families and the guests!  

While in California last month with my twin sister, I had spoken with Julie Erwin about finding an Officiant for her daughters wedding after her Officiant had backed out because I was going to be unavailable.  After calling my son Robert and stepdaughter Ann, it was decided that Ann would officiate for my dear friend, Julie Erwin.

We have 5 Officiants on my staff but 99.9% of the time I’m the requested Officiant.  Covering for a No Show Officiant not affiliated with Texas Twins Events happens more often than anyone knows.  These Emergency Calls “roll in” all of the time.  Prison Wedding Clients also call on short notice when their booked Officiant “had a car accident” or “is too sick” or some other excuse.  Emergency Officiant fees are in place because these requests require my entire team to juggle booked events and accommodate a short notice request.

My son and daughter in law decided to take my step daughter Ann Alexander to the wedding to officiate her very first wedding for Texas Twins Events and Ann was thrilled.  I loaned her one of my vestments for the wedding and knew she would do a good job and she did. 

This is how a wedding should be with everyone happy and joyous!  My sons wedding had ex wives, ex husbands and everything going wrong so the “happy photos of the wedding” are few and far between because the photographer really had to work at finding a “good shot.”  

At the September wedding in California, there were a few hilarious moments for me with guests but we also had a wide variety of happy smiling families like the Cali Erwin wedding because the blended families worked to get along and celebrate together a happy and joyous occasion.  Weddings are wonderful Life Events but they require everyone working together and putting their petty problems aside.  Wedding Day is about the couple it’s not about their family or their friends- it’s about them.  For some reason, Inlaws and Outlaws forget “who’s wedding it is” and cause conflict.  Try limiting the Open Bar and assigning tasks to the worst offenders who “stir the chili” at family functions.  Keeping these “meddling” types busy will also keep them from starting any trouble! 

When planning your wedding, please remember to try and make everyone feel involved because that will limit jealousy among your family members.  If you have a step father and a father, let them both walk you down the aisle.  It’s an honor to escort a bride to the alter.  Don’t forget to pose for photos with both sides of the family either because everyone will want a photo with the beautiful new couple.  Family Photos at weddings ARE IMPORTANT to both families so you will want to let your event planner or photographer aware of everyone by making a list of names to ensure no one is overlooked.

Wendy M Wortham