July 1, 2014

Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

I seem to be going through a “mourner phase,” these days.  Last month, I attended four funerals.  This month, a couple.  Frequently, these events were labeled “a celebration of life.”  Sometimes they were; other times, not so much.

It’s not unusual for children or close relatives to speak at these events, describing the bond between themselves and the deceased, and how it was created.  Often, the speaker can bring that person to life, figuratively speaking, with their words.  The last thing in the world we ever expect to hear is that Joe was a mean, abusive so-and-so; he denigrated his wife, beat his kids, and has as much chance of getting into Heaven as Osama bin Laden.  Admittedly, none of the services I attended included such a speaker.  Although . . .

One of them included an out-of-town relative who was a member of the clergy.  His memories of the dead individual brought to mind a temperance revival meeting, and really turned into a rant about how this relative had saved the decedent’s soul at the last minute.  To many in attendance, and this was NOT an evangelical group, it appeared the funeral in those moments had ceased to be a celebration of the dead man’s life and had instead become all about the relative.

As I struggled with how inappropriate the funeral hijacking felt, my deja vu detector went off.  It took me a while to realize why.  As a divorce lawyer, I get to help officiate at the death of a marriage.  In the best cases, when a couple sees the wisdom of planning their family’s future together, those divorces can include a large measure of honoring that marriage, even if it stops short of an outright celebration.  The relationship that brought the children into the world can be buttressed and supported going forward.  The good things can be retained.  The bad parts . . . well, the bad parts are why they’re in my conference room.

And then there are those who, oblivious of the relational aspects of the marriage that died, just want to go on and on, like the prodigal clergyman, and make the divorce all about them.  Their “rights,” their money, their property, even “their” children.  Losing sight of the Big Picture is an uncomfortable thing to witness, whether it accompanies the death of a person, or the death of a marriage.  When couples keep that Big Picture in mind, they can create a fitting memorial to the marriage that used to be, and honor the family that still is.

Steve Yasgur

Stevan Yasgur is a Collaborative Family Law attorney practicing in Edina, MN. A 1980 graduate of the William Mitchell College of Law, he was active in the organized bar early in his career and drafted legislation amending the child support law. He has tried numerous dissolution cases and resolved hundreds of others without trial. For the last decade, his practice has emphasized assisting clients in the Collaborative process. He is also a qualified Rule 114 neutral on the Supreme Court's roster of qualified neutrals. He is a member and past-president of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota, and a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

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