Mum’s funeral was painful, but my sisters’ cruelty hurt the most


The author’s sisters whispered to each other behind their hands while she was speaking (Picture: GETTY)

Standing at the podium in January, I took a deep breath, readying myself to read my poem aloud at my mother’s funeral.

I was nervous enough speaking in front of all those people while I was grieving – but what I saw, as I looked out into the sea of faces, made me feel a thousand times worse.

Two of my three sisters were whispering to each other behind their hands – and they continued whispering the entire time I was speaking.

I wish I could say I was surprised. But my sisters hadn’t wanted anything to do with me for years before our mum passed away; and, in that moment, I knew there was no coming back for us.

I have two older sisters and one younger. Growing up in Essex, we were a normal family.

We argued, as all sisters do; but fundamentally, we all got on well.

After we left home, we all lived close by. Our children were all of similar ages, so we’d pass outgrown clothes along and go for days out to the seaside or the park.

They became like a supportive friendship group, just a bus ride away.

Then, in the early 80s, our dad passed away – and I was utterly devastated.

I threw myself into helping my mum with DIY tasks, like decorating; I felt I needed to replace Dad, in some way.

It was around this time that I started to realise my sisters and I are very different people.

No one made any attempt to bring me back into the fold

I believed we should all support Mum; but my sisters didn’t feel the same. One did move in with her, but the other two continued with their lives as normal.

A few years later, when I was in my late 20s, Mum married someone else.

I didn’t particularly like him – and he didn’t like me at all – but I was happy that she had company now.

Less than 10 years after they were married, he died. Again, I wanted to support Mum through her loss – and that was the beginning of the end for my relationship with my sisters.

I suggested we take Mum on holiday to Ibiza, renting a house so that she wouldn’t be lonely in a hotel room on her own.

They agreed; but then they booked a hotel anyway.

Throughout the holiday, my sisters wouldn’t spend time with Mum. Instead, they bitched and bitched about her behind her back.

‘You can’t keep talking about Mum like this,’ I said, firmly – and then, they picked on me. They didn’t speak to me for the second half of the holiday; and so neither did Mum. She believed them when they said I was mean.

When we got back, none of them talked to me for a year. If I texted my sisters, they’d ignore me; and Mum was always on their side.

No one made any attempt to bring me back into the fold.

Eventually, we managed to start talking – but it wasn’t long before it all went wrong again when I tried to help organise Mum’s 80th birthday party.

When I think about Mum, a vision of all the horrible things they did pops into my head – and I can’t get rid of it

I wanted Mum to have a wonderful time and I asked my sisters if we could all plan the party together; but I was about to go away on a six-week trip around Asia. I gave them my email, asking them to contact me about it – but they didn’t.

By the time I got back, they’d planned the party down to the last detail.

At the party itself, all my sisters ignored me completely – and they continued ignoring me for the next 15 years.

At first, Mum insisted I should apologise to them.

‘But… I don’t know what I’ve done wrong,’ I’d say, helplessly. ‘There’s three of them, and one of me. I don’t know why they’re not sending me Christmas cards.’

Eventually, it was like my mum put me in a box, separate from the other three – and I’d go round and visit her when they weren’t there. I’d take her shopping and to the seaside. I also took her on holiday and I was the only one to do these things for her.

Eventually, a few years ago, my eldest sister set up a WhatsApp group, saying we should sort our estrangement out. Nothing got ‘sorted out’, but I agreed to the WhatsApp group because Mum was getting frailer and I wanted to be kept in the loop.

By the time Mum was taken into care a few years later, one of my sisters had stopped talking to her completely, after they’d had a falling out; so there were only three of us visiting her.

But the three of us were still having issues.

I was away when Mum was taken to a council-run care home. When I got back, I went to visit her – and the home was horrible. Mum absolutely hated it there.

I couldn’t help but think about how none of my sisters had checked the home out first; they’d just let her be dumped there.

They either have no idea what they’re doing, or they’re just really nasty people

I asked my sisters to come with me to view potential private care homes, but they wouldn’t.

Eventually, I managed to get Mum into a private home. I thought it was worth it for her to be clean, fed, warm and cared for.

But according to my sisters, I was still in the wrong. ‘Now she’s got to pay for it!,’ they said.

Towards the end of my mum’s life, though, those two sisters and I grew a little closer. I actually thought it was brilliant that they were bonding with me.

When the end came for Mum, it was expected.

At first, the three of us were all agreed on what would happen with the funeral; as far as our relationship was concerned, everything was fine.

Then it started going wrong again.

My sister’s daughter made the ‘order of service’ pamphlets. She put the title of the poem I’d chosen to read in wrong, and – even though I texted, and texted, and texted – no one would correct it.

She put the title of the poem as ‘Immortality by Clare Harner’ instead of ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’ by Mary Elizabeth Frye. 

Both are valid titles but I had my speech arranged so that it led into this title – it read ‘she is still around so don’t stand by her grave and weep, celebrate her life’.

Then, the sister who hadn’t spoken to my mum for three years was invited to a meeting with the celebrant – and that was it. The other two stopped talking to me again.

On the day of the funeral, the four of us shared a car with Mum’s brother, who’s deaf; and my sisters whispered in the back of the car the whole way there.

I was a pall-bearer on the day and none of them ever asked me about it; how I felt doing it, or anything. They couldn’t have been less interested.

Then, of course, they whispered throughout my reading during the service.

My sisters’ actions have meant I haven’t been able to grieve properly. Every time I’ve started to think about Mum passing away, I’ve felt so angry that I haven’t been able to cry.

When I think about Mum, a vision of all the horrible things they did pops into my head – and I can’t get rid of it.

Since the funeral, I’ve had two communications from my eldest sister. One was to ask what had happened with the Salvation Army donation money, to which people donated as they left the funeral and which I was in charge of.

I told her I’d taken the money to the charity, and that I had the confirmation letter. But my sister was adamant she wanted to phone them, saying she wanted to know how much her friends had given.

I think she was passively accusing me of stealing the money.

The other communication was about the memorial book, in which people had written memories of Mum. She wanted me to give it to her; but I couldn’t.

If I do, I know I’ll never see it again.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next; with Mum’s ashes, or with starting the process of selling her flat – where the fridge is still full of food, and has been for a year. I don’t know what we’re going to do about any of it, or whether I’ll even be included in the process at all.

I’m completely out of the loop.

I keep trying to make sense of my sisters’ behaviour towards me. I think back to when I was a child, wondering if I did something wrong then. But I know I didn’t.

I keep revisiting me, rather than them, because I don’t want to believe that my three sisters, who I grew up with, could be that nasty deliberately.

But I have to get my head around the fact that it’s not me; it’s them.

I can’t see us ever having a sisterly relationship again. It’s something that I desperately want, but I just don’t think it’s achievable.

If they decided to bring me back into the fold, I’d be civil; but what little trust there I had was snapped in half after two of them showed me some kindness and then dropped me again when my third sister appeared.

They either have no idea what they’re doing, or they’re just really nasty people.

Either way, I can’t trust my sisters ever again. And it breaks my heart.

As told to Izzie Price



Degrees of Separation

This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.

Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.

If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email [email protected]


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