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My religious maternal grandmother passed away recently and my mother is involved in planning the services which will be held at a chapel and presided over by the religious minister. My mother just informed me that they are planning a musical number for the great grandchildren to sing and that it will likely be Families Can Be Together Forever.

The song is about how families that share gospel belief and ceremonies can live together after death.

My wife, our young children, and I left the church several years ago. Losing my bedrock of faith, confronting my mortality, and losing the possibility of an afterlife with my own family was challenging and heart wrenching. Hearing "Families Can Be Together Forever" now causes me significant stress. I cannot bear the discord of my children singing to a crowd a song extolling an afterlife that this religion teaches they can never have a part in because of their family's lack of belief.

My first thought was to politely decline, but I am concerned about my children being excluded from a significant ceremony while their cousins are singing at the podium.

It would be simple to just politely decline, but I'm considering a response of the form:

"I would love my children to participate if they could sing a non-denominational song. Maybe Somewhere Over The Rainbow, or Amazing Grace?"

This seems like it would increase the possibility of my children participating in a meaningful manner. On the other hand, this is a religious ceremony planned by a religious family, and the black sheep of the family suggesting secular music for the services in this emotional time could be seen as disruptive and self-serving.

How can I suggest an alternative music selection for this number?

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    @Raditz_35 Both. It would be extremely uncomfortable to me. We played a recording of the song to my children this morning and my children immediately said they hated the song - I think because they saw my reaction of distress upon hearing it. My kids are 4 and 6. They also receive comments from neighbors children, "I'm going to heaven, but you won't get to be with your family when you die because you don't believe." These comments are hurtful to my children, and to ask them to sing a song reinforcing that hurt is borderline abusive. – Cory Klein Sep 25 '18 at 16:17
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    Amazing Grace is by no means "secular". Perhaps the language doesn't bother you as much as the piece you mention, but you should review the full text before offering it as an option. – Peter Sep 25 '18 at 20:50
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    @Peter The example wording I gave was just that, it was not meant to be my actual recommendation of songs. Be that as it may, I'm OK with religious themes and music in general, it is more this particular confluence of circumstance, lyrics, and background that makes the given song a challenge. – Cory Klein Sep 25 '18 at 20:58
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    And, this one is really prying and you don't have to answer it (just flag it if it's out of line and I'll delete it again ;) )... You say your kids are 4 and 6, and that your wife and kids left church several years ago. Your kids must've been really young then, did they make the decision themselves, or was it more of a decision your wife made (not wanting to raise the kids in church)? How free are you, within your relationship with your wife, to still raise your kids and teach them about your religion? – Tinkeringbell Sep 27 '18 at 11:33
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    Who's driving the choice of music -- your mother, the minister, or your grandmother (via previous request)? Whether your mother is committed to the idea or just accepting a suggestion without thinking about it much (in her time of grief, after all) is key to answering this question, IMO. – Monica Cellio Sep 27 '18 at 21:17
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What about ducking the issue altogether? Singing while on the edge of tears is a very uncomfortable thing. It might be prudent (regardless of topic) that the family plan on just sitting at the service and grieving. That could be the response: "Sorry, they won't be up to singing in public on that day. I'd rather they be able to focus on the service and their emotions, and not take on additional public performance stress."

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Note: while I attempt to answer this question, I realize that this topic is extremely sensitive for many. I apologize in advance to any that will feel offended by my words, it is definitely not my intention.


Just coming back now and realizing a crucial miswording in my question! My wife, children, and I left the church years ago.

Ok, since this has been cleared, I would have a fundamental frame challenge for you.

Losing my bedrock of faith, confronting my mortality, and losing the possibility of an afterlife with my own family was challenging and heart wrenching.

I cannot bear the discord of my children singing to a crowd a song extolling an afterlife that this religion teaches they can never have a part in because of their family's lack of belief.

Reading this it seems to me that you were (and are to this day) not convinced of your choice, and somehow you feel guilty for taking your kids away from the church. Personally I would try to resolve this before going any further with your request of changing songs. (I focus on you because you have not mentioned what your wife thinks/feels)

I would then pose to you the following:

  • if you (and your family) don't believe in an afterlife, you have lost nothing, as the lack of afterlife is for everyone.

  • if you (and your family) still believe in an afterlife, given the age of your kids, nothing prevents them from possibly joining again the church one day and be forgiven (and thus re-join that afterlife you consider "lost").

In any case, letting your children participate into the song would not be a problem:

  • if you (and your family) don't believe in an afterlife, the children are simply singing along some fairy tale (that the rest of your extended family believes to be very real)

  • if you (and your family) still believe in an afterlife, the children are singing about something you also believe (although possibly in a different way from the rest of your extended family)

In both cases, the rest of your extended family is happy, and your own family either has done nothing of consequence, or has participated in its own way.

What I am trying to say is that the problem does not seem to be the act of singing that specific song, but the meaning you give to it and the feelings this meaning evokes in you. Your children are obviously sensitive to your feelings, particularly if you wear them on your sleeve, so it does not surprise me that

my children immediately said they hated the song - I think because they saw my reaction of distress upon hearing it.

I would then stress my frame challenge and invite you to reflect on your feelings, the meaning that you give to specific acts.

As an agnostic/atheist (depends on what definition you use) that also comes from a religious family and upbringing, I am sympathetic to your difficulties in shedding the baggage that comes with that, and that is why I am giving you this answer.


My kids are 4 and 6. They also receive comments from neighbors children, "I'm going to heaven, but you won't get to be with your family when you die because you don't believe." These comments are hurtful to my children.

This is a different issue, but important nevertheless, as it gives background to the question. You seem to come from a deeply religious neighbourhood that does not tolerate secularism much, and I see how that can be difficult to navigate. I would also have a couple of suggestions on how to alleviate the pain of your children in these scenarios, but as this is not the topic of the question, I will leave it for when someone will ask that question.

Nevertheless, this tells me that your community might be much more conservative than the ones I've been used to, so you might be going through more difficulties than me. My answer would like to urge you to evaluate closely if some of these difficulties are self-inflicted, and could be removed by some reflection.

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