#318: Death and people you don’t like.

Hey there, Cap! Looks like it’s time for me to beg your advice again.

So, here’s the deal. Once upon a time I had a grandmother, who was kind of a great big jerk. But in that gaslighty way that makes you think maybe she’s not so bad? I think she pulled favorites a lot, and my branch of the family in particular was not one of them. She’d be outwardly sweet, but she could turn around and rip you a new one.

Examples:
1) My brother’s horrible ex-wife goes and rings him through the courts and basically manages to take all but $300 a month for child support. When he turns to Rich Grandma to ask for assistance, she turns around and snaps, “It’s your own stupid fault” and hangs up on him.

2) She’d sprinkle in comments like “I hope you fit in your wedding dress” and such, apropos of nothing, leading up to our wedding. It’s one of those things where you can’t tell if she really means it, or if she’s just saying, hey I think you’re fat. She also would insult and swear at her husband up, down, and sideways every time she got a chance. Pretty aggressively, too.


3) Here’s the big one, and the one in most recent memory. Then-fiance and I decided that we were too broke to throw a real wedding just yet, and we were visiting important friends who weren’t going to be able to make it financially when we did throw a real wedding. So! We decided we’d just get together with them and do the legal half when we visited. They lived within two hours of my grandmother and some of my extended family. My husband and I were viewing it as just a trip to the store, basically, but our families viewed it as a Big Deal (because… y’know, we were getting married) so our parents asked to come along and we were like, Heck yeah! Sure! We just didn’t think it was gonna be a Thing, is all. Please, come along if you want.

Anyway, so we do it, and it’s a fun little shindig with our small circle of friends, and our parents. LO AND BEHOLD, my grandmother is *pissed* I didn’t invite her to “my wedding” (and so are some other extended family members, but this is not about them), and she basically excommunicates me for six months. At the time I had All the social anxiety, and zero self-esteem, and I was terrified of phone calls. I made the effort to call regardless, but she wouldn’t answer.

Then it turns out that she was *withholding my Dad’s birthday money* because of it — money my parents were relying on getting. So I decided to try and take action, hoping to help my family out. (My family is awesome, btw, and they were like, don’t worry about it. She is who she is and you don’t need to care.)

So then I painstakingly spent forever writing up this terrible message about how awful I am as a human being for not inviting her, and how I’m still learning how to be an adult and blah blah beg forgiveness blah. I wrote it in pen in cursive and I didn’t want to make a mistake so every time I messed up I’d scrap it and start over.

I WROTE THAT STUPID MESSAGE THIRTY-SOME TIMES, and it was like writing “I will not like myself” a thousand times on the chalkboard. I was utterly emotionally savaged and weeping uncontrollably by the end, and then I drew a very careful drawing on the front anyway and sent it off.

She never acknowledged she got it. Never called me, never thanked me. Refused to answer my calls. And then at some point we just wound up talking again and on her end it was like nothing had ever been wrong. UGH. And I didn’t want to make waves so I never said anything.

Okay so, fast-forward to today.

My grandmother died today. Or maybe is dying and hasn’t died yet? Blah blah surgery complications, taking her off the machines, blah something. I’ma text my mom in a bit and see what’s up. But anyway, I feel exactly zilch about it. I basically resolved to get as close to cutting her out of my life as I could, and made it known to my parents that that was the case. In the interest of helping my folks out, I’d call her on rare occasions (one of the few good things: she is good at short phonecalls), since they live with her now. It was never a big deal and I rarely had to deal with it, and I was fine with it.

But anyway, this is the first time a family member has died and I have no idea what’s expected of me. I’m gonna ask my parents, but I’m gaining perspectives from as many people as I can. Most of my extended family don’t know that I don’t like her, and I have no idea what they expect me to do. I live too far to go to the funeral, likely, especially since I’m going to visit my parents anyway in like… a month. 

What do I do, Cap? My friend suggests sending cards. (Cards that are not like the Horrible Hating Myself Stupid cards.) I like this idea. Also, I’m not wrong in thinking she pretty much sucks, right? Ugh.

Bah.

Here’s the tragedy of death (for everyone, the people we love and the people we don’t):

You die with stuff on your to-do list.

Some of that stuff is great stuff, like, go back to that place in Paris that had the perfect creme brulee and eat it one more time, and also, kiss everyone you love and tell them how great they are.

Some of that stuff is “be less of a jerk.”

We all mean to apologize. Forgive. Hide the porn and burn the diaries.

Nobody gets to finish everything they want to do. Nobody gets to tie it all up neatly with a bow.

Grief is the socially acceptable emotion when something like this happens, even if reality is so much more complex. People will say “I’m so sorry for your loss.” You say “Thank you.” Inside, you feel whatever you want. If some of that is sadness, be sad that here was a lady who used her time on the earth to play her relatives off one another and sit in judgment of them instead of chilling out and enjoying this massive family she had.  She could have gotten to know the real you, instead of the you she saw in command performances, but she chose not to. But you don’t have to grieve her loss, and you don’t have to go to her funeral.

Which leaves us with cards! Fortunately there are cards for exactly this occasion. You can go pick a few out, say “Dear Auntie _____, I am thinking of you and sending you my love,” and let Hallmark do the rest. Funerals, sympathy cards, wakes, etc. aren’t for the dead. The dead are dead and they don’t know that they’re the guest of honor at a very weird party. All of those rituals are for the living, and all of the etiquette is there to help people behave well to each other during a stressful time. Sending a card is the right move. You don’t have to feel the stuff in the card about your grandmother, because you’re not doing it for her.

You’re smart to ask your parents what they think and what they need. Your dad’s* emotions are likely to be complex right now. We can love the daylights out of difficult people who hurt us. We can wish we had more time to mend the relationships. The loss of a parent is a big deal. So be extra kind to him. You don’t have to go home for the funeral, but if you can without financial duress on yourself or  if your folks can buy you a ticket, it would probably mean a lot to them if you did show up. Not to do or say some magical correct thing, but to be there for them. To drive them places. To make sure there’s always coffee made. To make some kind of statement about how the old bat was mean as a snake but she raised kind people and they raised kind people. I have a feeling your relatives will have fantastic stories to tell about this matriarch, and maybe you can add some of your own to the family legend.

So. I’m sorry for your loss. And for the way there’s never enough time. Now you say “Thank you,” and write some cards.

 

*I feel like it’s your dad’s mom because of the monetary birthday present, sorry if I got that wrong.

76 comments
  1. JC said:

    If you’re not able to go to the funeral, another socially acceptable thing to do is to send flowers. Sending flowers can be expensive so if you’re really financially strapped then don’t feel you have to. It’s simply another option. You could even send an african violet. Only you and the awkward army would know why.

    I would second the Captain’s recommendation about looking after your Dad (or Mum if it’s her mother). Keep in close touch if you can’t be there. Often there’s a lot of tiring paperwork and other messy administrative stuff that close relatives have to deal with when there’s a death in the family. Even being the person your Dad can vent to on the phone about this could be a way to support him.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ha! African Violet for Grandma is BEYOND perfect.

      • Aww this makes me sad. My beloved grandma loved African Violets. When she died we had to find homes for upwards of 200 wayward African Violet plants. The whole African Violet thing makes me a little sad when I think of her favorite flower having such a sad symbolism.

        But no matter how I feel, she was a pretty amazing way ahead of her time and slightly awkward woman and I think she would probably have loved it. She could have been the Awkward Army’s official African Violet supplier.

        tldr: It is amazing how grief can be brought up years later by the silliest things.

        • JenniferP said:

          I think African Violets are beautiful. I just kill them, is all. 🙂

          • alphakitty said:

            Every now and again someone gives me a plant as a thank-you for volunteering or something, and I’m like “Awww, what did this poor little plant do to deserve such a fate?!”

          • Beenie said:

            Same. After a long conversation about how I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever tried to own, my best friend (because she listens but doesn’t always *hear*) gave me a really pretty flower for my birthday.

            Upon handing it to me, I IMMEDIATELY DROP IT. Smashing the plant and the pot to pieces.

            So sad. Poor lil plant. It lived .5 seconds in my care.

        • JC said:

          I also think african violets are beautiful and I own 3 flourishing ones. (They love me. I don’t understand why).

          I also really appreciate the Captain Awkward sentiment that attaches to african violets even if for me personally it wouldn’t work out that way (if you gave me an african violet, it would last for decades, flower almost continually and I would be pressing its babies on you after about 18months).

          • Britt said:

            Could someone fill me in on the meaning behind the African violets? This is going over my head. Thanks!

          • JenniferP said:

            It’s from an old post, wishing there was a ceremony where you could give someone a plant (like an African Violet) and a card as a ritual to say “thanks for your friendship! I don’t think we should be friends anymore, but I wish you well in life.”

    • Sheelzebub said:

      If flowers are out of your price range, you can also make a small gift to a charity in your grandmother’s memory.

    • Holy crap, I wish I’d sent my Evil Grandmother an African Violet when she died.

      • J. Preposterice said:

        I…am totally sending an African Violet to my father’s funeral, when he gets around to dying, which with my luck will be the fifth of never.

  2. LW said:

    LW here. Thank you for the reply, Cap! Very good advice. I’ve been keeping in frequent contact with my parents (it’s my mom’s mother) and such. I don’t think we can afford to send me to the funeral, but I’ll be there in a month to visit anywho. Hopefully that will be helpful.

    Right now, the order of the day seems to be cards, so I’ll work on those, and I’ll send some flowers. That’s a spectacular idea.

    • alphakitty said:

      Honesty is ok: “It’s no secret that my relationship with Grandma was strained. But she was important to you and I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

      Also, about not being able to get home for the funeral, that may not be so bad. A lot of people find that the funeral is a blur, and there are plenty of people around with hugs and support then… but by the time reality begins to set in that the person really is gone, that there are no more chances to fix a difficult relationship, whatever complicated things the bereaved person is feeling (and there may be logistical things related to the estate), everyone has dispersed.

    • sasha said:

      To second the good Cap’n and alphakitty, I wouldn’t worry too much about missing the funeral if you can’t afford it. Family members are usually* pretty understanding about it, especially for younger members who are still building lives and careers.

      As others have said, funerals are messy and complicated, and relations are strained even in the best of family situations. This is not the best of family situations. It really doesn’t sound like it’s worth it.

      I think sending sympathy cards to your mother and any of her siblings is a great idea. Though few of my peers seem to send cards, it’s standard in my extended family and family friends. When my father died last year we received dozens of cards from friends and family, and knowing that people were thinking of us did make the rough time a bit easier to get through.

      * caveat: when my beloved grandmother (really more of a second mother) died I was 24, broke, and living 1,000 miles away. My parents offered to pay for a flight, and I chose to visit while she was still alive, to say goodbye. I still firmly believe that was the right choice. But some of my more-gossipy cousins and aunt (with whom neither we nor my grandmother were ever close) made their disapproval known. ::shrug:: gossips gonna gossip

    • Naamah said:

      Hey, there. *hugs*

      Take your time processing and don’t be surprised if weird feelings-stuff keeps . . . uhh . . . surprising you. Stuff like this can be deceptively off-throwing. Take care of yourself. The you equivalent of some flowers would be in order. Do something nice for yourself. ❤

  3. hlwest said:

    You know, I went through something remarkably similar when my Grandfather died last month. He lived one town over, and our relationship was so strained and distant that my offspring didn’t even know I HAD a living Grandfather. Well, until he died, that is.

    The Captain’s advice is excellent. You don’t have to feel sad that she’s gone. You don’t have to feel anything that you aren’t feeling. But some people that you do love will be feeling some pretty strong feelings, and you should be there for them, however you can. Phone calls and cards are fine, if you can’t be there physically.

    Just reach out to them, let them know you care about them. Be Team Them. It’s actually rather convenient, in a way, that you aren’t devastated by this death, because that leaves you with more emotional stability to support them.

  4. LW, I have been there. My grandmother emotionally abused my mother for her entire childhood, then disowned her when she went to the “wrong” college, and they were estranged for a very long time. She was horrible to my father, horrible to me and my siblings, horrible to her younger brothers and sisters. My mom still cried when she died; the rest of us sat silent and stony-faced through the funeral, and refused to do readings.

    So. It is more than okay to not have feelings, or to have very complicated feelings, or to have feelings that don’t look stereotypical. But make sure your parent knows that you love them and you’re sorry they’re going through this, and if you’re able to be the listener, let them know you will hear them out. This is going to be a rough time no matter what, and you have my sympathy

  5. Alice said:

    Family and funerals are always a pretty horrendous, guilt-ridden, stress-inducing combination at the best of times. And then you seem to have…not so much the best of times. My family is huge and complicated and full of Issues, and when my grandmother passed away about a year ago, this meant the funeral-time was also Full of Issues.

    Here are some things I learned from the world’s most stressful, miserable funeral ever!

    1) Feel what you feel, fake the rest if it makes stuff easier. My grandmother had really severe dementia, and died over the period of a few months. By the point of the funeral, I was way more OK with things than I thought I would be. I felt kind of guilty for not falling to pieces, because it was my Granny, you know? But that’s how I felt, and it was totally OK. However, it would probably have created a ton of Drama to have articulated that. So I mostly did the thing the Captain suggests, where you just say ‘thank you’ when people offer their condolences and leave it at that.

    2) You totally don’t have to go to the funeral. I went, and it was lovely, and a really nice goodbye. My sister literally walked in the church two minutes before the pall-bearers, sat down next to her boyfriend, walked out afterwards and they got in the car and went home. Nobody said anything bad about it. People get that you can’t go, or can’t cope with more than just a funeral. They really won’t care that much.

    3) If you are able to your parents will seriously appreciate your support. The funeral itself? Not that bad. My dad attempting to sort out his mother’s estate? Oh my God, the mess that was. Seriously. It can be pretty horrendous. If you can, I’m willing to bet that both parents would appreciate you either helping out with that stuff, or being a sounding-board for them.

    Also I hope you’re OK! Look after yourself, first and foremost. Even not-very-nice people dying can be seriously rough.

  6. sea hag said:

    Hey LW,

    Delurking because I had a similar grandma: so bad at love that when she died, my dad followed the news with, “So that’s that.” The playing off family members against each other, the confusion of love and money, the not-so-hidden knives in comments about appearance all sound familiar. He had to realize that she was never going to say, “I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re a good son to me.”

    Reading the Captain and the Awkward Army’s thoughts always makes me think of a line (paraphrased here) from Dorothy Sayers: it’s a mistake to try to persuade oneself into appropriate feelings. That seems particularly true when someone dies whom we might have loved if she’d been a totally different person who treated us and the people we do love totally differently. She wasn’t and she didn’t.

    Whatever feeling you’re having IS appropriate. The Captain is right that checking in with the people you do love about the feelings THEY’RE having — which are also appropriate — is a considerate and supportive move, as is helping them meet the needs they have as they come up. You don’t need to miss her to do that; you just need to love them. And unlike her shitty, distorted attempts at love, being present for them at what may be a sad time or an enraging one or just a confusing one will nourish them and you.

  7. Lauren1 said:

    The Captain is right: say ‘thank you’ when people give their sympathy. Go to the funeral if you can. Send cards. Call and support your parents.

    You don’t have to feel sad. And you can say that to close friends if you feel safe doing so! ‘Thank you; we weren’t very close and I’m OK but I appreciate your support as I try to be supportive of my father/mother right now.’
    Here’s hoping the messy and mean family (and Jane-Austeny controlling-with-money?) dynamics passed with your grandmother. (Though I can kind of see why she was irritated about the wedding? That doesn’t excuse the nasty behaviour on her part but I can see why she might be upset.)

  8. I am sure this is family-specific, but I have never experienced in my birth family or my wife’s family any expectation or occurrence of sending condolence cards from one family member to another when a member of the family dies.

    • LolaB said:

      Agreed. I wasn’t clear on who the cards were for, exactly?

    • Same with my families. Also, in my families at least, it’s totally not expected for someone to have to travel to a funeral. If you are out of town, any excuse to not attend is considered perfectly acceptable, whether it is cost, time, work, school, life, whatever. (You are expected to attend if you live in the same area, but not if you have to fly, or drive for more than a couple of hours.)

    • Private Editor said:

      Yeah, it’s usually people outside the family (or at least the immediate family) who send condolence notes, but the only wrong way to write one is to say something asshatty like “she’s in a better place now” or “it’s a blessing, really; at least she’s not suffering any more,” both of which make me want to spork people in the eye. When my grandfather’s oldest sister died (aged 101, whoa), I sent a note to her daughter, because I love them both and wanted my cousin to know I was thinking of her. YMMV, and like that.

      Heck, things from the week my grandfather died are a little hazy because of all the super-last-minute traveling, but if my not-so-reliable memory is serving at the mo’, I even wrote a note to my mom, because shit, her father died and I wanted to give her All the hugs and at least a letter was like a tangible thing she could pick up when I couldn’t be there.

      tl;dr condolence notes: always appropriate.

    • JenniferP said:

      If LW is not going to the funeral, a card for relatives she likes and is close to that says “Sorry I missed you at the funeral, but you’re in my thoughts and I’ll see you next time I’m home” was my thought. Not some Emily Post REQUIREMENT.

    • daffodil said:

      I agree that LW doesn’t have to do anything. When my grandpa died (who I actually did like) I was states away and had just visited. I was in grad school and totally strapped. I didn’t go, but I did write a poem that the minister read at the funeral. That was a way for me to contribute something. If LW thinks a few cards will be a contribution, LW should totally do that. Or whatever the parents suggest. Or nothing and be glad to not deal with it.

  9. Deaths and funerals are strange things. At my uncle’s funeral years ago, I was feeling antsy so I taught myself to knit, using a kit. At one gradparent’s funeral, when I was a teenager, I wrangled small children. I recently got married and have an in-law who will probably die soon… I have no idea what my role will be. Possibly feeding people, or taking care of the dog.

    What this has taught me is that in the face of grief, I try to help others. I have a knack for words so I have given some lovely eulogies. Then I deal with the rest of the fallout later…

    In your case, you may not have to figure out how to be useful or out of the way at the event, which is okay. If you do end up going, that is okay too. Either way, being home a month later is going to be very helpful to your parents. Are they still living there? Who is the executor? Are they reasonable or are you going to have a financial clusterfuck of awful? Will there be fighting over objects? That may or may not be settled by the time you get there, but if your parents still live there I hope they can keep the stuff raiding to a minimum, at least until the various heirs can come to an accommodation. People you thought were totally reasonable and great can become grabby assholes in the face of death and estates.

    If nothing else, you will arrive to hear the latest tales of uncle so and so or cousin whoozit, and you can listen without getting involved. Or you can help with paperwork or taking clothes to goodwill or whatever else happens.

    Oh, and flowers are better than a note, if you can afford them. A donation to something she cared about is also acceptable. Don’t tell people you can’t afford to come to the funeral because you’re already coming in a month, though. That probably will go over poorly. Instead, you just couldn’t make it and you’re very sorry to miss it, and you will be there to be with the family as soon as you can. Nobody really has to know that it was already planned…

    • quackmeansiloveyouindog said:

      I would like to second that funerals are weird. The first funeral I remember going to was my grandma’s, and the two outstanding memories I have are my grandfather drunkenly telling me that I was my grandma’s favorite (out of many of grandchildren), which may or may not have been true, but made me feel REALLY awkward, and that all the grandkids sat in a corner folding origami birds and being incongruously happy. Now, I was about 12, and the funeral was right before Christmas, and circumstances were significantly different than LW’s, but funerals are WEIRD.

  10. Saira said:

    This happened to me! My grandmother was a hateful spiteful woman who played members of the family off each other, was cruel to my mother (her daughter), was beyond cruel, bitchy, and hateful to my father. I never shed a tear. I ended up doing exactly what the Captain recommended in this post.

    I went to her funeral, because my mother needed someone there to be her rock. My father was useless (he was basically dancing in the streets and telling my mom “well, at least you never have to listen to her call you fat again” which, while true, was less than helpful) and the extended family. Well, less said about them the better.

    Anyway, I went to the funeral and basically viewed it as a stage performance. I learned my lines (“Thank you” “You were so close to her. I’m so sorry for your loss” and “Please, have another slice of pie. You know how Margie loved to feed her family” got me through 99% of the conversations) and ran interference to keep assholes away from my mom. I’m glad I went, and I’m just as glad I never have to see any of that branch of my family ever again.

    • This. I attended my step-grandmother’s funeral because my mother was flying in, and she needed support and endless Diet Cokes. It was fascinating, and I was glad to verify that that abusive and vicious she-witch was dead and buried (although I successfully hid that sentiment.) I think that interacting with the rest of her family of origin was actually harder on my mom than the death, so it was important that she had someone there who was unequivocally in her corner.

    • Anon thistime said:

      I’m like the mom in this story, only it was my father who passed. Poor guy, the one person he disliked most in the world was the only one legally able to take him off the ventilator. Let that be a lesson to everyone, it’s never too early to write a will. Otherwise the kid you can’t stand to be around is the one pulling your plug. At the funeral, I mourned the father he pretended to be in front of everyone, a father who loved all his children. In death, I liked him begin gone as much as he disliked me in life.

  11. sam said:

    Also, if your grandma was such an unpleasant person, people will know that, even if they all put on the “being nice” face when dealing with her in the past. And if they’re good people, they will cut you slack for your reaction now.

    Here’s a fun one – my somewhat unpleasant grandfather, while we were standing behind the hearse at my mother’s (his only child’s) funeral, put his arm around me to do the “side hug” thing, and decided that would be the appropriate time to comment on my weight. When I relayed this interaction to my father later, his response was a simple “why do you think your mother wanted to spend as little time as possible with the man?”. And a WHOLE LOT of things clicked into place for me.

    Of course, none of this saved me, as the oldest grandchild (out of two of us) AND the “lawyer in the family”, from having to then shoulder the burden of dealing with his death a few years later. At least all of the paperwork and funeral planning was the sort of bureaucratic task that my corporate-lawyer-brain could focus on.

    • Holy crap. Do people like this ever hear themselves?

  12. FlyBy said:

    Thanks for the advice and reactions, everyone. I have two grandparents who are in the process of dying (I’ll be shocked if they see Christmas), and though they’re not awful people, there will be some family drama and mixed feelings. This will also be the first time I’ve had to cope with someone close to me dying. I’m glad to hear your stories before I run into it face first.

  13. Lieutenant Intuition said:

    My mother’s mother, my Nonna, died two years ago, after a long illness. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about five years before she died and family suspicion is that she was actually unwell a while before that and because of what Alzheimer’s does to a personality, well, nobody in my family is sure exactly how many of her actions for most of my adult life were “her”, so to speak, and how many were just the disease talking.

    But she was a nightmare. When my sister got her first boyfriend at seventeen Nonna accused my mother of prostituting her child. She hated my father for, as she saw it, stealing her daughter away from the town she was born in and bringing her to London. And…well, we just never really got on. She was nice to me when I was a kid, in her own way, but as I got older and grew up into an agnostic left-wing lesbian crossdressing feminist, we just didn’t have that much in common. I don’t think she liked me very much. I didn’t like her very much either. In the year leading up to her death there were several incidents where we thought she might not last another day, and after the second one of those I was pretty much just left thinking “hasn’t she put us all through enough?”

    My mother was the only one who went to the funeral when she died. It was in Sicily and we’re England-based, and I had just started back at university and anyway she told us not to come. I went home to London to be with my sister, who had more complex feelings about the whole thing than I did, and on the day of the funeral we went to our local Catholic church and took Mass in her memory. My sister was sad. I just remember lighting a candle for her, standing before the branch of flickering lights, bowing my head and thinking “if you’re out there, somewhere? I’m sorry you’re dead. I wish you’d lived better.” I was mixed up about it, sure, but very few of the issues I had surrounding her death were actually to do with the fact that my grandmother who had been there all my life was not there anymore.

    You don’t have to miss your grandmother to be good to your family. There may be a kind of catharsis period where nobody really knows what they’re doing or how they’re feeling or why they are feeling it, and in that case having somebody around who knows exactly how they feel about the whole thing and why may actually turn out to be a blessing. Listen to what people have to say, nod wisely, and be prepared to dispense hugs if they are required.

    • Denzi said:

      I can echo that sentiment of “If you can hear me, I’m sorry you’re dead. I wish you lived better.” I had a well-meaning grandmother who was basically a very opinionated, very bossy southern lady. She tried to be kind to us, and succeeded sometimes, and she tried to be kind to my mom (her daughter-in-law), and pretty much never succeeded. So I remember when she died, thinking, “If you’re now perfect and happy with Jesus like you wanted to be and can see how much of a shit you were sometimes and be sorry for it, I’m glad that you finally Get It, even if it’s too late for you to fix it with us.”

  14. This was something I gave an awful lot of thought to, because my Gran was abusive and I expected to have to deal with, well, maybe positive feelings when she died, because of how my mother’s suffered under her influence all her life. I felt Mum would be able to enjoy her life a great deal more once Gran was no longer around.

    I prepared myself for this and then she got dementia, and that’s now taken a turn such that she’s a completely different person. Honestly, I visited and she seemed pleased to see me – she actually asked me how I was! She’s forgotten all her bizarre grudges, she’s less paranoid than she was when she had all her marbles. She smiles and laughs all the time.

    So I’ve been spared this, but having thought about it a great deal over the years, I shall share the conclusions I came to:

    1. If this is your first family bereavement, then later you will learn that every bereavement is different. You may love two people equally, but you will experience their loss differently. Having been through this, older family members are unlikely to judge you for how sad you seem to be. Camus was wrong about our attitude towards people who don’t cry at their mother’s funeral. Some people just don’t. It doesn’t really mean anything and people know it.

    2. It really is terrifically difficult to predict how you or others react to loss. This means that you might yet feel unexpected things – I don’t imagine you’re going to experience full on grief for your grandmother, as if she was a lovely person, but you might feel other things you didn’t see coming. Or you may not.

    3. Bereavement can take a long time to roll out. So what you – and perhaps more importantly, whichever parent has lost their mother – feel now may change over time. I was very aware of this because I felt my Mum was likely to react in certain ways, that for example, she was likely to get angry about everything my Gran had done, but also guilty because Gran had programmed her to feel guilty, but that those things could crop up in the first hours after her death or not for another six months. It’s worth keeping an eye on your bereaved parent and other family members for the next few years, as they may be in most need of help and support many months after everyone’s stopped talking about it.

    4. It may be unnecessary for you, but personally, I’d consider devising some kind of ritual to lay your grandmother to rest for yourself. That’s what funerals are for, not just for expressing sorrow and love, but for helping us to feel that someone is gone. I was afraid I could stay angry with my Gran forever, so if I couldn’t attend her funeral, I’d have taken myself off in the woods and buried or burnt some symbol of her, or something like that.

    Of course, now she’s a different person, it’s helped the whole family to talk about what she used to be like, as if she’s recovered from the illness which was her personality. We’re not talking ill of the dead to say she was awful. She seems happier now than she’s ever been. Dementia is a horrid illness and it could yet go in a direction where she’s very unhappy indeed, so her death now would not be very sad – she would be dying at her happiest! But I’m glad to have been spared actual relief at her passing.

    • Alice said:

      Just commenting to say – my granny died with pretty severe dementia. It can be horrible, but if it’s any comfort Granny actually never really got hugely unhappy with things. She got a bit frustrated when she knew there was stuff she ought to be remembering and she wasn’t, but even that passed as she started forgetting she should remember those things (I don’t know if that makes any sense!).

  15. caius said:

    I know how it feels to have confusing feelings about a death in the family. My grandfather died late last year and I was literaly on the other side of the planet. My family didn’t even bother to tell me that he had been in the hospital for a week untill ten days after he died (which is a whole other thing).

    I was not estranged from him by any means, but I am definitly far closer to the grandparents on the other side of my family. I didn’t really feel anything’ maybe because I was so far removed from it physically and also that I only found out a relatively long time later. I was mostly mad at my parents for neglecting to tell me anything. I sent in a short rememberance for my parents to read at the memorial mostly because I felt obliged to, and I still feel really bad about it since I was the only grandchild not there.

  16. tinyorc said:

    I went through something very similar when my grandmother died. She was an extremely difficult woman with an incredible talent for making her daughters and grandchildren feel roughly an inch tall with a well-timed barb. The emotional damage she did to my mother is still effects our family every day. (My mother has an almost pathological aversion to blame, as a result of growing up in a house where everything was ALWAYS her fault. You walk into a room and ask an innocuous question like “Have you seen my bag?” and her immediate response is a defensive “I didn’t move it, it’s nothing to do with me, why would I know where you put your bag?!”) My main memories of my grandmother are laced with snide comments about my appearance while I was an awkward teenager (“Are you trying to make yourself ugly?” “Don’t you ever want to have a boyfriend?” “What on earth are you wearing now?”) She didn’t speak to one of her daughters for nearly ten years, and when they were eventually reunited, one of the first things out of her mouth after meeting her two granddaughters for the very first time was “Your oldest daughter is a very sullen child.” The little girl in question was 12. She also told my other aunt that it would have been better if her severely autistic son had never been born. Fun times.

    Anyway. She suffered a long and horrible illness and eventually died. Her daughters were devastated, but the extended family, husbands and grandchildren had a stony-faced funeral.

    A lot of commenters have given you really good advice about supporting your family, acknowledging and respecting their grief and helping out in any way you can! I totally agree with all of this. However, I would stress that it’s important not to neglect your own feelings at this time. At the moment, you’re feeling absolutely nothing, which is a very natural response to a death. You didn’t love your grandmother or even like her as a person, but you did have very strong feelings towards her, as evidenced by your letter. She was a significant force in your life and the lives of people you love. You will be effected by her death and you will probably find at some point that you need to mark it for yourself.

    Funerals are tricky business. When I attended my grandmother’s funeral, I felt like a bit of a hypocrite because I’d always been so vocal about my dislike for her. I decided that attending funeral doesn’t have to be an indication that you loved someone, liked them or even knew them all that well. It’s about marking the fact that they were a part of your life, for better, for worse, or for really really shitty. If it’s not financially viable for you to go to the funeral, I wouldn’t worry about it, but stay in tune with your own feelings and let yourself feel all the confusing feelings, both positive and negative. There may be a time where you need to make your own peace with your grandmother with some sort of outward gesture or ritual. For me and many of my cousins, it was a drunken evening the first Christmas after she died (safely far away from our mothers) where we had the most epic bitching session about her until 3am, colourfully and exhaustively vented our anger and took turns describing our roundly awful relationships with our grandmother. Since then (even after her death) I feel like I’ve resolved a lot of my issues with her, and I’ve even managed to find some good in her from listening to my mother’s stories (instead of dismissing them out of hand as I always did when I was a teenager.)

    tl;dr: Be there for your family, first and foremost, but be aware that this will be a journey for you as well. Don’t neglect your own emotions just because you’re not actively grieving, feel what you need to feel and make your own peace with her passing in your own time!

  17. thegirlfrommarz said:

    Both my grandmothers were difficult in different ways (one grandfather died before I was born, the other when I was 5, so not old enough to worry about what “should” be done at a family funeral – although I did later discover that there was some argument within the extended family about whether young children should have been at the funeral at all – god, families…).

    In my experience, I felt sad at my grandmothers’ memorial services because of my parents’ grief. The thing to remember is that this is your mother’s mother, with all the complexity of love, guilt, difficulty and drama that entails. No matter how horrible your grandmother was to your mother, she will be grieving – perhaps more so if she died when there was bad blood between them as there is now no chance to put things right. Support your mother in whatever way you can.

    If you do go to the funeral, say “thank you” to expressions of sympathy – no one really knows what to say at a funeral, so the “I’m so sorry for your loss”/”Thank you” thing is more like a ritual call-and-response than a true expression of anyone’s feelings. No one will expect any more from you, and the truth (-“I’m so sorry for your loss. She was a lovely woman.” -“Thank you, but she really wasn’t.”) will just result in shock and anger.

    In my family, we wouldn’t expect to send family members condolence cards, but that’s something your parents can advise on. Sending flowers to the funeral is a nice gesture. You can just write “From LW” on the card if you want to keep it honest!

  18. Jason said:

    LW-

    Cards are a completely appropriate thing, and great advice.

    One thing I wanted to add, your mileage may vary, of course: when people you have a complicated/turbulent relationship with die, it can hit you harder than you expect- my mom died last year, and we had a very rough relationship, we didn’t see one another but once a year, didn’t talk much, if at all, etc. I was MUCH sadder than I was expecting to be, and for longer time.

    Not saying that it’s going to happen to you as well, or that if it doesn’t it’s a bad thing, but do make sure to take extra-special good care of yourself, ok?

  19. When my grandfather died, I went to the funeral for two reasons: a) for Mom’s sake, and b) to mourn what I didn’t ever have with him. He was an absolute shit under the veneer of being a Nice Guy, he married a woman who hated anyone she considered a threat to her relationship with him (which included all the children and grandchildren from his two previous marriages), and he was neglectful and unkind to his own children, plus neglectful to his grandchildren.

    We all went to the funeral, at least two-thirds of us rolled our eyes at the eulogies and didn’t bother to hide it, and, after he was buried next to Wife #2 (his one true love), we went to the wake and made snarky comments about our family.

    I cried, because I cry at everything (weddings, funerals, touching reunions in movies, sad music). Lots of people didn’t. Mom knew I’d come back because I wanted to mourn what I never had – and never could – and because I did it for her. I didn’t feel sad for my grandfather (or for Wife #3, who is perfectly happy with her own children and the two-out-of-a-dozen stepchildren she gets along with).

    It’s okay to not feel anything. It’s okay to feel relief. It’s okay to conspire with the parent to whom your grandmother was an in-law only and figure out how best to support the person who just lost a parent.

    Basically, it’s okay to feel something that’s not considered socially acceptable. And I kind of wish there were more mourning narratives out there to let people know how it’s culturally acceptable to maybe-not-entirely-or-at-all mourn someone we’re “supposed” to. But! You will muddle through and it will be okay. I heard a lot of good advice in the comments.

    • Havoc: My grandmother condoned abusive behavior on my mother’s part and refused to approve of a single thing about me after age 13. I don’t know why families have to get like that and I wish none of us had a story like that to post….So I picked one of the grandparent stories to leave this comment. hope you do not mind. Best to you and yours.

      • Not at all! My grandfather died about 17 or 18 years ago and it was a really traumatic time – AT THE TIME. (To be fair, I should posthumously thank the man for prompting my break-up with my Abusive Ex-Boyfriend From Hell, so the silver lining was pretty huge.) I’m over it – did my mourning and moved on, you know? As did the majority of my family.

        As it stands, I married someone much better, had a child, and the child has three wonderful grandparents and one grandparent who loves him very much, but is kind of terrible with social cues. So I’m pretty much the poster child for optimism in this case! And I’m hoping that’s the case for you as well.

        • Getting there in some ways. Other ways not so much. THANK YOU, however! Glad to hear the silver lining appeared.

  20. Annie G. said:

    Cards or flowers are absolutely appropriate and a nice gesture. Another nice gesture that I haven’t seen mentioned is food. In some cultures (such as Judaism), food is actually more appropriate than flowers. Again, it’s totally optional and can be pricey, so don’t feel like you’re obligated, but if you can’t be there physically and want to send something other than flowers, sending a food basket (Harry and David, for example, does “Sympathy Baskets”, if you want to see what I’m suggesting) to your family is another socially/culturally acceptable means of showing support. It also can provide some much needed sustenance and variety, as I have found that meals around bereavement times tend to be iffy, so sending a fruit basket so your family can eat an apple, pear or orange rather than another cup of coffee and stale cookie? Can be lifesaving.

    If you do manage to make it to the funeral/wake, this will also apply: in MANY cultures and subcultures, people show up with food for the bereaved. There’s also a lot of socializing that goes on around a funeral, oddly enough, and it can sometimes be really weird and uncomfortable– it’s sort of like a wedding or a family reunion in that all of the crazy cousins show up, but not for a fun reason. I have found– and your MMV– that it’s easier for me in uncomfortable social situations to have a defined task. One thing to do is appoint yourself Keeper of the Coffeepot (or Teapot, Cheese Platter, Dessert Tray, whatever). This gives you something “safe” to say/do in addition to the defined scripts the Captain suggests: “Oh Auntie So-and-so, thank you so much for coming, would you like a cup of coffee?” It also gives you an easy out from difficult conversations– “Excuse me, Uncle Whoever, I’d love to catch up later about how Granny was evil about my wedding, but I see that the sugar bowl is empty so you’ll have to excuse me.”– and even an escape route– if you just need to get out of the house for 20 minutes, you can easily invent a reason to run to the store (out of coffee! out of creamer! Want to pick up a bundt cake! Whatever!). And people are, in my experience, less likely to interrupt you with a FEELINGSBOMB if they see you going about a defined task.

    If you can’t make it to the funeral, you can DEFINITELY still provide support for your mom and dad when you visit a month later. There is a lot of busy-ness that attends even the most expected death, a lot of forms that need to be filled out or paperwork that needs to be processed, which can be both a pain-in-the-ass and emotionally wearing. I’m sure that any help you can provide in filling out those forms, dropping them off, running to the post office, sorting through possessions, whatever, will be GREATLY appreciated.

    Finally, as others have mentioned, take care of yourself during this time. You may find you have unexpected emotions around your grandmother’s death, so be kind to yourself.

    • Emma said:

      I love this advice about having a defined task. Especially because people who have more sadness about this just want to feel their feelings and not worry about logistics. So you really will be helping other family members as well as yourself.

      Another good task (for other people, it sounds like the LW isn’t going to the funeral) is keeping the kids entertained and occupied.

      • Kristy said:

        Kids at funerals are around a bunch of sometimes-random strangers who are very tall and intimidating and maybe not in good control of their emotions. Being ready to entertain them or keep them away from people likely to snap at them for making noise is appropriate and probably REALLY appreciated by their responsible adults.

        And if you’re feeling calm because you’re not grieving/processed your feelings already/etc, they might gravitate in your direction anyway.

    • Oh – agreed. Where I’m from any stressful event – marriage, death, baby, illness, etc – means you head over with food for the family. That was actually the very best thing when dad died; mom was grieving too hard to function, we adult children were busy planning the funeral – it was great to just have food show up so that we could feed the crowds of people at the house. There were even some teens who showed up with a huge pack of toilet paper, which was both funny and thoughtful. 🙂

    • Alice said:

      Oh, man, I wish I had seen this before my Granny’s funeral! Yeah, it definitely is weird and awkward to be bobbling around with no specific task. And there is NO WAY to escape the bizarro conversations with people.

  21. queen mother of the doglet who reigns supreme still said:

    LW
    I don’t know but you may want to ask your Dad (if it’s his mom) if he would prefer you come home now rather than in a month. If you can afford to go in a month, you could use that money to go now rather than then. It may matter to him. Not to apply undue pressure on you. I would just ask him. This way you are not spending any more money than already allotted, yet you are giving what support is needed. If he says it doesn’t matter, great — just send card, flowers, whatever, and see the family in a month.

  22. Pterinochilus murinus said:

    That thing about the birthday money takes me back. My grandmother always gave everyone in the family a birthday cheque and a Christmas cheque. Except that she wanted to give my brother and sister (who are from my father’s previous marriage, so not biologically her grandchildren) less money, so that every gift-giving occasion they could be reminded that they’re not her real grandchildren and she can’t be expected to love them as much as she loved me and my cousins. It was really gross.

    Cap, are media recommendations appropriate here? I think the LW, and anyone else dealing with family power struggles involving ageing, particularly if there’s dementia involved, would get a lot out of the 1980s Australian series Mother and Son. What makes it is the totally masterful performance of Ruth Cracknell as Maggie Beare, a woman with Alzheimer’s who, even as she loses more and more control of her own mind and life, is determined to retain control of her younger son Arthur, and prevent him from having his own life. It’s very very funny and very very painful. I’m not offering this as a solution, just something you might identify with.

  23. bearcatbanana said:

    Reading these comments with all the references to grandmothers that are LIKE THAT (and mine too) makes me wonder: Is this a generational thing or an age thing? Like, will we all be busy-bodies playing a game of thrones with our respective families someday? Do you get to an age where you just feel entitled to manipulate your family?

    • sasha said:

      My take? I think it’s a matter of individual personality, not an age or generational thing. There’s probably some confirmation bias going on here – one person mentions a difficult grandmother, so everyone else with a difficult grandmother pipes up and others remain silent, making “difficult grandmothers” seem far more common than they really are.

      In my family, my paternal grandmother was kind of the kindest, funniest, most loving and all-around good people I’ve known. My maternal grandmother had some issues, but manipulation and meanness were not among them. But my mother…that’s another story, and has been for as long as I can remember (i.e., since she was still in her 30s).

      • NessieMonster said:

        Going with you on the confirmation bias, Sasha.
        Particularly given that it’s not generally socially acceptable to bitch about how awful your grandparents are. It’s nice to hear you’re not the only one suffering with that particular burden, so when one person says ‘I have this’ others join in. I think there’s two images of grandmothers, and the tiny, sweet, lovely, thoughtful one is the only one we’re supposed to mention. If you’ve got the Wicked Witch of the East as your grandmother, you’re on your own…..

        Or there may be something to the joke (!) of being old enough that you think you can get away with being a pig?

        • True story: when my mother called home to let us know that my awful grandmother had passed, my dad hung up, came to my room, and went “Ding dong, the witch is dead.” (He was unfailingly supportive of my mother, but she was in another state, and given that Grandma wept with rage when Mom brought him home for the first time I give that initial reaction a pass.)

          And my other grandmother was perfectly lovely and the sweetest woman alive and I’m still sad I didn’t get more time with her, but talking about that in this thread would feel really rude and smug.

      • the_apricot said:

        Agreed. My grandparents are/were lovely people. Definitely an individual thing – people are just as capable of either being nice or being jerks at 80 as they are at 30.

    • zilla said:

      Neither of my grandmothers were like this. I also had a great-grandmother who lived until I was 15 or so, and she didn’t do anything like this either. My family does plenty of frustrating things, but grandparents from hell aren’t on the list. So, no, I don’t think it’s inevitable. We do have a choice of what kind of elders we become. Let’s all be good ones, even if we are awkward. 🙂

      • Kate said:

        Zilla, I agree we have a choice of what kind of elders we become. A friend likes to host bingo games in nursing homes and he learned very quickly which nursing homes have the “sweet and fun old people” and which ones have the “horrible mean old geezers and witches”.

    • apricity said:

      I think that it’s more that, well, in any age cohort there are a lot of lovely people and a couple of really poisonous ones, and they all grow old together, except that poisonous ones have years to perfect their craft so they can be extra vicious.

      • alphakitty said:

        Exactly. Age has a distilling effect — and, of course, the more poisonous you are the less likely you are to have younger people voluntarily including you in their lives and families and the more likely you are to feel put out to pasture by all those worthless self-centered young people.

        You reap what you sow, which is why those with nasty grannies/grandpaps shouldn’t feel bad if they don’t feel a sense of personal loss when one of those folks dies.

  24. Xenophile said:

    This is all great advice, and in the middle of it all, definitely remember to take care of yourself, and your own needs!

    Something which happened at my mother’s mother’s funeral, which may or may not happen at your grandmother’s: competing narratives. My mother’s mother played favorites, so everyone saw a different side of her and had a different mental image of the woman laying in the coffin. It was absolutely surreal. My mother had always had a terrible relationship with her mother, and had witnessed her mother being cold towards my uncle, in part because she thought the youngest child in any family is always spoiled and should be given less affection to compensate. But my uncle spoke at her funeral and talked about how close they were, how much she meant to him, and how much he was going to miss her. Afterwards my mother told me, “Wow, we had totally different mothers.”

    Family history was also totally different based on who was telling it. My mother’s mother had always said that her parents were abusive monsters, in particular her alcoholic father, who was Mexican. Additionally, Mom’s mom and her siblings were treated badly by the neighbors for being biracial. Mom’s mom passed as white her entire adult life and hated anyone with dark skin, but Mexicans especially. After the funeral, her sister (whom none of us had ever met because Mom’s mom forbade her to ever speak to us) was talking about their childhood and said they never got so much as a spanking, and made another off-hand comment about how they had always been proud to be ‘Spanish.’ I tried to figure out how much of the difference in narratives might be differences in how the two sisters had been treated by their parents and neighbors, a reluctance to speak ill of their parents, etc., but in the end that was just exhausting. The emotions I felt were confusion because I didn’t know who she was, anger because of the outright lies (a pastor she had never met spoke at her funeral and described her in ways that were just plain untrue), and sadness because I would never really know her or her better qualities. I also felt guilty for the rare couple of times when my mom’s parents made a nice gesture towards me and I never got around to sending a thank you note, since apparently they weren’t total monsters.

    If something like this happens in your family, don’t wear yourself out trying to figure out what did or didn’t happen, or who your grandmother was or wasn’t. It’s like the blind men and the elephant. I just tell myself Mom’s mom had her own issues and her chemical imbalances, so who knows why she was like that. She was a very unhappy person while she was alive, so it’s ok to not feel bad that she’s no longer living. If you don’t go to the funeral there will obviously be less of this to worry about but it might come up in phone calls or letters down the line.

    Good luck!

  25. Xenophile said:

    This is all great advice, and in the middle of it all, definitely remember to take care of yourself, and your own needs!

    Something which happened at my mother’s mother’s funeral, which may or may not happen at your grandmother’s: competing narratives. My mother’s mother played favorites, so everyone saw a different side of her and had a different mental image of the woman laying in the coffin. It was absolutely surreal. My mother had always had a terrible relationship with her mother, and had witnessed her mother being cold towards my uncle, in part because she thought the youngest child in any family is always spoiled and should be given less affection to compensate. But my uncle spoke at her funeral and talked about how close they were, how much she meant to him, and how much he was going to miss her. Afterwards my mother told me, “Wow, we had totally different mothers.”

    Family history was also totally different based on who was telling it. My mother’s mother had always said that her parents were abusive monsters, in particular her alcoholic father, who was Mexican. Additionally, Mom’s mom and her siblings were treated badly by the neighbors for being biracial. Mom’s mom passed as white her entire adult life and hated anyone with dark skin, but Mexicans especially. After the funeral, her sister (whom none of us had ever met because Mom’s mom forbade her to ever speak to us) was talking about their childhood and said they never got so much as a spanking, and made another off-hand comment about how they had always been proud to be ‘Spanish.’ I tried to figure out how much of the difference in narratives might be differences in how the two sisters had been treated by their parents and neighbors, a reluctance to speak ill of their parents, etc., but in the end that was just exhausting. The emotions I felt were confusion because I didn’t know who she was, anger because of the outright lies (a pastor she had never met spoke at her funeral and described her in ways that were just plain untrue), and sadness because I would never really know her or her better qualities. I also felt guilty in retrospect for the rare couple of times when my mom’s parents made a nice gesture towards me and I never got around to sending a thank you note, since apparently they weren’t total monsters.

    If something like this happens in your family, don’t wear yourself out trying to figure out what did or didn’t happen, or who your grandmother was or wasn’t. It’s like the blind men and the elephant. I just tell myself Mom’s mom had her own issues and her chemical imbalances, so who knows why she was like that. She was a very unhappy person while she was alive, so it’s ok to not feel bad that she’s no longer living. If you don’t go to the funeral there will obviously be less of this to worry about but it might come up in phone calls or letters down the line.

    Good luck!

  26. Hi LW,

    I am sorry you are in this position. I’m commenting on this because I have come to a conclusion from the four or five deaths of loved ones or even good aquaintces since 1999. Having a life threatening condition–or dying from whatever cause–or death itself, does not make someone a nice person. There are people out there who seem consciously or unconcsiously determined to be miserable blights on all they touch; they not only don’t want to be another inspiring-even-if-it’s-sad terminal illness story or among the ‘dearly departed’. They seem to be campaigning to burn their name off those lists with acid. I hope I’m not sounding too harsh here. I’m sorry if I am.

    My mother has been involved with my (unofficial) stepfather for 30 years. In that time he’s gone from a funny, generous, laid back guy to an angry, bitter, combative little facist. –I throw the last in because for him, Bill O’reily, Dick Chenny and the GOP have been God for the last decade. Not to mention racism and comments about the environment and people with disabilities that would make Ghandi’s head spin.

    He is also living, more or less, with a condition that garuntees he will die of a stroke or a series of strokes. It’s not if, it’s when.

    None of this has made our relationship better. None of this has helped us reconcile. He remains a borderline alchoholic, who has been so verbally abusive and threatening, I have finally told my mother that I will do my best to be polite to him. I will do my best to be supportive of her. I will not be around him anymore, period.

    I really hope I’m not ranting about my own sit too much. I think what I’m getting at is what other commenters with personal experiences with nasty relative issues are saying.

    This is real. None of us are alone in these problems. I wish they didn’t happen; I wish everyone could be loveable (more or less) and easy to appreciate. They aren’t.–And that is alas the understatement of the day. I am all for sending flowers and supporting your parents. Please do not go to this funeral if you do not want to. I can’t tell you how right you will be. If your dad wants to get some counseling maybe you could join in for a session or two–scheduled for one of your visits? Help him and the counselor understand the issues even more?

    I’m sorry you lost out on a positive, healthy relationship with someone who was supposed to give you that. It’s a loss she is responsible for and a real one. I wish it could have been better.

    Be well,
    Lifeaftergofigure/Laura K

  27. sometimeswhy said:

    I also had a grandmother whose contributions to my life were almost exclusively negative and whose passing I did not mourn. Seriously, the first words out of my mouth when I learned were, “So we don’t have to go to Thanksgiving?”

    I was still a minor so my role in the whole thing was pretty well defined but it was difficult to navigate my utter ambivalence in the face of so much Sympathy(tm). I don’t have a lot of What To Do advice past what’s already been covered but I did want to add another, “Yup, memaws can be awful people who you don’t miss when they’re gone,” voice. I think I would’ve been comforted by that when I was going through it.

    • Oh yeah, that is something I meant to say above – it can be really hard to handle people telling you how very sorry they are for your loss when you’re not sorry at all. It is totally acceptable to just say “thanks” and move on without acknowledging it further.

  28. NessieMonster said:

    LW, I am sorry you’re going through this. Other people have said it better than I – there is loads of great advice upthread. Cards for the family memebers you love and care about, food/flowers etc in lieu of going to the funeral, if you decide not to/can’t bring your visit forward, are all great ideas and thoroughly appropriate. A note to your mum/any siblings she has along the lines of ‘I’m sorry for your loss, any help I can give etc’ (sometimes offering specifics is better?) may well be appreacited by them, even though they know you didn’t like her. It’s them you care about and that’s what matters. I sent my Gran a card when Pompa (my grandad, her husband) died, even though I was at the funeral and was there when he died.

    I also wanted to reiterate what Theirlfrommarz and Jason said upthread. Just because you didn’t like her, and just cos you’re not feeling anything now, doesn’t mean you won’t find much more confusing feelings popping up later. Shock/numbness are a very real response to a death, and you also said this is the first family death you’ve had to deal with, which may take on a significance of its own.

    Myself, I’m not looking forward to when my Gran dies. It’s not likely to be any time soon but at 80 she’s getting frailer. She went from being someone I quite liked and could have a pleasant afternoon with if it was on my terms, to an absolute pain after Pompa died. I was berated by Mum for not contacting Gran enough afterwards, “we’re her only family, you’re her only Grandaughter, she’s proud of you, blah, blah, blah. She’s my mother!” etc. But really, I can’t stand her. Being around her without Pompa there was hellish, made worse because he was the sweetest gentleman I knew and I loved him. She’s a Daily Fail* reader, with very middle class sensibilities who’s a terrible gossip and drives people away when they don’t do things exactly her way. Narcisistic and manipulative like no-one else I know. And yet, I love her too. She’s my Gran, I used to love staying at her house when I was a kid. I used to volunteer in the charity shop with her and she takes an interest in what I do. So, yeah, I’m not conflicted at all. Anyway!

    Even if you don’t have many fond memories of your grandmother, it sounds like she’s had a big influence on your life, so be prepared for that if you can, and take it gently.
    Good luck supporting your parents through this. Maybe later, you’ll find you can bitch about her freely? 😉

    *The Daily (Fail) Mail, for you non-Brits, is a tabloid peddled at the morally conservative middle-class women, that comes with racism, sexism, homophobia and general bigotry. I don’t believe it ever has any actual news. It’s definitely got a stereotype here!

  29. Lauren said:

    I’m hesitant to say anything about this, but:

    I WROTE THAT STUPID MESSAGE THIRTY-SOME TIMES, and it was like writing “I will not like myself” a thousand times on the chalkboard. I was utterly emotionally savaged and weeping uncontrollably by the end, and then I drew a very careful drawing on the front anyway and sent it off.

    When you’re putting yourself through the ringer to satisfy someone’s jerky requirements, it’s not worth it. Part of being an adult (as opposed to being a kid where you’re still at your caregivers’ whims) is having the ability to own your own choices, feelings, and the consequences of acting out on these things without apologizing, explaining to or coddling others. Friends, family, significant others, whoever — when you’re sobbing and self-flagellating to approximate an apology, it’s time to take a pause and reevaluate your commitment to maintaining the relationship.

    I have felt similarly during dramatic family events, including funerals (mega-dysfunctional family here), but I find that even if I’m not feeling grief, it’s worthwhile to make it out and see the family regardless. Oftentimes, there are other family members (in my family, a mouthy aunt and a slew of older cousins) that feel like you do and can help you fill in the blanks from the family narrative that help explain why so-and-so is the way she is, and sometimes this helps me feel more compassion or distance. If it’s not safe, don’t go. But if you feel up for it, maybe it will help in unexpected ways.

  30. apricity said:

    LW, after my Dad died, my therapist told me that there was no correct way to grieve and that everyone experiences grief differently*. Should you end up attending her funeral, then perhaps thinking about the many varied ways people will grieve will help you feel less like there is one correct way that you should be behaving at the occasion. I think as long as you respect other people’s grief, you will be behaving perfectly appropriately.

    (*For the record, I think not being too sad that you no longer have to interact with someone you really didn’t like is an entirely appropriate reaction too.)

  31. Quinrue said:

    Just reiterating that its ok to feel whatever you feel and feeling not a whole lot of much seems to make sense to me in your situation. Just be there to support your Mom and other family as much as you can! Oh, and if you do feel sadness, it may be grieving what you wish the relationship had been instead of what it was, I know I have felt that sometimes so if that resonates I wanted to share.

    Flowers, sometimes with a note, are most common in my family/friends for folks to send and I’ve started sending a small flower arrangement with a note about how a donation was made in X’s name to Y charity. I like flowers, but I’d also rather get a small but nice flower and then put the bulk of the $$ to a charity. It’s a nice way for me to remember people and even if you didn’t know them well (my boss’s Dad for example for me) or didn’t like them a donation is always nice to do anyway and might be something where you can put a positive note at the end of a not so great relationship if that appeals to you.

  32. MaryKaye said:

    I led a Pagan ritual for the feast of the dead once, and one person came forward to say, “My relative died last year. He was mean and abusive to me, and I thought that his death would be an end to it. But I feel terribly stuck, because now the things I needed to say can never be said, there’s no resolution, no catharsis–just silence.”

    We invited her to write out what she would have said and burn it in the ritual fire. I hope it helped her. If similar issues arise for you, ritual of some kind–you don’t have to be a believer to find symbolism useful–might help.

    There are other things besides grief that a death can trigger. It can be like ending a bad relationship–you still have to process all that stuff. You still need closure. Whatever works for you to find closure, please know that you are totally entitled to do it; your feelings are important no matter how far they are from the Societal Grief Script.

  33. LunarGeography said:

    Very late to the discussion here, but I was in a similar situation earlier this summer. My aunt — who went from being the woman who was sometimes very, very nice to me only to completely ignore me minutes later to being the woman who tried to make me dislike my Mom to being the woman who made my Mom cry as I grew up and came to better understand adult relationships — died. I was able to go to the funeral, and made a job of being my Mom’s back-up in dealing with all the well-wishers. My aunt was a very different person to the people who knew her professionally than to family, and it was like hearing stories about a complete stranger — a much nicer, more positive person than the one we’d known. We listened a lot, and simply commented that it was nice to hear about a different side to her than we’d known.

    I just wanted to second the statement that you will have feelings to process. Dying doesn’t fix a broken relationship. It means it won’t go spinning any new strings to bind and strangle you, but it leaves all the old ones twisted around you and dangling in odd spots to trip you up, until you process them into ashes. And it is normal to mourn for the relationship you could have had, the relationship the cultural narrative says you should have had. It is even ok to mourn for the fact that the deceased never got her shit together enough to be a happy human being. And it is ok if you don’t do either of things until you’ve gotten rid of some of those strings.

  34. I have a funny “I had that kinda grandma” story. She wasn’t as bad as LWs and some of the others, but she was ornery and became angrier the longer she was alive without my grandfather (who was sweet, loving, and nurturing), she got really bitter that people didn’t visit her (but she would never go to see anyone), and she was downright cruel to my mom’s partner, always complaining about what he did when he visited until he stopped going.

    She didn’t want a funeral. She kept saying that if people wouldn’t visit her while she was alive she’d be damned to have them show up when she was dead. So the funeral was very small, just immediate family (my mom/her partner, my uncle/his wife, and all of us kids) and a few people gave speeches, but not many.

    However, while she was alive, my mom and uncle kept bringing it up, saying people would want to say goodbye, etc… so finally she snapped, “When you plant me in the ground, then you can do whatever the hell you want!”

    So we had this tiny, anemic funeral… and then a HUGE goodbye party, with everyone invited, and funny stories about how she made us miserable sometimes but we loved her anyway, and a lot of gladness that she was finally with grandpa where she wanted to be. I struggled a little with my own complicated relationship with her (a funny side note – when I went to visit her I packed out all of my trash because I could never figure out her garbage system and she got mad when we asked, so I just brought plastic bags and packed it out to throw out at home, kind of like I was going camping at her house), but the ending was such a perfect sum-up of who she was that it still makes me smile.

    TL;dr – Funerals are weird, but real families make them as true to the person who died as we can.

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