Preferred pronouns: they/them
I found out a few weeks ago that my grandmother was in the hospital due to an illness. This surprised me, but I also knew she was getting older. I decided I needed to start thinking if I wanted reconciliation.
When I was around 12 or 13, I purposefully discontinued all contact with her. This was for a lot of reasons. She had never really been involved in the life of my brother or me. She’d drive hours to see my cousins, but would never even call us on our birthdays.
The point of no return for pre-teen me was when I heard she had been speaking badly of my mother (her daughter) over my parents’ divorce (which happened when I was 10). I had heard this a few times, but it hit me especially hard since my mother had finally taken the time to tell me about the physical abuse she’d endured growing up.
My only act of discontinuing contact was to be the one to stop calling. For more than a decade, she has never once called. I had planned on telling her that I no longer wanted to speak to her when she finally called, but it never once came.
Over the years, my mother sought reconciliation and gave forgiveness to my grandmother. I know there’s still issues, but she is grateful for the relationship they have. Still, I’ve never forgiven my grandmother or looked back. Her relationship has, frankly, never been that important to me. It has been important to my brother, he took the time to invite her to his high school graduation and graduation party. She never showed up and it broke his heart.
With the news of her sickness after a particularly bad day in a particularly bad week, I made the mistake of posting a general sort of complaint about my week on social media and added a single sentence of “I found out this week an estranged family member is ill and may need to think about reconciliation”. I was trying to be vague given the sensitive nature of her hospitalization, but my family knows that I haven’t spoken to her since I was young, by choice. (I am not friends with my grandmother on social media.)
I found out a half an hour later that the diagnosis had come: cancer. It didn’t look good, either. Between calling to comfort my mother and brother late into the night, the whole post slipped my mind.
The next morning, my cousin replied very inappropriately and we spoke over messenger about the situation. I knew she was just upset over the diagnosis and tried to be gentle, but firm. I wasn’t going to let her hurt me because she was hurting, but I certainly didn’t want to kick someone who was down. My aunt called my mom later and said she had just been grieving and hadn’t meant to be cruel to me (as I guessed).
During the conversation, however, I realized that actually, I definitely did not want to forgive my grandmother and that I would not regret that decision. I obviously did not vocalize this to my clearly upset cousin, but it struck me then.
Since then, my family has been passive aggressively trying to show me she still cares about my brother and me (such as sending me a photo of my grandmother’s shelf with old photos of us still there and gifts we gave her). I’m worried they told her I was considering calling.
On the one hand, I have never needed her in my life because she’s never tried to be in it. On the other hand, she’s a dying woman who has brought joy and love to at least some of my family and seems to want the comfort of family during what may be the final months of her life. I don’t want to crush any hope she may have for that comfort, but I also don’t want to be insincere or lie.
I know that if I tell my mom, she will communicate my decision to my family (she has always understood my choice and never pushed my brother or me one way or the other). I’m trying to be there for them at a difficult time in their life, but I’m not sure I can be there by coming to some peace with my grandmother that I just do not have (and probably never will).
I’m hoping for advice on how to talk to my cousins about this decision without making their process of grief over the illness of a loved one worse.
Dear Not Sorry,
It’s very likely that there is a working phone in your grandmother’s hospital room.
There are family members going in and out of your grandmother’s hospital room all the time, and they 100% have cell phones with them.
If your grandmother wanted a pen and paper and a stamp and your mailing address, someone in her periphery could get her these things. (See also: Email).
My point being: If it’s so very important for your grandmother to reconcile with you in some way before she dies, she has the same ability she’s always had to reach out and get in touch with you.
Also, when you were a child and she was an adult, she (the person with way more responsibility and agency in this matter) chose to cut off contact with you. Yes, you had also chosen to cut off contact with her, but she didn’t know that! The woman hasn’t spoken a direct word to you since you were in junior high, and now it’s suddenly so fucking important that you show up and somehow “forgive” her on her deathbed?
You don’t have to forgive people who have never apologized to you.
You don’t have to “make things right” with someone who has never sought resolution in the first place.
Forgiveness can be healing. Guess what? Forgiveness can take the form of “I wish you well and release you from any obligations to me and vice versa. I hereby declare ‘bygones’ between us…from a safe distance that does not mean inviting you back into my life.”
If your grandma reaches out to you directly and asks for a reconciliation, you can make a decision about what to do then. Maybe it’s worth 15 minutes of your time to lay everything to rest between you. Maybe it’s not.
In the meantime, cut out the middlefolks. You don’t have to say anything or do anything to manage the feelings of the rest of your family right now. You can politely ignore or deflect them when they bring it up. You can unfollow their social media feeds for a while if you don’t want the updates. You also don’t have to issue some kind of final statement through your mom.
First, when the topic of Grandma comes up, think in terms of platitudes that put all the focus back on them. “I know you were close, it must be very hard for you to think about losing her.” “Cancer is a devastating illness, I’m so sorry to hear she’s ill.” “It’s good that you’re able to be with her.”
If your aunt and cousin and others persist in pushing a reconciliation despite your polite deflections, you can say, directly:
“She’s never asked me for that. It’s not on you to manage our relationship, especially when you have so little time left with her. I know you want to do a good thing here, but please just focus on being there for her, and don’t worry about me.”
“I know you’re grieving but it’s not your job to try to fix this. Please let it go.”
If they say:”But she has photos of you and the tiny presents you’ve given her in her hospital room! Clearly she’s thinking of you!”
You can say: “Having nostalgia for me as a tiny kid isn’t the same thing as a relationship. Grandma hasn’t been in touch with me since I was a teenager, and I’ve respected her wishes to keep her distance. I know you’re grieving, but it’s not your job to try to fix this. She’s always had the ability to get in touch with me if she wanted to, and she’s 100% chosen not to be a part of my life. I don’t want to add to the grief you’re feeling right now, but I need you to let this go.”
See also: “I need to grieve* in my own way. Please respect that.”
*You may not be grieving at all, or your grieving may take the form of grieving for the loving grandmother relationship you wished you had, or it may come out in some weird unpredictable form you don’t even know yet. Who knows? The point is to make a statement that can’t really be argued with that gets people to back off.
It’s understandably painful for the rest of your family to think about the fact that the version of Grandma they know is different from the one you know. It introduces cognitive dissonance -“How can the lovely woman who was at every birthday party and choir show and sporting event for me just skip out on my cousins like that?” “How can this woman that I know to be so good have abused her daughter?” The sad truth is that people can show one face to certain people and a whole different face to other people, even within the same family. It’s not your job – the job of someone who was a child at the time, who was a victim of your grandmother’s indifference to you and your brother as human beings, who watched her break your mom’s heart and your brother’s heart and your own heart – to fix that dissonance for other people in your family at the expense of your own well-being.
When she dies, be there for your mom. She’ll need you. Send your aunt & cousin a sympathy card. In the meantime, you’re allowed to close the door on the woman who closed all her doors on you.
182 thoughts on “#943: “I’m being pressured by my family to reconcile with my estranged grandmother now that she’s dying.””
So many interpersonal conflicts would be avoided if people would just learn that a person being nice TO THEM does not make that person “nice” (or if it does, it renders the word “nice” completely meaningless in the context of explaining why anyone else should like them).
It comes up so depressingly often, both in the context of 1:1 interpersonal toxic/abusive/neglectful relationships, and in the broader scheme of people’s complicity in systems of oppression.
Yup. “Nice” is a thing people do, not a thing people are. See also “charming” in the Gift of Fear. Sometimes people perform “nice” for benign reasons, like they don’t know you well and want to make a good impression, or they don’t like you and they don’t want it to show, or a million other reasons. But it’s a performance, and the way people use the word reflects that. A “nice person” is just someone who frequently does the “nice” performance, which tells you nothing about their deeper personality or what *else* they frequently do.
“Perform nice” is a perfect way to put this.
Nice is not good. I am a living example of this.
As The Coquette put it: “Being kind is a matter of altruism, being good is a matter of morality, and being nice is a matter of etiquette.”
I am stealing this and framing it (metaphorically speaking).
This is kind of awesome
Yep. My mother is a master manipulator. Because of her mental health issues, she’s able to manipulate and put on a good show for people who aren’t overly close to her, so long as she can terrorize those closest to her. I promise you, the really sweet woman who bought gifts for your grandchildren also purposely forgot my birthday two years in a row and told me that I was a black-hearted, cruel girl when I was maybe 10.
Ugh, so sorry you have had to got through that. I also have a parent who puts on a good show of being kind and concerned to people outside the family.
We must be related.
When I finally cut off contact with my emotionally abusive alcoholic father, I received a ridiculous amount of badgering from extended family and family friends. The #1 response? “He can be rough around the edges, but he’s not that bad!” And no matter how many times I corrected people and said “He’s not that bad TO YOU, no. You have no idea how he treated me.” it never let up. My “uncle” (Dad’s best friend who I’ve known all my life) was particularly persistent until I finally lost it and snapped at him, “The face he shows to an equal is not even remotely similar to the face he shows to someone he has had decades of power over. You’ve dealt with him being an asshole to his best friend. You’ve never seen him abusing his children.”
Abusers are often the best at being charming – when they choose to be. It’s the camouflage that lets them get away with everything else, specifically because of the social tendency to take “how this person acts toward me” and generalize it to “what this person is like in general”.
Wow, you hit the nail right on the head! Well said!
Oh gosh, “Having nostalgia for me as a tiny kid isn’t the same thing as a relationship” is exactly the thing I needed to hear when this happened to me a couple of years ago.
LW I echo the Captain’s comment about being there for your mum. I supported my mum through her mother’s death and I am really glad I did, but I also want to say that I found that going to my grandmother’s city to help with the stuff that needed *doing* meant that I was definitely more easily manipulated into hospital visits and family dinners that I *really* didn’t want to go to. And they were, of course, completely phoney, because my grandmother didn’t really want to know me any more than I wanted to know her at that point.
Perhaps, if practical support is your thing, try to think of ways you can do that without putting yourself in literal reaching distance of family members who might pressure you into visits. For example, if money allows, you could send a grocery delivery to your grandmother and/or the people caring for her, or send them some money to get a take away one night so they don’t have to cook after getting home from a day at the hospital.
Best of luck, LW, keep your boundaries strong xxx
Some other ideas, if you want to support your mom and brother or your other relatives:
Logistics can be often hard to manage for grieving people. One thing one can do from a distance to take that weight off their shoulders is collecting the data on when everyone is free for hospital visits and making a schedule or a doodle with the info. Or, if it’s a really terminal stage of the illness, maybe looking into funeral homes and e-mailing/calling them to ask about their services (which kinds they offer and how much they cost) and organising that information in some easily-understandable way (spreadsheet?). There’re all kinds of things that need to be done but are very painful to do for the people who are closest to the dying person.
You could also organise some kind of self-care activity for your mom and brother, if you want to and think it would help. If you’re local, maybe getting them out of the house and into a movie theater/museum/walk/restaurant for a couple of hours? If you’re not local, you could all rent the same movie and make a skype date to see it together, or have a three-way call and just talk about whatever. Or, depending on your funds, you could send them each a care package with a nice letter and some non-perishable comfort foods, fiction they like and so on.
Of course, these all depend on the level of involvement you want. It’s totally absolutely 1000% ok not to want any kind of involvement with the situation. You are allowed to grieve in private from a distance if that’s what you need/want to do.
And don’t forget pets! Feeding, watering, cat box scooping, dog walking, small pet cage cleaning, fish tank care – or just giving some snuggles and scritches to a pet whose family doesn’t have as much time for them because of the health crisis. Pets and humans alike will appreciate the help!
You don’t have to forgive anyone who has apologized either. Some things are unforgivable. Only you have the right to decide.
Thanks for making a point of articulating this. The answer was focused so much on the fact that the grandmother hadn’t reached out (a fair and important point) that it neglected to follow through with a reminder that even when someone asks for forgiveness and genuinely demonstrates contrition they aren’t entitled to anything.
Declining to forgive someone is not rude, or mean, or a sign that you are broken, or a roadblock to your survival of and recovery from whatever it was they did to you. People who forgive, and people who don’t, have absolutely no hierarchical relationship with each other. They are both valid ways of dealing with situations, and as consolare says: Only you have the right to decide which is better for you.
Yes, and while forgiveness (by whatever definition) is often the end result of healing, it doesn’t have to be the *cause* of the healing. It certainly doesn’t heal you if you don’t acknowledge how wrong the thing was and how much you’re hurting. You often have to be angry in order to heal. You can’t just skip ahead to forgiveness because it’s more socially acceptable or because the pain is scary and uncomfortable, because then you’re just pushing feelings down instead of working through them.
Basically, people who say “you need to forgive so you can heal” have it backwards, and nobody *has* to forgive. Forgiveness is just one possible endgame, but you can move on from a wrong that was done to you and live a full life without forgiving the wrongdoer. Well, some people can, anyway. Others can’t, and that’s fine. Neither way is better than the other. The only thing that matters is whether you heal enough to be good to yourself and others.
I agree with you, Eye. I think the OP may wish to read this article by writer Jeanne Safer on how it can be just as healthy not to forgive: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199907/must-you-forgive
Also, you can forgive and STILL decide that it doesn’t mean you want to resume the depth of relationship you had before. Forgiveness doesn’t erase your knowledge of their past acts/decisions/priorities and how those affected you, and it doesn’t require that you make your decisions as though the past didn’t happen. What’s the old Roman saying – “you can’t cross the same river twice”?
Yes! The pastor who married us (and who knew the story about my husband’s parents, who threatened to boycott our wedding and told my husband not to marry me because I was a gold-digger and who came to the wedding only because my husband told them I was pregnant and they would never see their grandchild if they didn’t come to the wedding) told me that I forgive someone for myself – to take that person or persons out of my head – but I have no obligation whatsoever to have a relationship with them again. She said I did not have to let people treat me badly.
This is where my mantra of “forgive, but never forget” comes in. It’s one thing to for me to decide to forgive the person who’s harmed me, but if the harm is part of a larger pattern, then forgetting the wrongdoing is not doing anyone any favours.
Thanks for saying this. I have very strong feelings about “forgiveness” and the enormous pressure that gets put on people to do it, particularly assigned female at birth people. I know LW uses they/them pronouns, but if they get read as female then they’re definitely subject to that extra level of pressure to be nice and accomodating and not make a fuss or be an angry [slur goes here].
LW (and everyone else for that matter), you absolutely DO NOT EVER have to forgive anyone. Not even if they apologize. Not even if they sincerely try to make amends. Not even if they actually do become better people who’ve learned from their mistakes. They can go be better people far away from you. You do not owe people a good opinon of them or willingness to have them in your life.
I would also like to send a time-travelling fistbump back to 12 or 13 year old you, LW. It’s pretty fucking badass to realize that young that someone just isn’t good for you and you don’t need them in your life.
Yes, thank you. I believe in forgiveness in some circumstances, but it’s kind of like dealing with trauma or controversy through humor–you have to be aware of the existing power dynamics or you’ll end up hurting people who have already been hurt plenty.
My feelings on this have been shaped by this article by the previous incarnation of Dear Prudence, Emily Yoffe, who has said many problematic things on other topics, but in this I believe she’s spot on:
She talks about the experiences of adults who are pressured to forgive their abusive or addicted parents, and dissects the recent trend of treating forgiveness as some sort of requirement for “closure” in that weird pop-psychology sense that doesn’t actually lead to moving on in a lot of case. I love that the article takes a moral stance on what forgiveness should really mean in a wider societal context, and calls out the idea that you can “forgive” someone who has done no work to make amends or prevent future harm.
Came here to post this link too, it’s really one of the best of Yoffe’s Prudence posts. In particular, the bit she quotes from several of these essays:
> In a 2008 essay in the journal In Character, history professor Wilfred McClay writes that as a society we have twisted the meaning of forgiveness into a therapeutic act for the victim: “[F]orgiveness is in danger of being debased into a kind of cheap grace, a waiving of standards of justice without which such transactions have no meaning.” Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School writes that, “There is a watered-down but widespread form of ‘forgiveness’ best tagged preemptory or exculpatory forgiveness. That is, without any indication of regret or remorse from perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes, we are enjoined by many not to harden our hearts but rather to ‘forgive.’ ”
People who push others to “forgive” forget that there are different levels of forgiveness. You can choose the forgive your grandmother enough that you don’t resent her forever, you can forgive her enough to not speak ill of her in public, but not enough to absolve her of all wrongdoing and continue (or restart) a relationship with her.
This letter reminds me of something my mother said when she was confronted by a aunt (on my dads side) about why she is estranged from the people in her family. My aunt asked her why can’t you forgive your family? My mother said,
“I have forgiven a lot of people in my life, that doesn’t mean I need to forgive them to their faces.”
If someone hurts you, shows no remorse for it and you forgive them openly some people will use that as a green light for more abuse or the same level of abuse unchecked. (That was the case in my mother’s family) if LW you feel that’s something that will happen with your grandmother, definitely go the forgive at a distance route.
Our pastor did a sermon on forgiveness a while back, and one part that stuck with me was framing it as letting go of a debt. The person no longer owes you anything, but that’s not the same as forgetting what happened. (He also labeled not doing the same thing again as a part of forgiveness, which I find interesting framing but was good to hear given how many people use “forgive and forget” as a carte blanche.)
My personal philosophy is “forgive, but don’t forget”. Remembering gives you protection against the same thing happening in the future and prevents it from turning into abuse. Or at least lets you determine a pattern that is abuse.
I’m reminded of that whole quote about “fool me once….” If you forgive someone and then forget what happened, chances are they’ll hurt you in the same way again.
This may come too late to add to the conversation, but “forgive and forget” is from King Lear (Cordelia’s plea). In Shakespeare’s context, “forget” most likely did not mean “erase from memory” but rather “let go” or “leave behind.” Thus, the contemporary equating of forgiveness with “don’t think about it” is a misreading of the line.
And thanks for all the wise and grace-filled posts in this comment thread!
And forgiving a debt doesn’t obligate you to lend the debtor another penny. Or, for that matter, to refrain from telling other potential lendors that they’re a bad risk. It means you get to stop dunning them and accept that your money is gone and you’re not going to see it again.
(And, to carry the metaphor even further, EVEN IF the person shows up ten years down the line and tries to give you the money back with interest, you can tell them to keep it! You are not obliged to take on the obligations of a lender again.)
Regarding your scripts for when relatives continue to push for a reconciliation, my initial reaction was that they were a bit harsh – “not for you to fix this,” for example. But then again, you’re giving them words for a situation when it’s presumably past the point where anything gentler is useful. Either way – hopefully LW finds the scripts helpful.
Think of it as the LW giving the family *permission* to stop trying to fix it. “You don’t have to fix this.”
It’s less harsh than “Phones work both ways” or “I honestly have no idea what to say to someone who hasn’t talked to me in over a decade. I mean, where do we even start?”
Honestly, it’s a bit harsh of LW’s relatives to try to force them into an emotional/interpersonal decision they don’t want to make.
Yeah, but forcing/making people feel guilty is what relatives do. 🙂
It might be worth it for the LW to visit the aunt once, with her brother and/or mother and/or other relatives. No big drama or reconcilations or accusations or confessions, just show up with other family members. I’d be worried that if the LW doesn’t visit, her family may hold it against her forever and never let it drop and will include mention of the estrangement in future social media communications. By showing up once, LW can effectively show the relatives she’s a good person and also put an end to her relatives’ persistence.
I really wouldn’t. It’s a pretty big deal to speak with a relative you’re estranged with, much less visit them on their deathbed. I don’t think the emotional punch is worth it to avoid the possibility of some minorly uncomfortable conversations or social media posts that can just as easily be avoided in other ways.
You say that like it’s okay or desirable. 😦 😦 😦
Seriously, not okay, and not okay to say in comments that OP is presumably reading.
It’s not worth it to visit once, because you shouldn’t negotiate with emotional terrorists.
You’re referring to the relatives “making people feel gulity” line? Ugh, I see I put the wrong emoticon there–shouldn’t be a smiley, should be the tongue in cheek one. My apologies.
As someone who has gotten caught in that trap, visiting once to “show that you are a good person” is really fraught.
They don’t want OP to visit. Not really. They want to have a family where everyone gets along and everything is okay and it can all be wrapped up in a neat little bow. OP visiting and pretending that everything is okay and dealing with all of the stress and worry and emotional landlines by herself is just a way to get that to happen.
Seriously, people. The OP said it in the very first sentence of their letter: “preferred pronouns: they/them”. Stop. Misgendering. Them.
LW said in the letter their pronouns are they/them, and I think there are much easier ways to perform “good family member” than to do something that is so likely to feel wrong and false to LW. I’m sure they’ll get plenty of good family member points for emotionally supporting their mother and cousins. And honestly, if anyone does hassle LW about not calling/visiting/sending a letter, “if grandmother wanted to hear from me she was completely free to call/write to/email/visit me at any time in the last decade” is completely accurate and a very solid argument.
I’d be worried that if the LW doesn’t visit, their family may hold it against them forever and never let it drop and will include mention of the estrangement in future social media communications.
I think you may be talking about yourself here. If I’m right, I’m sorry your relatives have been such jerks, but I don’t think it’s helpful to make LW worry that their relatives will hate them forever if they don’t fabricate a loving relationship with a grandmother who clearly doesn’t care about them.
Mel Reams said it much more nicely than I’m about to:
“It might be worth it for the LW to visit the aunt once, with THEIR brother and/or mother and/or other relatives. No big drama or reconcilations or accusations or confessions, just show up with other family members. I’d be worried that if the LW doesn’t visit, THEIR family may hold it against THEIR forever and never let it drop and will include mention of the estrangement in future social media communications. By showing up once, LW can effectively show the relatives THEY’RE a good person and also put an end to THEIR relatives’ persistence.”
Fixed that for you, you’re welcome. Either learn to respect people’s pronouns or keep away from keyboards.
The latter works–I will def “keep away from the keyboards”, at least for this site. Shocked by the vitriol spewed by a couple of self-righteous bullies here. Have a great life
Hi Jonesy, I’m missing the part where you apologize for misgendering the LW, even though the very first thing in their letter is their preferred pronouns. B. got pretty heated, but it was because a series of people were making the same error despite the information being totally clear in the letter. It’s a mistake I’ve made sometimes, and “Hey, you misgendered that person” isn’t “YOU ARE A TERRIBLE PERSON, DIE NOW,” it’s “Hey, your skirt is tucked into your undies, I’m telling you so that you fix it” level-critique. Misgendering harms people. Don’t do it, and if you do it, apologize.
Great one for you, too. This self-righteous bully is very ok with having one less misgendering commenter in this site.
Yeah, what the Captain said. I apologise for losing my temper, everyone.
…sorry I’m just incredibly confused how misgendering someone is okay and somehow not a violent act but correcting someone on that is bullying???
My mind is boggled there.
No, you’re right that misgendering is violence (usually transphobic violence) and that correcting people is not bullying, but I didn’t want to keep fighting or derailing the conversation. And I did lose my temper, hence the apology about the tone I used, not about what I said. I guess the Captain wanted to give the other commenter the benefit of the doubt.
I commend you for your apology, but the nerve of that person just threw me O.o
“I’d be worried that if the LW doesn’t visit, her family may hold it against her forever and never let it drop and will include mention of the estrangement in future social media communications.”
If the LW’s relatives react this way to her not choosing to reconcile with her grandmother — if they choose to hold it against her and to keep bringing it up — then that’s on them. That is shitty behavior, and the LW can do way better than people who behave that way. Why spend time with people who treat you like this?
Why should LW do something that they find emotionally false, difficult, potentially damaging, and totally unrewarding to “prove” to people who are blind with denial that they are a “good person”?
I have an awful relative I cut off cold nearly a decade ago, who I will never again speak word one to, or spend a single minute in their presence. This is for my protection, and my family’s. If people think that makes me bad, evil, wicked, heartless- whatever- I’m totally ok with that. That’s their issue, not mine.
I find it rather gentle and, in a lot of cases, very necessary. There are situations when hints works and then there are people who will keep meddling even if you tell them point blank that this is not their problem. People who are pushing you to reconcile in the first place are more likely meddlers.
Just a note that “not for you to fix this” is a slight misquote; the Captain’s original words, “not *your job* to try to fix this,” are even gentler and imply that the speaker’s intent is to relieve the family members of responsibility.
Another thing you might want to think about is how you plan to handle any end of life ceremonies your family may have. I found it useful to attend my grandfather’s funeral even though we could not have been described as close. It was very odd to listen to my cousins who had much better relationships with him than I did and I was careful not to say much, but it was valuable nonetheless.
Your mileage (and family traditions) may vary, but it’s worth thinking about in advance.
Same experience here, although I did see my grandfather at some family events, while it sounds like LW hasn’t even seen their grandmother since they were 10. Going to his funeral was a chance to see people I do have relationships with, and to keep from creating DRAMA where I don’t need there to be any.
LW, it is absolutely ok to not have a relationship with someone who has made no effort to have a relationship with you, especially as it was their responsibility as the adult, as the Captain has said, to provide opportunities for you to have a relationship when you were young. If your grandmother has, for whatever reason, decided not to do so in the past, it isn’t your job to change that because she’s ill. In fact, I think she’s made it clear who she wants to spend time with, and it’s her choice how she wants to spend whatever time she has left.
As a parent of a toddler, I see all the ways my daughter’s grandparents are creating strong relationships with her. When I compare that with the relative lack of interest my grandparents showed to me and my siblings, I’m jealous! But it shows me that it’s the adults’ choices that matter. It wasn’t something I did or didn’t do. It was their decision.
I agree. Funerals aren’t for the dead, really, they’re for the living. You don’t go to honor your grandmother, you go to support your mother and any other relatives who need it.
You also go to make sure the person is dead.
That is so true.
And if you squeeze in a little dancing, sometimes nobody could blame you.
Agreed. I’ve attended funerals for people I disliked because I knew living people I cared about would appreciate it. I do find our norm of eulogizing* the dead distasteful exactly because plenty of people treat others awfully, so it strikes me as postmortem gaslighting, but I keep my mouth shut unless directly asked about my thoughts, because death rites are for the benefit of the living.
*i.e. sanitizing – for those who are curious and don’t already know, the word comes from the Classical Greek for “praise”, and the roots literally mean “good” (eu) “opinion/speech/reason” (logos).
My uncle estranged himself from our family and my aunts were fine with that after many years of cruel behavior and dismissiveness. After his funeral, we gathered at my aunt’s house and talked about the real him, as he was with us. It was a good lesson to me as a child – no one said “We don’t speak ill of the dead.” Everyone told their truth if they wanted to, and no one was censured.
That made a lot more sense to me than the eulogy describing a man I didn’t recognize.
My grandmother was a difficult woman – she had severe bipolar and ptsd and had spent her life manipulating and bullying her family. I loved her, and was very close to her, as a child, but by the time she died I’d been avoiding her for years – she treated my father (her son) like crap, one time accused my mother of trying to kill her, she liked to play me and my siblings and cousins off each other, and it just got too wearing to sit and listen to her badmouth the people I loved.
Her funeral, though, was the most moving experience I’ve ever had, because almost everyone there was honest about her. They talked about what they’d loved about her, but didn’t flinch away from the ways in which she’d hurt and traumatised them, and the damage she’d done and taken. And I was in floods of tears, because hearing her children and nephews and grandchildren talk about her so honestly really let me see that I wasn’t being unfair or bad for not wanting to be around her, but also made me understand her better, and get a sense of the abuse and trauma that had made her struggle so much for 90 years, so in that sense it became easier to forgive her.
Now, the advantage of that is that my family had all had problems with her (except her little sister, who kept interrupting and ‘correcting’ people’s accounts, which, like, not to go off on one but I’ve never been so close to slapping an 85 year old) and so I didn’t have to sit through everyone telling me how great she was. But I can’t help feeling like in a lot of cases if they were honest with themselves most family members of abusive people would have seen something in how they treated you, I don’t know. For me, I could never forgive her in life but the way I came to understand her from the not-eulogising at her funeral was a huge part of helping me heal
That’s really helpful, thank you. I didn’t realize that eulogies where people were honest about the deceased were a thing.
Good point! I think it could be useful for LW to come up with something short and noncommittal to say when people try to offer their condolences on a loss that isn’t actually much of a loss. I’m assuming LW doesn’t want to get into a big discussion of why they don’t particularly miss their grandmother or perform grief they don’t feel, thus the emphasis on short and noncommittal.
For example, a good reply to “I’m so sorry for your loss” could be “We weren’t close, but it’s kind of you to think of me.” Or for “Are you holding up okay?” maybe “I’m hanging in there. Are you doing okay?”. Or for “Is there anything I can do?” maybe “I’m doing okay but [insert relative here] would probably love a casserole/groceries/some errands run.”
You don’t have to forgive people who have never apologized to you.
THIS. So much this. The fact that your grandmother’s life is ending does not change who she was or what she did. She has never behaved as though she cared for you and you are under no obligation to care for her. She has other family members who will be there for her. Keep this in mind if/when relatives push or try to make you feel guilty.
Another suggested script: “I know your relationship with her was different than mine. I’ve made my peace with her.”
Ak Polly: Thank you. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
For me, after decades of no contact with my abusive mother, forgiveness is almost entirely internal. With age I came to see that while she was malevolent and destructive, she was also pathetic and small. When I thought about her at all, I thought about her with sadness, for her and for me and for the rest of the family she ruined.
When I heard that she had passed away (a friend saw the obit in our hometown paper or I would not have known) I mostly found myself just hoping that there is some afterlife where she is finding the peace and enlightenment that she refused while she was here. But I don’t need to “connect” with her in any way.
At the same time, if she was still around I would not talk to her, and I’m glad my children never had to interact with her. You don’t resent a tiger for being dangerous — it is what it is — but you don’t climb into their cage either.
“You don’t resent a tiger for being dangerous — it is what it is — but you don’t climb into their cage either.”
Perfectly put! My emotionally-abusive mother has recently died, and I did manage to tough out her long illness and do my duty by her, but there was never any affection between us until her dementia was so far advanced that she had no idea who I was – she thought I was a member of the care home staff. I know a lot of people were shocked because I was completely open about my feelings – I refused to dissemble or pretend – but the reason I hated her was simple: that was the way she wanted it, and she hated me first. You reap what you sow – but she got better treatment from me than she ever meted out to anybody in her life. Even my devoutly Christian best friend, who is otherwise very big on forgiveness, was close enough to the situation to understand that in this case it just wasn’t going to happen. And I had a great precept to rely on – a very old panel from a Batman comic with the legend ‘Sometimes the closest thing you have to a friend is an enemy who truly understands you.’ Twisted? Possibly! But it worked for me!
Oomph, there it is. “It is what it is” was the phrase that ran through my mind when my grandmother passed. That woman disowned and… undisowned? (owned just sounded weird) my father (her son) so many times through the course of my childhood (which including disowning and undisowning my mother and me as well). She had always been a master manipulator, and my father, who was the middle son, not The Doctor like his older brother or The Baby like his younger brother, was never good enough, so he spent his entire life trying to prove himself to her. He would bend over backwards to try to placate her, even if my mom and I begged him not to. She was a miserable woman who loved being miserable. I watched this growing up… I don’t really remember when I came to the realization that I just didn’t care what she said/did about me (I remember my dad being more upset by her refusing to come to my high school graduation party than I was), but it would forever infuriate me that she would treat my dad like that. I put my foot down in college, when I was back for a weekend and my dad asked if I wanted to visit my grandmother – I wanted to spend time with my parents (who I have a close relationship with), my pets, friends that were in town, but visiting my grandmother was just a No. The last Christmas she was alive, my dad asked how I would feel if we invited her for Christmas dinner (the few years before she hadn’t been speaking to us, just wanted to play the “woe is me my family abandoned me” game, forgetting the fact that she was the one who metaphorically kicked us out of her life). Out of the love for my dad I told him it would be fine, then got physically sick after at the thought of spending what’s normally such a happy occasion with her. I told my mom as such, and apparently she had a similar reaction. My dad didn’t end up inviting her (and I made it a point to “get stuck on the phone” with a friend when he called to wish her a Merry Christmas).
Can I tell you I legit can’t remember when she died? It sounds awful… it was October I think, but I can’t remember what year. In any case, I remember my mom calling me up and telling me she was in the hospital, it didn’t look good, and did I want to visit and say any last words to her (I think my mom was even giving me the opportunity to go there and say “F you” if I really wanted). I thought long and hard and I grieved, not because she was dying but because this woman was my grandmother and *should* have done this, and *should* have done that (lots of comparing to my other grandmother, who, when she was mentally aware, was kind and loving and amazing). Ultimately, I didn’t visit her before she died. I attended her funeral to support my dad. Right now, my feelings about her are “it was what it was.” I don’t know if I forgive her. I don’t think I do.
LW, I’m sorry to just word vomit on you. If anything, I hope this shows that you’re not alone, that whatever choice you make should be good for you. It’s okay for you to just want to wash your hands of the whole thing. It’s okay if you’re sad and upset, over reasons you understand or reasons you don’t. It’s okay for you to be angry or just not give a damn. Your mom sounds amazing! If things start to get heated with your aunt/cousin/other family members, one other bit of advice I have is to say “We can discuss this later.” Later can mean never, but it can also mean a time where they’re thinking a bit clearer and less likely to feel like everyone involved needs ‘closure.’ Good luck, LW, internet hugs to you if you want them!
The scripts may seem harsh towards the family, especially the cousins, but they strike me as the only sound option in this particular situation.
Family members pushing for reconciliation can become quite a problem in the long run, since an issue unresolved can become a cause of bitterness on all sides. I am just witnessing a situation like this unfold in my own family. The Grandfather has passed away last week after a long illness, and my Grandmother is still bitter over the absence of my mother (their only child) in this difficult time. Now that my mother has re-appeared and wants to attend the funeral, she is met with bitterness and rage while being denied attendance to said funeral. I can hear my Grandfather’s heart breaking over this from beyond.
However, there is a very important difference between this situation and the one LW is currently experiencing: The grandmother, as rightfully pointed out, never cared for contact. Why should she care now? Deep down, the family probably knows that. They will be angry. They will plead with the LW. They will want to have this woman die at peace, but the simple truth is that if there was something to resolve for said Grandmother, she would do it now. In my case, everybody is suffering from the situation – in LWs case, the LW might suffer if she acted and did something they really didn’t want, while although I do not know LWs family, I am willing to assume that their anger will fade as well.
I have made it a habit to not put much value into the words thrown at me (or anybody else) by people in grief – that rage comes from a place of vulnerability, and while it is largely unpleasant in that moment, it will fade. It might be disrespectful to simply not take somebody seriously in that time, but lashing out is a popular side-effect of the grieving process. Let it be thrown at you and then file it away in the folder of ‘I don’t care that this happened and I will never think of it again or bring it up’.
It has occurred to me that the relatives are also eager to ignore the fact than the grandmother is NOT reaching out to LW, and are embarrassed by this. Having LW do the heavy lifting would “tie things up in a bow” for everyone.
That doesn’t mean LW should do it.
Very true. “I’m not the one who set the tone of this relationship, so why should I be the one to reach out and try to repair it?”
Exactly. None of this is on the LW. As the Captain pointed out, Grandmother was the adult and LW was the child – the Grandmother set the tone.
I feel for the LW because my family (dad) is doing the same thing to me about my mom. She is an emotionally abusive alcoholic who has damaged our relationship beyond repair with her toxic behavior over the years. My dad keeps pushing me to “talk to her, forgive her, blahblahblah,” and like I told him, “Mom knows how apologies work and how to work a phone.” As for the harshness, I’m willing to believe that the LW, like me, has already told everyone soft no’s that they have decided to ignore in their misguided attempts to help – so a blunt response is what they have left them with.
What is happening to me may be happening to the LW – my dad knows that out of the two of us, I’m the reasonable one so I am the one more likely to be convinced to “play nice and forgive and forget” because he knows that my mom will never start that process. The LW’s other family members may not know what happened between the two of them, but they likely know that the LW is the more reasonable party and that is why they are pushing them.
So true. Been there, done that with my father. Was very painful to realize he didn’t care, it was the rest of the family that wanted things made “nice”. Took me years to even be able to think about it without anger.
Please forgive if this is a double-post; I think WordPress ate the last one.
Oh, LW, I have so much empathy for you here. When I was a kid, I was one of two ignored grandchildren. My cousin had it even worse than I did, because at least I got some attention if my brother (who was the favored one) happened to be in the room. This was in no way my brother’s fault, but I was painfully aware of the unequal treatment and my cousin’s situation, even as a little kid. My mom was mad at her parents for this, but did little to intervene on my behalf, and nothing at all to stick up for my cousin, although she frequently mentioned the unfair treatment in front of me.
When my grandparents died, I was sad, but since I didn’t have as close a relationship with them that my brother did, he took it much harder. My cousin, understandably, barely reacted. These people were practically strangers to him.
Fast forward to now, and the cycle is repeating. I have a cordial-but-very-distant, limited-contact relationship with my parents. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant, and while I would be very private about this stuff anyway, I’m having to be very tight-lipped around family because of my narcissist mother. But she still has an inkling that something is up, because she constantly tries to ferret out info about when or if I might be producing her grandbabies. But here’s the real kicker: she already has two grandchildren, through my brother. My parents (who are still married to each other) have no relationship with these kids. Dad has never met either of them (they are 10 and 7), and Mom has only met the elder child, back when she was a baby. To these kids, their grandparents are a signature on occasional greeting cards, and in my mom’s case, a rare voice on the other end of the phone.
I can’t bear the idea of my parents showering attention on my future kids while they ignore my brother’s kids. Maybe I’m delusional about the “signs” Mom has given me lately, and my kids will be ignored as well, making this all a moot point, but I doubt it. So I’ve made up my mind that a very difficult conversation is in my future. I can’t force my parents to have a relationship with their other grandkids, but I can at least do my part not to participate in the unequal treatment. Nobody stuck up for my cousin or me when we were kids, but as I have agency that a 10- and 7-year-old don’t yet have, I can stick up for my brother’s kids. And I am dreading the fallout, but this is how I’m choosing to play this shitty hand we’ve all been dealt by my parents’ behavior.
When my parents die someday, it may well be that my niece and nephew have no interest in saying goodbye. And that will be entirely their right, and the natural consequence of my parents’ actions.
LW, you are under no obligation to perform filial piety to manage other people’s feelings and expectations. Take care of yourself first, and do what feels right for YOU. None of this is your fault, none of it is your job to “fix.” Stay strong, and follow your own instincts. So many jedi hugs to you if you want them. I’m so sorry you are going through this.
I’m so sorry this has happened and is happening to you and your family 😦 Jedi hugs if you want them, and many kudos to you for sticking up for your and your brother’s kids. An unequal relationship hurts the favored kids, too.
Please forgive me if this comes across as unkind – I’m afraid it may – but, given what you wrote about your parents, could it be that maybe your brother’s children are better off NOT having much contact with your parents? I’m wondering if maybe being mostly ignored by your “narcissist mother” (as you described her) may be a blessing for them. Additional attention from your parents might not be a positive experience for your brother’s kids.
I think Anon is hoping to keep her brother’s children from experiencing what she did: getting the short end of the favoritism stick. That’s different from getting the gparents to pay attention to the brother’s children. If the gparents don’t interact with any of the children, no one suffers from being ignored.
Your plan sounds like a sort of paradoxical healing. I hope that you and your brother, and your future potential kids and their cousins, have good healthy relationships going forward–and your stand for equality is a step in that direction.
I would add, though it sounds as if you’ve already come to this thought too, that it would be best not to post anything more of that sort on social media. It seems as if to your relatives, that’s something that opens up the topic for discussion.
Or if you do, hide the post from family.
I read Not Sorry’s letter twice to be sure I was reading what I was reading. It seems obvious to me that Grandmother doesn’t want to hear from Not Sorry or she’d have already gotten in contact. Not Sorry doesn’t want to reach out to Grandmother for all the stated reasons. The pressure is coming from cousins and aunts. With that in mind, I asked 2 questions:
What happens to the relationship with cousins and aunts if NS does get in touch with Grandmother?
What happens to the relationship with cousins and aunts if NS doesn’t get in touch with Grandmother?
It seems to me that either way cousins and aunts get to dance around in their clueless privilege convinced that Grandmother was wonderful and they deserved her wonderfulness and if NS didn’t enjoy a great relationship with her, then it was NS’s own fault for not forgiving and reconciling the way they said. To that, I say fooey. Get in touch with Grandmother if you think it will serve YOUR needs, not theirs. It’s admirable that you want to act in a way that won’t make their grief worse, but really, why? Wouldn’t it be better if they were the ones coming to you to say “It was so unfair for Grandmother to cut you off the way she did. You’re the one with the complicated grief. You’re who should be getting the special attention. We’re not making demands of you. We should be doing whatever it takes to make this rotten situation easier for you.” But funny, they’re not saying that. They’re asking you to uphold their dolled up image of Grandmother. Again, I say fooey. Do whatever you want. Bring out some platitudes, and leave it at that.
I don’t think the aunts and cousins are being that malicious. It’s just as likely that they’re deeply uncomfortable with how grandma treated her own daughter and grandchildren because of a divorce, but if LW forgives grandma on her deathbed then there’s a happy ending and it wasn’t so bad after all. Either way, it’s none of their business.
I agree that the aunts and cousins aren’t necessarily being malicious. They may be more kindheartedly clueless. In my experience, people who are lucky think they’re smart or otherwise deserving of their good luck. Also, people who ask you to forgive or reconcile do so because it’s self serving for them, not because it’s advantageous to the forgiver. I can think of exceptions to both those statements, but they do tend to be generally true. Forgiveness, for example, can be wonderful for the forgiver to let go of resentment and anger that’s weighing them down, but generally when someone asks “forgive me,” it’s because they want to be let off the hook. When someone says “you should forgive that person over there,” I have to wonder what’s up. In this case, it would seem to be because, if Not Sorry doesn’t make that show of visiting Grandmother’s deathbed, it challenges the aunts’ and cousins’ deep unacknowledged belief that Grandmother favored them because they were deserving.
In my family, when people are dying, it’s a very communal, circling-the-wagons feeling. These scripts would feel weirdly individualist and like they were creating distance between LW and the family members they do want to stay close with. I would use these instead:
“Thank you for sending me that photo. I’m touched that Grandma still keeps things from when we were close.” (Because they might be trying to share, not manipulate.)
“If Grandma asks about me, please let her know she is in my thoughts.” (She is!)
“You are really being there for Grandma. Can I bring over/send you a casserole/pizza?”
I would also consider sending a card that says, again, “You are in my thoughts. Sincerely, LW.” Your relationship with her is obviously not going to change, but the card isn’t for her, it’s for everyone else. I think the goal is to show your family that you are with them in circling the wagons, in a way that costs you very little.
To be clear: I am NOT suggesting you visit in person or pretend your relationship with your grandma was other than what it was. I am suggesting that you not do those things in a way that also, to some extent, participates in the other family activities and fortification that happens at times like this. Similar to what was shared upthread about attending funerals.
“I think the goal is to show your family that you are with them in circling the wagons, in a way that costs you very little.”
I read a very different goal. The goal I got was for the LW to find an effective way to communicate that she is not interested in third party family members trying to force a reconciliation.
I just had a not-nice grandmother pass literally less than a month ago. I am sincerely happy that your family is able to manifest compassionate community when somebody dies, but that’s not true for everybody. Some of us actually do need some “weirdly individualistic” strategies for setting healthy boundaries in our family.
If LW is concerned about showing support to her other family members, I think your suggestions are quite lovely. However, none of Captain’s scripts are inappropriate or cruel. They may cause discomfort, but frankly it’s ok for LW to inflict a tiny amount of discomfort in order to preserve boundaries. It is very Not Cool that their family members are pushing for reconciliation, and if they end up on the receiving end of some discomfort, it’s not the end of the world.
You slipped on the pronouns for the LW. Please pay more attention to that, misgendering people is a really not ok thing to do.
You are correct, I apologize.
I think there’s a bit of a disconnect here. The Captain never suggested jumping directly to the Nope scripts, and in directly said: First, when the topic of Grandma comes up, think in terms of platitudes that put all the focus back on them. “I know you were close, it must be very hard for you to think about losing her.” “Cancer is a devastating illness, I’m so sorry to hear she’s ill.” “It’s good that you’re able to be with her.”
If the relatives don’t push, there’s no need to use the “Nope, not going to reconcile” scripts. But if they do end up being necessary, it’s the relatives who are creating the distance by trying to pressure LW into doing something that they don’t want to do and doesn’t feel right or honest to them.
Editing faaail, I meant “and in fact directly said” not “and in directly said”.
My dad’s parents never really made any attempt to be involved in my or my sibling’ lives. We went out to visit them (they lived a few hours away) once a year on Christmas. A few times, they said they were coming to visit and never showed. My mom (who didn’t have the best relationship with them) stopped telling us they were coming so we wouldn’t be disappointed when they didn’t show. Meanwhile, they drove several states for thanksgiving dinner each year with my aunt and her daughter. (My dad’s siblings never made much of an attempt to be involved with my immediate family either)
So when they got to the point they could no longer live on their own, and moved several states away to live with my aunt, I knew I’d probably never see them again, and I was write. They would call occasionally when I was a kid, but at some point that stopped, and I didn’t feel it was worth it to put in any effort when they never had.
If there had been a funeral, I would have gone, but my grandma had a small memorial service, and then after my grandfather (who was really my step-grandfather) died, they scattered their ashes in the place that they met, but I didn’t feel obligated to attend.
Anyway, I didn’t and don’t feel guilty about not trying to build a relationship with people who clearly were never interested in having one with me as a kid. I had plenty of other family members on my mom’s side whom we were much closer to. LW, if your grandmother reaches out and says “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in X years, please come say goodbye at least,” and you’re okay with that, then go. If my dying grandparents had asked, I might have considered traveling to see them. But it sounds like it’s a lot of other family members saying what you should do. And even if your grandma has a photo of you on her table, that doesn’t mean she’s interested in seeing you now. Clearly, your presence is not something she’s super worried about, or she would have called you a while ago. If you tell your relatives this, your grandma might feel obligated to send word for you to come, or even call you. But, as the Captain pointed out, she’s had and currently has lots of opportunities to do this and hasn’t. I wouldn’t feel guilty about letting it go.
I really hope this is not what’s happening, but depending on how much the other relatives are trying to push for a reconciliation between the LW and their grandmother, it may be that they have brought those keepsakes to the grandmother’s room to try and convince the LW that their grandmother thinks of them and try and force them to meet her to say goodbye. Sort of like a well-meaning-but-very-creepy deathbed matchmaking attempt.
I’d ignore anything I heard about the grandmother’s feelings and desires that did not come directly from grandmother’s mouth.
I was thinking that the photos are things the grandmother keeps around to remind her of what a great grandmother she is. I’ve heard of narcissistic parents who do that sort of thing.
Yes, that makes a lot of sense, and it seems more probable in this context.
It struck me how low a bar of ‘still possessing something which someone gave you’ is as evidence that you care about them. If that’s what passes as a demonstration of love for LW’so cousins then I pity the cousins.
Keeping things can be a show of affection, for example with keepsakes that you hold onto because they remind you of someone you love, but I think we can agree that that’s not what happened in this case. Or, at least, that it’s not enough to make LW forget about all the other things their grandmother did to them/didn’t do for them.
Sometimes family photos are almost more of a trophy thing. “See, I have all these grandchildren. How many do you have?” I mean, I have photos of other people taken during trips and outings, but it isn’t evidence that they’re my best friends.
Ugh. Meant to say I was *right* not write. D’oh!
My grandmother was the same way. I agree with everyone above. Feelings are not right or wrong. They simply exist. Focus on what YOU need. You also don’t have to reply to email, messages, texts etc. Just because the phone rings, you don’t have to pick it up.
For example: My sisters are trying to bully me by group emails and group texts. I sometimes wonder if that makes them feel like they are accomplishing something without having to do any real work or if they think group shaming will make me do everything they want.
THEREFORE: My “DON’T List” includes “DON’T reply to group texts, emails, etc.from family”
Instead I “DO” choose to pass along facts they may need regarding my mom’s health.” This means I don’t have to justify my position or make other people think they are right. I let them believe whatever they want and I ignore any messages that attempt to upset me or manipulate me.
IN OTHER WORDS: “Answer the question you wish that they had asked. And ONLY if you feel like it.”
When my emotionally abusive grandmother died, I grieved the loving relationship we had never had (or at least had not had since I was very small). I think it’s very important to acknowledge that form of grief.
All the best, LW.
Thank you for mentioning this — grief for what never was is a real thing, and it can hit at the most unexpected times. Those feelings of grief need to be processed as much as any other source of grief.
I wish this post existed ten years ago when my grandma was dying. LW, my position was very similar to yours. My grandparents were emotionally and physically abusive to my mom. They made it clear that my uncle’s kid was the favored grandchild. They always sent presents, but it was always passive-aggressive presents that highlighted that they didn’t approve of my dad, or of how my parents were raising us. They didn’t call, they visited maybe four times in my entire childhood, and when we called them they showed no interest at all in our lives, preferring to gush about how wonderful my uncle and cousin were. It was so bad, in fact, when Grandma passed, one thing my father said to my mom was “I don’t see why you’re so upset. You never liked her and you never had a relationship with her. You should be relieved your obligation to her is finished.” (Dad is . . .kind of a jerk. But he also wasn’t wrong, for all it was the wrong time and way to say it.)
Anyway. I felt enormous pressure from my aunt and uncle, and my mom’s cousins, to “reconcile” with Grandma on her deathbed. I didn’t. And I never felt guilty although for a long time I felt weird and worried that something was wrong with me because everyone around me told me I should feel guilty. I eventually came to peace with that, and with the fact that I never regretted not reconciling. I think I had finished grieving for the grandmother I wished I had years before she actually died. Especially now that I’m older and have relationships with my friends’ kids and my nieces and nephews, with adult eyes, it’s just completely bonkers to me this idea that a child or teenager or very young adult is responsible for estrangement between them and an older family member. At any point, the adult in the relationship could have chosen to be an adult instead of re-enacting grudges against my parents with me. She didn’t. Your grandmother didn’t. You are under no obligation to fix years of her bad choices.
That said, you say you don’t want to crush this woman’s hope for comfort, and that you want to be there for the family members you do have a relationship with. If you want to, I echo the suggestions above, to send cards or offer to pay for takeaway or pay for grocery deliveries, or something that will help the family members who are caring directly for Grandma. You could even go visit, if you wanted to show that kind of support, and it wouldn’t require forgiving her or lying about forgiving her. “I’m here for moral support for Cousins Jimmy and Sandy. I know this is such a hard time for them, and they wanted me to be here.” And then be the person dispensing tissues, reminding grieving cousins to drink water and occasionally eat a food, keep track of who has sent flowers are cards so that the family can send appropriate thank you notes later, or whatever you’re good at. I played that role at my grandmother’s funeral and it meant a lot to me to be there with the extended family even though I didn’t particularly care about G’ma.
Just to be clear, I don’t think you have to do this at all. But I read in your letter a little bit of a desire to be present for your family even though you aren’t grieving in the same way they are.
You might try “Look. I know you don’t want me to have regrets, but I made my choice and I’ve thought it through and I’m at peace with it. So we can argue about this, but it won’t change anything. Or I can support you in what you’re going through. Hoq are you holding up?”
No guarantees, but hey. Worth a go.
I would just like to echo what Clarry wrote. I understand that Aunt and Cousin are upset and all, but they should show Not Sorry some sensitivity to their complicated feelings, as well. Aunt and Cousin already know that Not Sorry doesn’t have a relationship with Grandmother, and trying to force Not Sorry to initiate some sort of last minute reconciliaton is really, truly shitty. I think the Captain’s advice is great. Not Sorry, you don’t have to be sorry. Don’t put someone else’s comfort over your own well-being. All the best to you.
Thank you, Saira Ali, for your excellent and tactful post.
I had a similar situation in my family. I came down with the flu. I couldn’t attend bedside reapproachments without endangering the patient. Problem solved.
Except she lived, so I expect I will come down with another bout of the “But Faaaamily” flu at some point in the future.
rapprochements. I meant to go look that up before I hit post.
“another bout of the “But Faaaamily” flu”
This concept. I like it.
Not Sorry, another line you could use is “I’m sorry we weren’t close, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.” It’s true (everyone should have a loving Gram-Gram, time machines don’t exist) and it sounds “grievy” enough that nobody canaccuse you of not caring.
Last night I dreamed about having a chance encounter with family members I lost touch with many years ago; I stopped talking to one person on that side of the family, and everyone else in that branch ended up being collateral damage. In the dream they were so happy to see me and we exchanged contact info and promised to stay in touch. I woke up very sad and have been wondering whether I should reach out to them.
So I really appreciate the reminder that they are all adults, and at any time they could have reached out to me. I still might try to break the ice, but I can let go of any sense that somehow it’s all on me to make a relationship happen or not. LW, I hope you feel that same sense of relief from obligation.
You talk about “crushing any hope she may have” but you don’t even know if she has that hope. It seems likely that she doesn’t care any more about you now than she did in the past. It is quite telling, I think, that she hasn’t reached out to you directly or indirectly (your cousins haven’t said anything along the lines of “Grandma was talking about how much she wished you could visit”, for example). If she actually wanted you there, she’d find a way to let you know. So the only hopes you’re “crushing” here are those of your family members, who are desperately reading an awful lot into a single sentence of a Facebook update.
When people grieve, and especially when the person they’re grieving is dying but not yet gone, they sometimes feel an overpowering urge to somehow make things okay. Your relatives can’t make your grandmother be okay, and they know that, but they really really want to, so they’re redirecting that yearning onto other parts of their lives. If they hadn’t thought of trying to “fix” your relationship with your grandmother, they’d find something else to “fix” instead, whether it needed fixing or not. Their behavior isn’t about what you want and it isn’t about what your grandmother wants. It’s about their helplessness in the face of the unfixability of old age, cancer, and death. So it’s not in any way your responsibility to play the role they’ve assigned to you in their personal melodramas. You get to live your life the way you want to live it, whatever that means in this situation.
I have that too, the nature of my estrangement from my abuser meant I lost one half of my family without being able to explain why, that he is abusive. His family aren’t fond of him but they have never accepted that I cannot be around him. They think we argued and have fallen out. I had to threaten to report him to the police to get him to stop stalking me. My relatives are in denial. So much so that they refused to give me time with my dying grandfather without my abuser there. Amazingly, they have never asked me why I needed to threaten my abuser with police action and they are happy to let contact drop if it means not having to have the talk. My grandad died without me. I wasn’t told where the funeral was or when it was.
I’ve often wondered if having the talk would lead to us being close. The abuse talk would be a bombshell and several family members would struggle to cope, so I figure that the emotional work involved for me to manage that vs the liklihood they will believe me and embrace me again is too high a cost.
I miss them. When my Gran dies, I’ll miss that too. Until my abuser dies, I’m pretty much on the outside. It hurts.
@resili0, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. It’s not right.
Jedi hugs if you want them.
It is quite telling, I think, that she hasn’t reached out to you directly or indirectly (your cousins haven’t said anything along the lines of “Grandma was talking about how much she wished you could visit”, for example).
That’s the thing I most want LW to know – there’s no crushing a hope someone doesn’t actually have, so they shouldn’t feel the least bit bad about not wanting to visit/call/act out some touching reconciliation scene that their relatives seem to want.
And honestly, after so long LW and grandmother are basically strangers anyway. Not only do people change a lot in the decade after their early teens, but it doesn’t sound like there was ever much of a relationship at all between them. I really don’t think there’s anything here for LW to feel bad about missing.
All this has been helpful for my own situation–103-year-old aunt who in the 1960’s did precious little to defend me (then a child) against her drunken creep of a husband, and who after he croaked in 1980 decided to give me crap about my private life. I’m an introvert more interested in things and ideas than people, and she seemed to think this is some sort of disease. Right after praising my ability to self-entertain when I visited her, or my speaker-building skills when she visited me, she would let fly with these little digs abut that. I let her know right away I didn’t need to hear that sort of thing, but a few years later she started in with it again. The 3rd time, in 1990, I had had enough. We went round and round, in person and thru letters, and I demolished her with the power of Logic and she did a fair imitation of an armadillo. Since then we’ve been…civil when we meet, and she gives me gift cards at Xmas (due to no fault of my own I’m the poor end of the poor branch of the family, and all branches are childless) and I give her books from the thrift shops. Well, my surviving parent and 2 older cousins know about this but a little faint sympathy is all I got. I’ve pretty much figured I’ve done all I can with said aunt and will just bring out some harmless anecdotes when the time comes for the memorial. Meanwhile I’ve got a cousin who treats me like a servant instead of a guest at holiday dinners; the other cousin sticks up for me but surviving parent, who is wonderfully generous materially but has never stuck up for me in a conflict even when right in front of their nose, doesn’t, and thinks I have Asperger’s even though I have read about it and I don’t. (Pick up a hammer and everything looks like a nail; pick up a Temple Grandin book..) “Oh, your aunt criticizes everyone (gives examples), and she’s never gonna change”–“Well, I am never gonna put up with it again.” And my country has been taken over by a modern Numedides with no Conan in sight.
They are going thru the stress of knowing that the aunt’s end will likely be soon, and I won’t stress them any further but I won’t let them stress me either. Now to figure out how to tell older cousin that I am a guest not a servant, but I keep forgetting my lines.
Sorry for the derail; keep up the good work, all.
I’m sorry you’re going through so much.
Thank you. I realize after reading this and the Making Light threads that I’m hardly the one who is worst off. But it amazes me how many things people can come up with as reasons to crap on other people with.
In a similar situation, my late sister visited our dying mother. Sis considered it appropriate to say “goodbye” as the sort of minor courtesy you’d extend to a bore when you say you’ve had a pleasant evening. Mother’s response, by the way, was “Now you’ve come to visit I KNOW I must be dying”.
I think I like your sister.
Someone dear to me went to see his (horrible) mother in hospital just before she died and on the phone to me afterwards said “She’s not herself. She let me hold her hand”.
It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard – for both of them, but he was the one who didn’t deserve it.
LW, it’s a tough call. I have a messy family with abuse denial and divorce and faaaamily guilt etc. I try to be fair and kind because those qualities are in me despite my upbringing – which was cruel. My philosophy is to take very good care of myself when conflicts like this arise. I up the self care and minimise the communication with family until I can see clear. I seek out friends with healthy families to get perspective on my situation. I am a healthy, sane, kind person trying to do right by a family who are relatively ill and unkind. So my priority has to be me. I cannot expect my family to be fair. Time after time they prove that. It won’t change.
Inevitably, I come up against my wish that I had the sort of life where my relatives could be fair and kind. It’s painful but it’s there. In every choice (including death bed ones) I try to be gentle with that little girl I was who wished for a good family. She deserves my care and protection.
You deserved to be loved and cared for as did your mum. You deserve for your wider family to respect your wishes.
Yes, little you & all you hoped & grieve for.
resili0, that self awareness is refreshing & self care exceptionally hard won. Good for you. 💕
Sorry, I read this after I posted.
Great scripts, Cap.
Obviously the fam are aware of gran’s *evil 👿 as they are asking you to forgive her, for her sake. (Dissonance be damned, I hate being on the receiving end…)
Don’t be manipulated, silence is often the best response in grief situations. LW, do what you want for you & your mum when you’re comfortable.
I have a revolting gran, she hated my dad & therefore my siblings & I. I’m equally revolting in that I take delight in doing the right thing by her, when it fits my schedule to usurp her righteousness. My mum uses me as an excuse to avoid her obligation to her.
I admire your knowledge of & commitment to yourself & the kindness & understanding you’re offering to your extended family.
Well wishes for negotiating this situation, you matter.
Probably not a thing to do, but it might be helpful to think about how these presumably well-meaning relatives would react to being told “I kept calling for years after Grandma stopped calling me, and then I gave up on beating my head against the wall. I have never in my life ignored a call, letter, or card from her” or to being asked “Has she told you why she’s been ignoring me since I was a small child?”
Or “I know you mean well, but you don’t have to keep pressuring Grandma to call me. If she doesn’t want to, I am not going to push myself on her.” (I am about 99% sure that they haven’t said even suggested this once, much less pressured your grandmother to call, and reasonably sure that if you put it that way there’d be some sputtering or excuses for why they haven’t been saying “call your grandchild, haven’t you ignored them long enough?”
“Stop pressuring Grandma on my behalf” is a great script. It shows that Not Sorry isn’t angry and lets the relatives know that this is *their* hang-up.
“You don’t have to keep pressuring Grandma to call me” = star star star star star
Dear LWs, I too had an uncaring, distant grandmother who “loved” us but was not able to have any kind of meaningful, positive relationship with us or her child, so I understand that you can’t make affection grow in stony, unwatered soil.
Here is a way of thinking about things that has been useful to me, and I hope it will be useful to y’all as well: perhaps the thing to do is whatever makes y’all feel like the persons y’all are most proud to be.
Suppose y’all decide that you will look back and be content with your decision to avoid the grandmother’s sickbed, letting the relatives feel whatever feelings they need to feel, but knowing y’all demonstrated the ability to prioritize your mental well-being over doing something that would wound your heart.
Suppose y’all decide that you will look back and be content with your decision to make a ritual visit to the grandmother’s sickbed, allowing a sham reconciliation to take place in order to keep the family peace, knowing y’all demonstrated the ability to be kind to a dying woman who got more than she deserved from your visit.
I don’t value either of these stories above the other. Y’all are the ONLY ones able to decide which story you want to be a heroes of. But I assure you: y’all are the heroes either way.
Best of luck during this difficult time.
P.S. there is only one LW, “they/them” has been an acceptable singular pronoun for a few hundred years. (Though we should also be careful to not mis-singularize multiple systems, nothing in the LW’s letter indicates this is the case.)
Off topic question; does that mean that if I were to post openly as DID I would be accepted as multiple?
LW; do what you need to do for yourself. Team You will understand; the flying monkeys never will.
Off topic answer: you would certainly be accepted as multiple by me, and it looks like by Aris Merquoni too. I would hope by all the commenters here.
Thank you. That is a very rare attitude and I appreciate it very much. I am sure the others will as well.
If y’all identify as multiple I will do my absolute best to refer to y’all correctly. (I know that there’s not a complete overlap between dissociative identities and multiple systems, though my knowledge is secondhand at best. Mostly I just want to refer to people as they want to be referred to.)
Thank you. I appreciate your understanding. We vary from I to we. But mostly we hide because even this place has not been safe. Very few places are.
That was a MUCH better job of encapsulating what I was trying to say to the LW. Thanks! And I hope y’all manage to find an outlet for your concerns in a way that feels safe.
Completely by coincidence, MarkReads is currently reading a book called “Carpe Jugulum” by Terry Pratchett which features a woman (one of the main characters) with two distinct personalities. They have noticeably different opinions about everything.
I can’t comment about that book, but istm that accurate representations of being multiple are rare. Most of us, for example, share core values on most things (as far as I can tell, that is). Aiui, there is a core self which remains pretty well consistent, even though the different alters are not aware of one another, or of much else. I am not explaining this very well. What I mean is I don’t think there could be someone with one alter who is staunchly conservative and another very determinedly liberal, for example. But I may be wrong. There can certainly be one alter who wants to go out and walk in the sunshine, and another who wants to hide under the bedclothes; that is normal enough. And we are all very sensitive to language of ‘crazy’, ‘insane’, ‘paranoid’, ‘mental’ etc. Those words used casually hurt us like physical blows; they are unkind and they hurt.
All of which is far too much visibility for now, and being visible is dangerous. Off to hide for a few more weeks. >>>>
I’ve seen people use “we” and “us” in another forum and it’s very easy to get used to. Occasionally it can be ever so slightly confusing in certain topics (multiples versus siblings kind of thing) only if you don’t know context. But personally I think lots of things are confusing, and if you’re confused, either ask politely, or wait for more context.
You do what makes you comfortable, and everyone will adapt. EVERYONE gets to use the pronouns they are comfortable with.
//fanning embarrassed cheeks// Somehow despite years of reading this site I forgot the completely logical use of they/them as gender neutral singular pronouns and interpreted the LW as identifying as multiple.
I am (1) southern (manifestly) and (2) have two in-person friends with DID. One is fine with singular pronouns and the others prefer group pronouns. I studied linguistics at one point and am enamored of the southern plural second person, the “corporate you” or “collective you” that is found also in German, so it is actually my habit to ask my friend “how y’all doing today” and that apparently informed my mindset?
Dear SINGULAR LW: no offense was meant!
Well, it sounds like you have the getting plurals correct part of my comment already well in hand, I am sorry if I came off as presumptuous!
In your circumstances I would visit my grandmother if and only if it would make my mother happier.
From what you wrote, your mother doesn’t actually want you to make some grand gesture. So don’t.
That being said, I like the Captain’s scripts for talking to other relatives.
I’m sorry that your relatives are projecting their anxieties all over you.
Jedi hugs if you want them.
This is great advice from the Captain. I would also suggest keeping in mind that your relatives would have been upset even without your decision on this, because when a family member is dying there’s this grief and nervous energy that bubbles around the family – they want to do something to “fix” the situation, because it’s so hard to accept that death is imminent. Since they can’t heal Grandma from her illness, that energy kind of flails around and settles on whatever’s handy, things like “OMG, Grandma and LW just have to reconcile before it’s too late!!!” (when neither of you feels the urge to do so).
So if they lay a bunch of drama on you about it, keep in mind your decision didn’t cause their turmoil. That was already stirred up and looking for a place to land, most likely. As the Captain says, just matter-of-factly hand it back to them (“I understand you’re upset, but my decision is final and I don’t want to discuss it. Let’s talk about something else now.”)
This is tough stuff. Sending you peaceful thoughts!
If your grandmother ever wanted the support of you and your brother, she had the option to not ignore you; she also had the option to not abuse.her daughter, such that people who care about her (future spouse(s), child(ren), friends, etc.) would not have reason to dislike her. But she did those things and now faces entirely predictable consequences; I suggest letting the family members who actually like her provide any comfort she desires.
The Captain’s scripts for deflecting family members trying to insert themselves into that relationship all look great to me.
I’ve had to deal with a somewhat similar situation: my dad’s mother hated my mom and mostly ignored us, while she was kinder toward and more interested in my half-siblings (from my dad’s first marraige) and my cousins (to an extent – she was a pretty severe narcissist who didn’t do anything to manage the harmful iimpacts some of the symptoms can have, so she didn’t always treat even the people she liked well). She also had a somewhat slow death due to illmess. In my case, I just let the rest of the family deal how they wanted and stayed out of the whole affair, though I was younger and didn’t face the same kind of pressure for involvement. It hasn’t negatively impacted my relationships with my family, and I suspect the same may eventually be true for most (or all!) of the family in this case, given some time following grandma’s death. That said, the response to the cognitive dissonance CA notes could be an indicator of where things will eventually settle for each person; denial or apologetics for the abuse aren’t the best sign, though people can eventually come around even if they start there (consider situations where people who internalize sexist or racist views and might argue in defense of beloved people who behave in sexist/racist ways eventually learn better, which seems like a similar dynamic to me).
Oh, another comment reminded me that my mom and I (with my dad) wound up being socially pressured into doing most of the postmortem estate work for someone who disliked us and we disliked. I suggest a firm boundary around this; I was a child and was unable to assert this boundary effectively, and I still resent my family a bit for the coercion. A firm boundary now can make things better in the future by forestalling that kind of resentment (though it could also precipitate resentment for your pushier relatives, but being of the view that their feelings are theirs to manage, I suggest focusing on self-care).
“Her relationship has, frankly, never been that important to me. It has been important to my brother, he took the time to invite her to his high school graduation and graduation party. She never showed up and it broke his heart.”
I wonder if the same cousins who are pressuring LW to reconnect with grandma are also pressuring LW’s brother? Do they really think there’s going to be some sort of deathbed epiphany, with grandma all remorseful and sweeping them into her arms?
I think they don’t realize that the LW has good reasons for feeling the way they do, and the cousins expect LW to be the remorseful one, apologizing for all the years they “neglected” grandma before it’s too late to seek grandma’s forgiveness.
I think they know that Grandma ignored Not Sorry and their brother, but they think if Not Sorry comes to Grandma’s deathbed and Grandma weeps for all that lost time and Not Sorry weeps too and forgives her, then somehow the decades of neglect aren’t that bad. It’s similar to that letter a while back from the person whose husband was dying and had instructed them not to tell his horrible parents – the LW was wavering about whether or not to say something. Most people hate the idea of families being forever separated by death before they can reconcile. Most people who have good relationships with their family members don’t understand that sometimes there’s no mending that bond because there never was one in the first place. And this situation is particularly tricky for the cousins – their kind and loving Grandma is dying, but at the same time how could she never remember Not Sorry’s birthday? How could she never pick up the phone and call, even now when it’s almost too late? Deathbed reconciliation means they don’t have to think about that part of Grandma any more.
“…somehow the decades of neglect aren’t that bad”
Yes, this. It’s about image more than reality. They’re afraid that an outsider might judge the family if everyone doesn’t play along with the “let’s pretend we’re a happy close family” game.
Personal experience suggests that the outsider almost certainly *will* judge, but unless they ask questions they’re never going to know the facts anyway. I’ve reconciled myself to being permanently misunderstood; it can actually be quite liberating!
I have the suspicion that if LW is read as female, the family may be expecting them to do a gender performance of a dutiful granddaughter.
Now that you mention it, the whole situation reeks of gender performance, which is likely why a few people have had trouble remembering to use they/them. Those gender roles have such enormous power!
Yeah I was thinking that, too. This very much seems like something that would be expected of a female presenting or assigned female at birth child, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a misgendering going on within the family dynamics as well. Doesn’t seem so much that their brother (presumably male-presenting/AMAB) is expected to do similar making up things.
I think all these reasons are valid but I think so far LW has been quite snotty about this and making the reactions of the family centre around them -especially where the cousin was concerned. Their reasons for not wanting to reconcile with grandmother are reasonable but I think the social media post was insensitive when they would have known one side of the family that has been personally hurt by the news would read it. I feel like LW’s grandmother is a stranger, so they should treat her death like the death of a stranger – give your respects to the extended family if it’s brought up in conversation but don’t engage in any other way, don’t bow into pressure (in these situations I think it helps to just LIE to get out of going to the hospital/funeral/wake/her house, don’t suddenly turn the conversation into a fight by stating your reasons for not wanting to go when people are hurting anyway, just avoid avoid) but definitely DON’T ‘state your reasons’ to your mother when you know she’ll play messenger because that makes the family’s shared grieving experience all about you and your refusal to participate in it. The family will notice you weren’t there at hospital/funeral/wake/house but that conversation can be saved until well after your grandmother has actually passed, and your closer family won’t need convincing anyway.
I’m sorry? Are you seriously saying LW is being self centered… by writing into an advice site? Where they ask for advice for themselves?
Whereas your total stranger validation is somehow important?
It’s not the commentariat’s job to audit the LWs and decide how valid their feelings are, FFS WTF BBQ
I’m also really enjoying the always stellar advice of lying and avoidance.
And quite frankly, I think the extended family are being crappy about this, not the LW. The extended family are entitled to their hurt feelings but the LW isn’t entitled to theirs? The grandmother *estranged herself* from the LW and now, the LW is being put in this very awkward position of being expected to pretend that never happened (and have no feelings of their own about any of this) all so the extended family can live in a Happy Family Fantasy Land. What a fun double standard + victim blaming!
The GRANDMOTHER created this situation, not the LW. And LW is asking for constructive advice on how to navigate some pretty choppy family waters while being respectful of the grieving family. It sounds like sse is projecting something personal (and wildly irrelevant) on this situation.
Yeah, I don’t perceive any snottiness on the LW’s part either. They have asked for advice on how to be sensitive about their family’s feelings without having their boundaries trampled, that seems smart and legit to me.
As for the lying+avoidance technique… it has its place in certain situations. However, in this case, the LW is not turning anything into a fight, rather their family are deciding to fight about this with them. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to gently say “I won’t be visiting Grandmother, but I love you and want to be there for you. Could I give you a ride there/water your plants/have some groceries sent to you?”.
I’m not sure what LW has done that was ‘snotty’. They got some bad news, and posted briefly about it. They might be guilty of vaguebooking, but I don’t think that’s much of a sin.
LW, can you make peace for yourself by reframing your view of your grandmother from “grandmother” to “old lady that some people in my family know, but I haven’t had anything to do with since I was a little kid.” She’s as much a stranger to you as any other person your family might know but you don’t.
You probably don’t feel compelled to “reconcile” with every little old lady out there on her deathbed, so why must you reconcile with this particular little old lady? She’s a stranger, regardless of your blood relationship.
Any reconciliation you have would be not with this particular person – neither of you even know each other! – but with the concept of “grandmother.” To what purpose? It’s too late to have a relationship with her, even if you both wanted it, so what does it even mean to “reconcile” with someone you don’t even know?
Mourn the loss of the grandmother you deserved, but that loss is not the same as the passing of this woman called grandmother.
Take care of yourself.
The Cap’s advice is awesome as ever, but seems mostly from the perspective that that this is about LW visiting so they can offer their grandmother forgiveness. That would be the reasonable way around, obviously – but it strikes me the family expectations, and in particular grandma’s, are likely not to be as reasonable. The whole thing about expecting all the calling and effort to come from LW suggests to me that there is the possible underlying attitude that the problem here is LW’s lack of effort. They, and she, may be expecting LW to come visit not as an estranged adult come to offer reconciliation, but as a repentant child come to beg forgiveness. Turning up braced for one and being faced with the other would be a horrible experience, so I figured it was worth raising the possibility just in case you decide to go the route of contact – better to be braced for all eventualities, right?
Or, and possibly worse… all this desire and pressure for reconciliation may come from the family, and not from grandma at all. On the other end of this, she may also be going “uh, no, I have never contacted them because (whatever), stop” and they’re going “but oh wouldn’t it be LOVELY let’s just try to organise it they’ll both appreciate it in the end!!!” because, yeah, they’re engaging in magical thinking about Making Everything Be Okay. Can’t control the illness, can’t control the timeline, can’t get good hallmark-card moments out of any of that… it’s control and self-reassurance they’re seeking. But that doesn’t make it easier to handle, besides being on the watch for it so you can dodge like Neo.
Hang in there, LW. Rooting for ya.
Motto of Boy Scouts, singing lions, and villains everywhere. Should cover fiery family meetings from the cthonic depths of the earth too.
My father was married and divorced before he married my mother. His mother was never mean to my mother and my siblings and I, but she wasn’t kind either. She referred to my fathers first wife (a very nice woman!) as “my daughter in law” and refer to my mom as “my son’s wife”. She referred to the children that came from the first marriage as “my grandchildren” and to my siblings and I as “my son’s children”. My siblings and I always knew that she never really saw us with the same kind of grandmotherly affection with which she saw our half-siblings.
Fast forward to the summer before I got married. I hadn’t seen or spoken to my grandmother in almost 20 years. No reason other than I didn’t like being reminded that I was somehow less than as a grandchild. (Ex: she had framed 8X10 school photos displayed of all grandchildren excepting myself and my siblings…we were small wallet photos that weren’t even framed and often hidden behind other frames. My mother always sent her a wallet and an 8X10 every year so she had the option to include us.) My grandmother died. She was old and, from what I heard, had been ill. I was living several hundred miles away and opted not to make the return trip for the funeral as I would be making the return trip in less than a month for my wedding. Family members close to her reached out to me and told me I’d regret it. I don’t. They attempted to use their invitation to my wedding as leverage and promised not to attend if I didn’t go to the funeral. I told them that I would miss them on my big day. I sent a sympathy card and flowers and moved on.
LW, you’re doing the right thing. She had the power to continue the relationship while you were younger and she chose not to. Don’t let the “but Faaaaaaaammillly” chorus make you think you’re doing anything wrong here. I don’t regret not going to the funeral. I don’t miss my grandmother. I am sorry that my other relatives do in the same way I am sorry that other people I love have lost someone they love. I am sorry that some of my other relatives chose to break contact with me over this but to be honest I don’t miss them as much as I think they’d hoped I would. I had to do what was right for me. Do what’s right for you.
Sooner or later, someone will try to convince you to talk to her because “it’s now or never”. Please remember that “never” is just as valid a choice as “now”. It is sometimes a good choice. Only you can choose how you want to deal with this, no one gets to decide for you.
This is such a fantastic framing. “It’s now or never.” “OK, I choose never.” *splutter*
Along with the Cap’s excellent advice, you may want to spend a little time figuring out how to take care of yourself in the face of a serious blow-up. Like, at a family event Aunt Gladys gets all up in your grill to yell and yell and yell about what an ingrate you are. You already know how to give the disengaging answer (e.g., “I’m very sorry you feel that way,” followed by walking away), but what you might not expect how much that can hurt. What has helped me deal is remembering that that shit it all about them, not you. It’s like their own fucked-up way of grieving, to make themselves feel better by trashing you to your face. It can be difficult to remember that in the moment, but if you only remember not to engage, you can recall that later, when in a calmer space.
Good point. It seems the LW already experienced that with their cousin, but it never hurts to try and prepare yourself emotionally in case there are unexpected feelingstorms.
However, while it’s true that people shouting at you at funerals usually has more to do with their grief than with you, LW, let me just say that *you are no one’s emotional punching bag*. Grief or no grief, you are under 0 obligation to sit there and take someone’s shouts or rudeness. You have a right to protect yourself, end the conversation, and/or exit the room if needed.
Some scripts for that:
“If you’re not able to be civil to me, this conversation ends now”.
“If you shout at me one more time, I’m leaving”. (And then you leave the room, at least for 15 minutes, to take a breather, cry a bit, and/or speak to someone nice)
“Relative A is very upset right now, so it’s best if we don’t interact for a bit”.
“I’m upset too, Relative W, but that’s no reason to be so hurtful and rude”.
It may also be a good idea to schedule self-care activities before and after dealing with your relatives, so you can unwind a bit.
Re the Captain’s note that “it’s understandably painful for the rest of your family to think about the fact that the version of Grandma they know is different from the one you know” — I was on the other side of this equation in my dad’s family, as the favored granddaughter (due to my dad’s golden-boy status as oldest son) while one of my female cousins in particular (due to her mother’s estrangement from our grandmother) was on the outside looking in. If your cousins don’t understand this now, they someday will. I didn’t get it for a long time until a family get-together about 10 years after my grandmother’s death where, after one cocktail too many, all the anger came spilling out of my cousin — and a lot of nasty things were said about my grandmother. I went home in tears, but after a heart-to-heart with my mom, I grappled with what I had heard and, over time, accepted it. Sadly, my grandmother — though I loved her very much and certainly don’t think back now and love her less — DID play favorites with her kids and grandkids, and she DID sometimes let her anger get the better of her. In fact, as I was to learn later on, she let her anger get the better of her in one even more disturbing way that had longstanding ramifications for every one of us, and in a way, experiencing my cousin’s rage prepared me for learning that, too. So yes, it was painful, but in the long term it was stuff I needed to hear and couldn’t pretend not to hear.
gmg – that’s a good insight: I’m sorry it was painfully arrived-at for you. My family had a similar situation but a generation further back – my great-grandmother was the one who played favourites and she also had a couple of scapegoats she treated really badly, one of them my granny. The ripples from that kept travelling for years, in who sent who Christmas cards and who sat with who at funerals; but they have long since died down now. The more recent generations have enough distance that the favoured branches can see how horrible she was to some of her children and grandchildren, and we in the the unfavoured branches can see the damage she did to the favoured children too – one of my great-uncles, in particular, had a very unhappy adulthood trying to live up to her constant praise and scrutiny, while Granny and Great-Auntie K (the other scapegoat) had a great deal more freedom, and made happy lives for themselves away from her interference and blame.
LW, if there’s anything in my family history it might help you to know, maybe this will – where there are regrets, among my mother’s generation in particular, they seem to be more among the people who toed the “faaamily” line even when they didn’t altogether agree with it, than among those who held true to their own inner compass. To give the most tangible example, the ones who lugged The Family Piano from house to house even though they didn’t play it or want it, but had to keep it because it was a sign of Great-granny F’s love for her family (some of them), regret it much more than my Mum (on whom it was eventually dumped) regrets selling the damn thing when she had no more use for it
My father’s parents pretty much disowned us after his death, not that they had been warm and fuzzy beforehand. Nowadays I suspect that my mother and grandmother had some kind of conflict they were fighting behind the scenes, but at the time it was mystifying why my mother’s parents behaved like honorary extra parents and my dad’s parents (who lived closer) had all the time in the world for my dad’s sister’s children but none at all for their son or us. I was the eldest child, and not quite 11 at the time, so to say we didn’t understand why our dad’s parents were rejecting us is an understatement. (They also wrote us out of their wills and when my paternal grandfather died, closely consanguineous relations did not recognize us when we came to pay respects and tried to bar us from the funeral. We did not go to the graveside service. When my paternal grandmother died, we did not bother to attend any funeral-related activities.)
As children, we tried to reach out, and my dad’s parents weren’t interested. It is VERY possible my mother was not being upfront about WHY they were being such assholes, because my mom has serious issues herself, but we had no way to know. We sent letters, etc., and they weren’t interested in communicating. I stopped trying when I was college-age. I’m OK with it now.
As someone else noted, phone lines and roads and e-mails all go both ways, and the person living on borrowed time, barring an unforeseen accident or a lightning strike, is LW’s grandmother. If LW does not want to try once again to reach out to the grandmother, a gesture which might not even be wanted or appreciated, then I support them and their decision.
I agree with all the commenters who say the extended family want to make themselves feel better by having LW perform reconnection and forgiveness with the grandmother.
Unfortunately, our culture’s folk wisdom IS that LW will have regrets. This means the cousins could also have a bit of real altruism in trying to prevent those regrets… and many people think it’s just fine to pressure someone out of altruism. So LW has to fight back against (a) “everyone” believing that regrets are unavoidable here, and (b) the “altruistic” pressure, and (c) some possible self-doubts due to all this.
So hooray for all the commenters who create our own Awkward folk wisdom that is so much more sensible!
It reminds me of the culture’s assumption that all women who get their tubes tied will experience horrible guilt and regret afterward. In my observational sample of friends who were sharing their experiences real time, this folk wisdom is also bogus.
[ It’s enough to make me develop a blanket belief that all folk wisdom of this sort is automatically wrong. ]
First of all, I hate this obsession with “forgiveness” when the offender does not ask for it. Forgiveness should only be given when asked for, in a spirit of sincere repentance, and even then, one should have the option to not forgive. LW has no obligation to forgive grandma or to ask for reconciliation.
That said, can LW put a different spin on it? If some meddling relative wants to pressure LW into reaching out to grandma, can’t LW say “I haven’t heard from Grandma for such a long time, so I’m assuming that she does not want contact with me. She does not have much time left, and she should spend that time surrounded by the people whom she wants to see, which is not me. The kind thing to do, at this point, is to stay away.” That is, make it all about feeling compassion for grandma rather than feeling angry at the way she treated the LW – and then stand really firm on that boundary.
I like this script 🙂
I like this script 🙂 As a bonus, the LW’s relatives can’t counter this argument, because the LW is acting out of kindness for their grandmother.
Another possible version: “Thank you for your kind offer, but I’d rather not cause any undue stress to Grandmother on her last days”. Or maybe “I’m afraid that’s not a good idea, it would be unnecesarily upsetting for Grandmother”.
LW — My grandmother was a difficult woman. The kindest thing that her pastor, who had known her for 40 years, could think to say as her eulogy: “God put this woman on the earth as a *challenge* to the rest of us.” I have my suspicions as to why she was difficult but they aren’t relevant. She was … as nice to me as she could be. I wasn’t estranged like you are and I saw her every few years. However, I didn’t do the movie-script death-bed visit. Nor did I go to the funeral. It’s been 20 years and you know what? I’ve never felt even the smallest scrap of regret.
Now, I had the enormous advantage that no one, not even my mom, was pressuring me to engage in performative emotional labor on their behalf. And that’s totally what it looks to me like your cousins are doing. They have imagined a little ritual of reconciliation, complete with script, in which you debase yourself and thus absolve them of all the times they have looked the other way when your grandma was difficult. It’s work that you would be doing for them. Hell, defending yourself from them seems to me like work that you are doing for them — they have the little script in their heads: “We tried and tried to get LW to reconcile and they just wouldn’t do it.” Sigh. Mournful shake of the head. “Now Grandma is gone and they will have to live with that for the rest of their lives.”
It’s a tidy script and a neat trap. But let me be the Nth person to reassure you that you almost certainly won’t feel any regret.
Something you wrote there was very timely and powerful for me. Thank you.
LW, people have given you lots of good advice. I will give you a short storytime.
When I was getting married, the grandmother with whom I had a deep and loving relationship insisted that I invite the grandmother who hadn’t spoken to me since I was 9. I should have said no, or I should have lied and pretended I invited her when I didn’t. That grandmother showed up and was cruel to everyone in sight.
But what I am saying, LW, is that if it helps you to know that sometimes, even a polite fiction of reconciliation is a mistake, if that helps you hold the line against your cousins, you can have my story. Sometimes even the polite fiction is a mistake.
I’m a big confused by this letter but wondering if it has to do with brevity and context? LW, you don’t have to see, interact or foster relationships with anyone you don’t want to and you get to do whatever you need to organize your life that way. What confused me though was the discussion of forgiveness and reconciliation, because it’s not clear to me from the picture as it is here that there is a dispute? You and your grandmother have not been close, she was not attentive when you were a child (but also seems not irrelevant that coming over would have meant coming over to her adult child-of-her-abuse’s home and she may not have been welcome or invited there? Or to pursue a relationship with her adult child’s children against wishes/comfort of adult child? But your brother reached out to her so maybe this is not at play?). I’m just not clear what the conflict is or was, rather than just… a vacuum where a relationship might be. And you don’t have to fill it, but it might explain partly why the family is being pushy and boundary disrepecting here, unless something else is going on because they might not be aware the situation is ‘acrimonious’ as opposed to ‘neutral and not close’? I’m not super close to either of my grandmothers. They didn’t live close. We don’t talk much. They never came here and we mostly never went there. They’re very close to my cousins. The difference isn’t about anything in particular except distance and chance and probably some historical family dynamics that predate my birth. I feel neutral about it though, which means going to the funeral would be no big deal to me. Something is clearly very different for you, LW, it just wasn’t totally clear to me what that was from the letter, though like I say that might well be due to length restrictions. It just seems slightly relevant to figuring out what to do about the family pressure piece, if not the rest.
Captain, this letter hit really close to home. I’ve been a longtime lurker and I just wanted to say thank you for giving advice on this topic.
I’m not the letter writer, but I have grandparents who decided to not have a relationship with me, my brother, and my mom (daughter-in-law) very early on- when I was a little kid. To make matters worse, they’ve done their best to cover it up and save face with other relatives on that side of the family. They’ve even flatly denied their disinterest in a relationship with us to my dad, even though the evidence makes their feelings quite clear. Nothing ever, ever changes no matter how many times he confronts them.
As they age, I’ve grown to dread a situation like the letter writer is in with her family members. I now feel like I have scripts for when the time comes. I’m deeply relieved to accept that I don’t *need* to mend fences with a relation who’s been absent most of my life because they’re dying and because faaaaamily. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have set me free.
I was going to say, LW, if it was your mom asking you to try to reconcile with your grandmother, it might be worth it to go with her to the hospital one time to visit *because of the comfort that would give your mom*. But it doesn’t sound like she’s the one doing it. So yeah, uh. I’m sorry your family feels the need to police your behavior in a situation that…really isn’t their business.
This happened to me!! I distanced myself in my mid-teens from my grandmother after I heard about my mothers abuse and began seeing a pattern of different morality between my grandmother and I.
Didn’t speak to her for years. Tried to be distantly compassionate–if someone else brought up her cancer diagnosis–but did not reach out my grandmother my self. She passed without us ever reconciling AND I REGRET NOTHING.
I attended her funeral and even carried her coffin at the request of a deeply grieving uncle. I’m supportive of my mother as she always makes a point to have a private dinner to remember my grandmother on her birthday and Christmas. Otherwise I give her no though whatsoever. Very happy with my choice.
Best of luck. Good scrips above for dealing with the cousins.
(Okay, I promise that this is the last thing I’m going to say about this)
Hey, Captain, since there are a bunch of comments that have misgendered the LW in spite of them stating their pronouns first thing in their letter, could you maybe add a moderation note to future letters where the LW uses genderneutral pronouns reminding people that intentionally misgendering someone is Really Not Ok ’cause transphobia and nbphobia hurt people, please?
There’s a difference between misgendering someone because you don’t know which pronouns they use and disregarding their stated pronouns in favour of some others that you like better.
Particularly, when one disregards gender-neutral pronouns and instead decides to use gender-specific ones, one is reproducing a very hurtful violent behaviour that non-binary people have to put up with far too much as it is.
If it’s not clear yet: it hurts to read the LW being called “she” when they’re “they”. It hurts as much as a trans woman being called “he”. Please, a bit of help in making the comments safe to read for nb people would be much appreciated.
The letter hit home. I am dealing with the same thing LW, in almost the same way. My grandmother is an emotional manipulative alcoholic. My mother was her scapegoat and my uncle her golden child. She pitted my cousins and I against each other by saying that she bought things for some and not the other, when in reality she didn’t care about any of us. She truly believed and told my mother on a regular basis that my brother and I would grow up to be nothing but delinquents. I cut contact when I was 18 after she said some hurtful things about my dad. She never liked him. She has been on the decline for a while now so it is probably only a matter of time and the guilt tripping from my mother has ramped up “she ‘ your grandmother” “She is faaammmilly”. My mother puts up with the emotional abuse ex. being called stupid, useless, thief,, but that is her desire not mine. My mothers current mission is for my grandmother to met my daughter, it isn’t going to happen. She has other grandchildren and i am not driving a whole day to meet someone who treated me and currently treats my mother like crap. When she does eventually die (which i am convinced she is going to live forever cause she is just such a horrible person) I will go to her funeral to support my mom. My daughter and husband will not be in attendance.
LW Capitan’s advice is excellent and you are not alone in your situation. You don’t need to go to your grandmother’s bedside if you don’t want to and your extended family can just accept it or not. Your feelings are valid and you are allowed to stand up for them. Best of Luck, this is a hard situation to be in.
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