#1188: Grief and the empty chairs at the wedding feast.

Dear Captain Awkward,

After almost a year of planning, we’re in the home stretch before my wedding day in early May. Everything was lining up smoothly until I reached out for RSVPs that hadn’t been received yet, namely my stepdad, my aunt, and my grandmother (my dead mom’s sister and mother). These are my only family members from mom’s side of the family. And I was informed that none of the three are coming. My stepdad says he “doesn’t feel up to it” but honestly we’re not super close so I kind of get it; my aunt can’t afford it (no loss there, honestly, she’s a pain).

My grandmother at first said she can’t afford to come. When I offered to pay her way, it became “well I just cain’t (said in an East Texas drawl)”. I’m not proud of it but I was sobbing on the phone with her. She then wrote me a passive-aggressive letter, full of “I” statements, talking about how she has all these wonderful memories of going and doing things for and with me throughout my childhood. I’m glad for her to have those memories. Problem is, the memory I’m going to get to keep with me for the rest of my life is that she couldn’t be arsed to make an effort for me. I’m feeling really abandoned and very, very sad. Am I off base here? How do I let this go (short of going in to therapy for it – I already am looking for a new therapist after a little over a year out of therapy because of insurance reasons)? I also haven’t spoken to her since the phone call where I cried – she hasn’t called me, and I don’t know what I would say if I called her. After the letter, I’m not even convinced I want to talk to her.

I guess what I desire right now is to be told I’m not insane to be hurt by this, because past-trauma-brain is gaslighting me super hard right now and I’m tired of crying every time I think about it.

Fucking why.

Hi there! I didn’t plan it like this but it looks like we’re on a roll of talking about rituals and grief this month.

It’s not at all strange to me that the prospect of your wedding would bring grief along with it. Your mom is gone, it sounds like you really would have wanted her there, and it’s easy to see why you’d be upset at the absence of all the people who could represent your mom, people who miss her the way you do, people who might view the day as she would have viewed it, or at least be united with you in grief that she can’t be there. Ironically, the more happy the event, the more it’s about celebrating something, the more likely grief is to crash the party. Maybe the idea of ghosts first sprang from the divided vision of grieving people, the way we can both see the party as it’s happening and see the echoes of what the party should be like, our longing giving shape and color to the empty spaces where our loves should be.

Your mom won’t be at your wedding, and that sucks. Your grandma won’t be at your wedding, and that sucks. I think your grandmother’s answer is pretty clear (money was part but not all of the picture, which could have to do with age, health, the stress of travel, managing her own grief for your mom) so there’s no point in raising the issue again, but I’d advise you to tuck her letter away and revisit it a year from now when you’re not viewing it only as a catalog of excuses. Her memories of you as a child might be the best she can offer you right now. It doesn’t mean that her best is good enough, or that it’s what you need, or that you can’t feel angry and sad and abandoned, but I think it’s worth holding onto the document itself.

As for responding, you don’t have to call her or write back right now if you can’t bring yourself to do it, you’re busy planning a wedding! Alternately, a simple “Thanks for your letter, Grandma, I’m so sorry you can’t make it, we’ll be thinking of you!” written on a postcard and dropped in the mail might close the circuit if the prospect of leaving it open will eat away at you. Think also about sending her (and other absent family members) some of the photos after the wedding as a way of including her in your happiness and letting her know she was wanted and missed. Think of it as leaving a door ajar for the relationship to continue in the future – not because you owe her that but because it sounds like you do want her in your life – and try to let the rest go for now. You asked, she answered, invitations are not commands or contracts, there’s nothing else you can do. Sometimes that’s what we get, the knowledge that we did our best to include people and ask them for what we needed. It’s not enough when we wanted their wholehearted participation, but it’s not nothing, either if you can be gentle with yourself and honor yourself and your efforts.

Your next steps involve making space for your grief, whatever that looks like for you (therapy, journaling, writing letters you don’t send, building a giant Wicker Man and ritually burning it in the back yard, thinking of a way to honor and include your mom in your wedding day somehow, even if it’s tiny & secret & just for you though trust that there are many Pinteresting display ideas for honoring deceased relatives at weddings if that’s your interest). It’s okay to feel your feelings, including sad ones. Grief doesn’t happen on a set schedule or inside one defined period. There are going to be ghosts at your feast no matter what happens, maybe they’ll be friendlier if you invite them in and name them.

Your other next steps involve celebrating your wedding with your future spouse and the people who can come, the people who want to be there. Don’t ruin that day by making it all about the people who can’t or won’t show up.

Wishing you love, happiness, peace, cake (or pie, as you prefer) and good weather.


144 thoughts on “#1188: Grief and the empty chairs at the wedding feast.

  1. Oh LW, I’m so sorry.

    I’ve been in your shoes. My grandfather passed a few months before my wedding. Up until the day they would have left to drive up for it, my grandmother, uncle, aunt, and mom’s cousins all insisted they were gonna come, and then they just. . .didn’t show. But they did show up for my sister’s wedding later that year so . . .yeah. Whatevs.

    I’ve always had a rocky relationship with extended family (in part because my parents themselves are difficult to get along with and semi-estranged from most of their kin). Not showing up to my wedding was kind of the last straw for me, and I never forgave her.

    I don’t know if it helps any for you to hear this, a sort of Ghost from Christmas Future, but I have zero regrets. I married eleven years ago; Grandmother died seven years ago. After the wedding, our relationship turned into nothing more than exchanges of holiday greetings and banal pleasantries, and again, I have not regretted it. Not then, not later, not when I had the baby, not when we bought our house, not in a box or on a fox, I do not regret it Sam I am.

    1. After a month, I called my grandmother. She’s a bit of a narcissist, and I knew this, so I was prepared for the gaslighting that was going to come my way. I spoke my piece, and we’re at least on speaking terms – I’ve not heard a peep from my stepdad or my aunt. My baby sister is bringing me a ring from Mama’s jewelry box and it will be tied on my bouquet next to my granddaddy’s wedding ring that my grandmother gave me several years ago for the purpose. I’ve reached the point of “Do no harm but take no shit” with the entire thing – anybody who mistreats me before or during the wedding will not be informed of my name change or our new address when we move. I’m tired of placating these jerks.

      1. “Do no harm but take no shit” just might become my personal motto and/or a tattoo.
        Great attitude LW and best of luck.

  2. “I” statements are the opposite of passive-aggressive, aren’t they? They’re all about talking about your own experience, what you feel and what you’re going to do, things you can say with certainty. Passive-aggression is about creating uncomfortable implications to manipulate other people into doing what you want.

    1. I don’t think nitpicking the LW’s word choices is going to make her feel better. The context is that her grandmother won’t be at her wedding, and right now she sees the letter as a poor substitute.

      1. Thanks, Drew. We can’t see the letter, so I’m going to trust the LW’s read on it up to a point (that point is: I sense that the prospect of the Grandma’s absence is so upsetting that anything that isn’t ‘I am going to come to the wedding after all’ is upsetting to read, which is why I suggest holding onto it and revisiting it in the far future, when it’s not quite so fraught).

        As for whether something is or isn’t passive-aggressive, even if we could see the letter, there are families where “I’m so glad you wore that shirt, that’s my favorite color on you” can be wielded as a mortal insult, text vs. subtext, someone overhearing that without knowing the history would think it was perfectly fine but the intended target would know. It’s entirely possible that responding to an invitation to an event in 2019 with a bunch of anecdotes from 20+ years ago are sending a strong “Look at all the things I did for you when you were a child! (That’s still how I kinda see you!)(So you can’t expect me to do anything for you now!)” vibe.

        I would prefer not to moderate a continued discussion of what passive-aggression is and isn’t, people who want to continue this topic should consider starting a thread in the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com. Comments in this thread should be about trying to help the LW come to terms with trying to celebrate when something feels so awful. Thank you.

        1. There is very much a “look at what all I did for you, I’m blameless” vibe. I am holding on to the letter (along with the journal of memories and anecdotes that she did for me years ago) because this is context for our relationship and how it will be handled going forward. She’s not gonna be around forever, and I get that.

      2. It wasn’t my intention to nitpick. I think the distinction is important. Sometimes when you’re angry with someone, looking at their actions more charitably can give you a clearer idea of their motivations.

        1. Hi Twitchy, I get that you intended to be helpful, but without knowing what the actual “I” statements were and what the rest of the family history is like (i.e. subtext subtext subtext), this isn’t a useful distinction. Let’s end this sub-discussion please, thank you!

          1. Hi Twitchy, I’d strongly prefer to leave it in place. You’re not in trouble, you didn’t break any rules, I value your comments and like you a lot!

            However, from an overall community management standpoint, I’d rather have the “are you sure Grandma was actually being passive-aggressive?” comment discussion only once and hopefully this was the once! Thank you. 🙂

  3. Oh, LW: I want to hug you.

    I do however understand your grandmother’s point of view, more than perhaps I should. I’m probably not much older than your mother would have been – I turn 55 later this month – and there are times I wouldn’t have the energy to take the bus to the airport, let alone travel cross-country. If she’s 75 or 80 it may be that you’re asking far too much of her physically. You might see it as “not wanting to exert herself” but she might see it as “if I go to this wedding I could end up in a nursing home afterwards” or even “this might be the last thing I do; is my life worth this wedding?”. I would hope no bride or groom would answer the last question for an elderly relative as “yes”.

    I’m sure she’s not wealthy – travel is often out of the question for pensioners living on $20,000 a year – but she may also not be able to afford the energy, the time, or the effort. Even going out to buy a dress might be too much work!

    Could she simply have decided she’s not that into you? Possibly. Could she disapprove of your marriage, or of someone in the wedding party? Perhaps. But when you’re expecting someone to travel by air you have to ask yourself if they are able to – and when the person is over 65 you have to anticipate that the answer may be “no”.

    I also suspect – and I say this with compassion, because I see a lot of myself in you – that your sobbing and pleading probably hardened her heart against you more than you realize. She may have seen it as you wilfully refusing to understand that she was unable to attend, as you wilfully refusing to take “no” for an answer. She set a boundary and you responded with what might have been seen by her as emotional manipulation. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way but she may have seen it thus, and I hope you can accept that she might be wary of you for some time.

    1. I think you can also layer onto that how hard it is to outlive a child and the prospect of being unaccompanied at her granddaughter’s wedding.

      1. There have been lots of weddings & family events I couldn’t travel for. I had good reasons and the people who missed me had good reasons to be upset, same way some important people missed my wedding and I was sad about that. There can be truth at the bottom of “Well if it were truly important to you you’d find a way to be there!” for the person whose big day is being skipped, the same way there is a true “Well, with limited funds and limited time, you’re right, I chose to prioritize other things” at the bottom of the decision to skip. “Other things” could be paying rent, not getting stranded by a hurricane, health, etc. Sometimes there’s no way to meet in the middle of “I need you to be here” and “Sorry, I can’t.”

        In my experience the ties that have remained strong and positive after I missed something of theirs or they missed something of mine have never been decided on the merits of who had a good enough reason (to stay home, to feel slighted). It’s always been decided on, well, we couldn’t celebrate together on that day but we’re both here on this day (this phone call, this email, this text thread) so what do we do about that now? Do you like me/Do I like you? We see each other so rarely, time is so short and precious, once a sincere apology is offered (and the occasion is honored another way, with cards/gifts, for example), is it worth turning every visit into a re-litigation of the ones before?

        Grandma’s not coming, the LW can be very upset about that even if Grandma has excellent reasons. If there’s something to be rebuilt or salvaged here it won’t come between now and the wedding, and it won’t come from what the reasons were, it will most likely come from how they treat each other the next time they do interact, and the time after that.

        1. Cap, I’ve been hanging onto some angst about my own recent wedding (my deceased FIL’s family all skipped our wedding for a reunion on their mother’s side), and I think your second paragraph here is finally helping me let it go. Thank you, sincerely, for what you do.

          1. Super same, regarding my anger at a cousin who didn’t show up for my father’s funeral — it wasn’t that he wasn’t there (though that sucked), it was also his apparently lack of giving a shit or in any way reaching out or acting like he cared after the fact.

      2. Yes this, this would be a profoundly difficult thing for many people. I don’t know the LW’s grandmother of course, but many people in this circumstance, essentially alone in a happy wedding where your daughter is dead, would be thinking about whether they they can get through without “making a scene” sobbing brokenly at the wedding. Maybe the relationships are different here but I would think many people would have some of this in their minds.

    2. Charlene, said exactly what I came to say. My gram refused to be part of several of my momentous occassions and before I learned not to push so hard, she would often say something mean about me or the event. I later realized it wasn’t meant to be mean. What it actually was, was a cover-up of the truth. She was too old and tired to go to fancy events. Her face had becomed deformed due to some strokes and her looks made her ashamed to face old friends/family. It was all her insecurities about old age and nothing to do with me. So I agree – save the note and re-read it a few months after your wedding and you might read it all through different eyes.

      And yes, to enjoying your day with those who can be there. Surely someone will have something gracious to say about your mom’s memory. Embrace that! Dive headfirst into the hugs and tears of joy and the goofy picture taking and the beautiful toasts and don’t give a second thought to those who couldn’t/wouldn’t come!

      1. Yes, of course it hurts that your grandmother isn’t coming to your wedding, and it’s not insane for you to feel hurt, LW. But the important thing for you to realize is that this need not mean that your grandmother doesn’t love you and value you. Wedding attendance =/= Love. It doesn’t even equal “invested in your future.” Speaking as a long-married person, allow me to say that a wedding truly is just one day in your life, and while it’s hard to realize this now, it’s not even the most important day. It’s of great symbolic importance, of course, but…you have almost certainly had more important days already, and I can promise you that you will have far more important days in the future.

        I don’t at all want to minimize your feelings – not at all – but I also don’t want this lapse to color your entire wedding. And I also don’t want it to color your entire relationship with your grandmother post-wedding. Your grandmother is the same person she was before she told you she couldn’t/wouldn’t come. If she’s always been self-centered or otherwise not a nice person, she’s still that person. But if she loved and valued you before this, she still loves and values you now. So I think the captain’s idea of putting that letter aside and rereading it after the wedding when things are no longer so fraught is a good one.

        Someone whose grandparents didn’t come to her wedding (P.S.They did love me. They were just getting too old and tired to fly halfway across the country.)

      2. I do think there’s a difference between ‘this person does not show up for me’ and ‘this person does not show up for events’. Weddings are not the only day you can celebrate on, or grieve together and i think how grandma responds to LW personally going forward after the wedding is going to be more important than one day.
        It’s a shame if this makes the day harder for LW though.

    3. Co-signed 100%. My grandmother lived to be 87, and there was a point where she could no longer travel for Thanksgiving because, even though she didn’t have to drive, she would get leg cramps for several days after sitting in the car for too long. Add that factor to having virtually nobody as Team LW’s Grandmother in attendance (aunt/stepdad declined), and she would potentially have to risk severe physical discomfort/fatigue from traveling, only to grieve an event her daughter should be alive for… all by herself. As much as LW may think they’d be able to be attentive, chances are high that they are going to get caught up in other things (depending on her limits, she may be exhausted long before the DJ/band/laptop is done with its music- who would make sure she gets back to her hotel room?). And then, when it’s all over, LW’s grandmother has to travel and risk severe physical discomfort/fatigue again. While her grief may be a stronger motivator than potential physical pain, I strongly think it’s some combination of Column A and Column B, at varying ratios.

    4. I think that it’s understandable for the LW to feel sad and hurt and abandoned right now. It’s sounds like now’s the time to grieve for mom’s absence and to be disappointed that grandma won’t be there either. But while it’s reasonable to feel abandoned by grandma, it doesn’t follow that grandma has necessarily abandoned her. Just something to tuck away into a corner and revisit at a later time when everything isn’t so raw and the dust has settled.

      1. I agree with all of this. LW, it’s totally understandable that you feel hurt, and I definitely encourage you to be accepting of that feeling and to try to push it away or pretend it’s not hurtful. But something that has been a huge source of comfort for me in times like this is to say to myself “I don’t need to decide now.” You don’t need to figure out right now how you feel about this, what your relationship will look like, why exactly your grandmother isn’t coming…focus on yourself and your wedding, and you will naturally circle back to this when the time is right.

      2. Perhaps Mom was the tether to that side of the family and now she feels/realizes she’s lost much more than one person.
        On a completely pragmatic point perhaps Grandmother would have been able to travel accompanied by her daughter, the aunt, but it’s too uncomfortable/intimidating/difficult on her own. I know people who were included in the wedding invites because it was understood some older relatives would need an escort. That’s a whole other thing to take on and may have factored in here.
        I say simply acknowledge your grief, it’s valid and real, have a good nose running cry and enjoy the people who can come
        Best of luck!!

        1. That is not fair to Grandma, to make her the Last Woman Standing to represent an entire family. I understand the tendency to do that, but it’s not a role Grandma took on for herself.

          I understand, too, the heavy pressure to make weddings FAMILY EVENTS but some of us just don’t get to do that. If I were planning a wedding, I’d guess that very few of my extended family would come–it would be a lot of travel for all of them and they’re older, busy, their kids are enmeshed in school and obligations, etc., all kinds of very valid reasons.

      3. Oh, of course it is. Anyone would be upset. LW’s feelings are perfectly natural.

    5. My grandparents on my dad’s side didn’t come to my wedding. They were not in terrible health and had my aunt and others around to help them, and it was only a 3 hr drive or so. They certainly could have afforded it. They loved my husband. But they chose not to come. It hurt me, but I tried very hard to think of it from this point of view.

      That said I didn’t have attached grief to it, so I’m not directly comparing this to the LW. Just saying I sympathize.

    6. I am 75 and I am hoping that when my now very young granddaughter gets married if she does I will be able to travel to be there but I will probably be pushing 90 then. I think young people often underestimate how difficult travel can be for people as they age. Even though I travel now and would be there, it is a lot harder than even 10 years ago. And Grandma might not be in as good a shape as I am. Grandma might have continence problems that embarrass her or other similar embarrassing issues. That is very common for older women who have born children. She may have mobility issues or vision issues; my husband is younger than me but is close to blind and travel is a challenge. She may just get exhausted easily or be fearful about travel given her balance, mobility, energy levels etc. My daughter was very disappointed that her grandparents didn’t make her wedding, but they were both at an age when travel was very difficult for them. They had excuses like ‘can’t leave the dog’ but that was clearly not it; physically they were not up to it. She shared memories of you to tell you she loves you and thinks good thoughts of you but she still feels that she isn’t up to the travel and logistics involved. If you can accept that this might actually be so you can come to some peace with it.

    7. I actually talked to her recently, and she admitted that she didn’t handle delivering the news well at all- there was a lot of hemming and hawing, at first she tried to deflect and pretend like we had already talked about it (very much the “I don’t want to have this conversation” kind of thing). The money point is a straw-man – she offered to pay for my aunt to come when she realized how upset all of this was making me. And she even admitted that if my mother was alive, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because everything would be different.

      1. LW, I’m so glad to hear that you and she had a more recent conversation that appears to have made both of you feel better.

        I don’t know the situation, but I can imagine that perhaps being the only one from your missing mother’s side of the family attending the wedding might be hard for her in ways similar to, and different from, your sorrow of not having that side of the family there with you.

        It sounds like the pain of dealing with the empty spot where your mother should be might feel like too much for your grandmother, aunt and stepfather to face. I wish, for you, that they were willing and strong enough to face the pain, and show up for you as a sign of support. It’s not fair that their absence means more pain for you. {{{{{{{Hugs}}}}}}}, if they help.

        My grandmother and uncle didn’t come to my wedding to my first husband. My grandmother probably wasn’t physically up to it, but to be honest she and my uncle never really traveled north to visit our family, even when I was little. It was always us traveling to them. Looking back, I suspect anxiety issues at the base of their refusal to travel, but later on in life they traveled quite a bit so I’ll never really know. I chose not to take it personally, and instead focus on the people who were able to attend.

        On the wedding day, we had small corsages delivered to my grandmother and my fiance’s grandmother, to let them know we were thinking of them even though they couldn’t attend. She never mentioned it to me herself, but I heard later from family that it had meant a great deal to her to be thought of and included on that day.

        Perhaps you and your grandmother could exchange some token that lets each of you know that you are loved and that you both wish that she were there with you.

        1. “…that they were willing and strong enough to face the pain,…”

          This is a completely unfair thing to put on someone who has lost her child. It doesn’t even matter how old her child was when she died. It changes nothing about how a mother feels.

          Ask me how I know…

          To vilify, even unintentionally a mother for being not “strong” enough to just suck it up watching her dead child’s child get married is gross.

    8. Honestly this is what I was thinking regarding your first point about how hard it can be to travel as you get older. My own grandmother used to travel all the time but with how plane travel has changed over the past 10 years I don’t think she would be able to now. Things are loud and confusing and there are a lot of unspoken rules about TSA, how airports and flights work, ect and her health and hearing is not where it was. Obviously I don’t know LWs grandmother or her medical history but I know it can be hard for people to go out and try new things like that as they get older especially as they’re battling health problems, decreased mobility and energy, and potential hearing or vision loss.

    9. She may also have realized, from the perspective of a life lived long, that attending a wedding isn’t quite as meaningful or important as everybody makes it out to be.

      I wonder if that letter of memories was intended to say, “Please don’t think that my not coming means I don’t care about you. I have these wonderful memories. I hope they can be your memories too. And those memories are enough for me; I don’t need to create new ones at rituals populated with lots and lots of people, where I won’t actually get to SEE you or speak with you, because there will be friends, and the groom’s family…”

  4. LW you are in my thoughts and heart. I had a couple of thoughts as I read your post. You asked about your feelings and whether or not it was ” insane to be hurt like this.”. I have seen variations of this question on a multitude of advice columns. (I read more of these than is probably healthy.). 😉 My answer to your question is your feelings are amoral neither good or bad….they simply are a part of who you are. The problems come in how we as imperfect humans choose to respond to our feelings. I encourage you to be kind to yourself during this pre- wedding stress.

    Under the heading of how to include your Mother’s essence during the wedding. There are plenty of options which are only limited by imagination. I have seen brides with a “memorial table” honoring the loved one who is passed. Others would literally memorial candles, place a commemorative flower or flower arrangement of the deceased favorite blossoms. When DH and I got married at the dawn of recorded history, I used my beloved late grandmother’s antique wedding band. (These are a few suggestions for your wedding ceremony. ).

    I wish you Grace and peace during the wedding and onward throughout your marriage.

    1. I need to stop posting when I’m not wearing my glasses 😂. That was supposed to read “Others would light memorial candles….”

    2. On the subject of memorials – I attended a wedding where the groom’s best friend, who would have been best man, died shortly before the wedding. They left an empty chair for him at the table, with his hat (his job, which was a big part of his identity, involved a uniform) resting on the chair.

      1. I’ve been to weddings twice now where the best man had passed away prior to the ceremony – at both, the maid/matron of honor walked up the aisle alone and it was beautiful and allowed space for the grief of losing those two young men

      2. This happened at a wedding I was at, one of the bridesmaids had died very unexpectedly a few months before the wedding. The bride had the bridesmaids carry umbrellas up the aisle, and the solo groomsman carried the umbrella for the late bridesmaid, and at the reception her umbrella sat in a chair all night by itself. It now lives in the couple’s home.

    3. My mother died six months before I started dating my now-husband. At our service–after processing in with the big white dress/ and also the veil that my mom wore (or I’d never have considered it and I still can’t quite believe I did, which the minister pointed out to the guests’ delight) I stopped and put my bouquet on a stand in a vase and left it there for the rest of the service. It was what felt like the right way to honor my mom, without going full memorial table. I don’t think we said anything about it, I just paused on the way up the steps. It worked for me. May you find what works and feels right for you.

  5. I’m so sorry LW. I had several extended family members and one good friend decide not to attend my wedding. Like you I knew ahead of time that they wouldn’t be coming and there was a definite cloud hanging over the last few weeks before the wedding. I was sure that my day wouldn’t be as special without them there. The truth is, I didn’t miss them on the day of my wedding and not in a spiteful way, just in the way that the whole day was a wonderful blur where I got to marry the man I loved most in the world and it felt like it was a dream that he and I starred in. It’s been 16 years and I have to remind myself who was there and who wasn’t. I don’t regret that they didn’t come because my wedding wasn’t about them to begin with.
    Best wishes on your wedding! And because this is literally the only thing written in a card that day that I remember because it made me laugh, I’ll share it with you: May the only ups and downs in your marriage be between the sheets.

  6. LW, I feel for you. My dad died before I ever met my spouse, and we got married last year. It was heartbreaking at times to plan the parts of the wedding where our societal script has the bridelike person doing Emotional Things With Her Father (I would have dispensed with the “giving away/transfer of property” vibe either way, but I was close to Dad and probably would have had him walk me down the aisle and at least considered a father-daughter dance if he were alive). And to pile on, I was very low contact with my mother during the planning process for Reasons (ones that didn’t merit a disinvitation), so I also had Feelings about all of the Stuff the Bridelady Does With Her Mom to contend with. I can attest that, at least for me, none of the hurt of that planning process actually managed to ruin my wedding day, and I was able to focus on the people that *were* there and Spouse and the joy and relief of finally having the social and legal structures around us recognize the relationship we’d known we had for almost a decade.

    I think the Captain has good advice for you. If you’re looking for ideas to honor your mother in your wedding, here’s what we did: we had a moment of silence near the beginning of the ceremony. It was broadly worded but also called Dad out specifically, like “Please join me in a moment of silence as we reflect on those who couldn’t join us today, especially Agrajag’s father Dadsname”. And I stood up there and thought about Dad, but also my paternal grandfather (also dead), paternal grandmother (not able to travel even the 40 minutes to the wedding at her age), and godmother (unable to find alternate care for her mother, who is deep in dementia), all of whom would have been there if they could have and all of whom I love very much.

    Be kind to yourself, LW, and good planning vibes! Wedding planning is its own special kind of mixed-feelings stressball and I don’t know if anyone dodges it completely, even the ones that can afford a full-service wedding planner.

  7. I had a similar experience. My mom’s family was large and tight-knit, growing up I saw them all the time. I got married a few years after my mom died, and almost none of her family came (a surprising number of them didn’t RSVP). One aunt, who owns a flower shop, reached out and offered to do all the flowers…and then sent a terse email just a few weeks before the wedding that she wouldn’t be able to come, leaving me both sad and perplexed, and also scrambling to find a florist. It was my grandma I most wanted there, but she was nearing 90 and so it made sense that she wouldn’t travel halfway across the country.

    Fast forward: I found someone who went by the moniker Punk Rock Florist who did a great job at the last minute. I wore my mom’s pearls. I had fun at my wedding with my friends and other branches of my family. It’s maybe a little awkward when I see my mom’s family, but that’s possibly because I don’t reach out when I’m in my hometown so I see them at funerals. Maybe I should reach out more, take an adult role in the family, but maybe I don’t expect it to be as rewarding as I’d wish if I did reach out. Grief is probably part of the story about why they didn’t come, and why I don’t seek them out now. My dad’s brothers and sisters are the ones who talk to me about how much they miss my mom, and it’s not coincidental that they’re the ones I make an effort to spend time with.

  8. Our society really pushes the idea of weddings being a referendum on all our relationships, but if you put that aside, what is your relationship with your grandmother? Is it a good and caring one where you both try to be kind and generous wherever possible, and there’s just occasional things that don’t work out? Or is this wedding RSVP part of a longer history where you don’t really hear each other at crucial moments? Let the relationship be the referendum on the relationship. The wedding is about you and your spouse-to-be–the other celebrants, while important, are not the heart of the event.

    All the best to you, and congratulations.

    1. I love this comment. The thing about weddings is that they don’t change the people in your life or your relationships to them; weddings just shine a spotlight on what’s already there. I’ve known a lot of people upset at the way loved ones acted during wedding planning/celebrations, but usually they were really upset that their relationships weren’t what they wanted them to be, and the wedding meant they couldn’t ignore that.

    2. Cosigning on your grandmother *probably* is who she was, *probably* didn’t reveal a huge veil-tearing revelation. And LW you know her your whole life and probably still do.

      You asked if you’re insane to be feeling your feelings and no, absolutely not. My mother died not long ago in life terms and… no, not.

      You didn’t ask for teasing-apart of feelings so feel free to proceed no further. But if you want, I wondered if you know which feelings attach specifically to your grandmother and which to your mother and then fall by default on your grandmother.

      Do you like these mom’s-side people you invited, or is it how family roles are supposed to be played? (Note: any decent human being should RSVP as soon as is possible to a wedding invidamntation.) You grandmother sounded from description like the one you were personally more attached to (maybe it’s complicated, she may be something of a narcissist, but it’s not “oh, whatever, pfft”?) I guess, if the same person and relationship were your dad’s mom, would that be any different? How much of this is the one deepest wound bleeding on anyone?

      Do you think you have a relationship where, whatever might be going on (feelings or health or logistics or) that might make it hard for someone to attend, you would expect to be in on the embarrassing personal details, and this shakes that expectation?

  9. OP congratulations on your upcoming wedding! And I’m so sorry this has put a shadow on it for you.

    This may or may not be what’s going on with your grandma, but something about the older-Southern-lady thing sounds familiar.

    When I was expecting my first kid, I was super-enthusiastic to have my folks come and stay, meet the baby, offer moral support, maybe some rocking-the-baby time so I could sleep, etc.

    When my mom broke the news that she wasn’t coming, I was devastated. I had the sobbing phone call like you describe, and got the same type of evasive or nonsensical answers.

    It wasn’t until much later I found out that she & my dad had been actively hiding her health issues from me for years. Whenever I would visit, they would summon all their energy to put on a show of normality, and when I left, she would crash for weeks to recover.

    I thought she was pretty much okay for her age, but she just wasn’t trying to get out of her comfort zone. The idea that even meeting her grandbaby wasn’t worth it for her to be inconvenienced just gutted me.

    But it wasn’t about her comfort zone, that was ten years back. She didn’t leave her little path of known places because she couldn’t walk without holding onto furniture. She couldn’t move around more than a few minutes without needing a rest. When we were able to go down to see her, the pretense was blown. She acted like everything was fine, but she was so weak she couldn’t hold the baby. It was a shock.

    I certainly hope your grandmother is in fantastic shape and will enjoy her life for many years to come.

    But it’s really quite possible that when she says “can’t”, it’s literally true. Not won’t. Not can’t be bothered, but honestly cannot do it.

    I hope your day is wonderful and meaningful, and you can make peace with this and with your grandmother. It sounds like she’s very special to you, and from her letter, vice-versa.

    1. I thought of this possibility too. As soon as I read LW’s word “cain’t” I thought of my own Southern grandma. She would also be evasive about making plans as she got older and would say things like “Well, I just cain’t do that, honey, I don’t think.” And if pressed, she’d just repeat the same thing. She wouldn’t add details because she didn’t want to seem like she was whining, but a lot of the time the reasons included her poor health, my grandfather’s mental decline, and her lifelong deep anxiety around travel.

      LW has shared that their Grandma has narcissistic tendencies, which mine did not, so the situations may be very different. But I agree there’s at least a possibility that Grandma isn’t emotionally and/or physically up to the trip but can’t/won’t express that in a direct and helpful way, that she’s talking around it in that polite Southern lady way that can be so sweet but also SO maddening sometimes! If LW wants to give Grandma the benefit of the doubt (and, LW, you know your grandma and your family dynamic and we do not, so I’m not suggesting you have to! Just saying if you do decide to…) maybe LW could carry a token from Grandma at the wedding, or LW could send wedding photos/video to Grandma and they could have a nice phone chat afterward about the big day.

  10. Captain, thank you for all this lovely advice. I may be starting a non-fiction book soon on how to cope with grief. Would you mind if I cited you? Some of what you wrote above is just breathtakingly on point and compassionate and so very kind. I love it.

  11. “Maybe the idea of ghosts first sprang from the divided vision of grieving people, the way we can both see the party as it’s happening and see the echoes of what the party should be like, our longing giving shape and color to the empty spaces where our loves should be.”

    Wow, Captain, this is great.

  12. It’s okay to be hurt by the absence of your maternal relatives from your wedding. I’ve seen relatives of the bride and groom bail on weddings before (sometimes in a very dramatic fashion) and every single time, the person getting married was hurt. Relatives are expected to show up for each other’s weddings and it’s hurtful whenever someone seems to be choosing deliberately not to meet an expectation.

    Here’s my perspective as a third party: you and your partner are the most important people at your wedding. This wedding cannot happen without both of you and if one of you doesn’t show up, the wedding is cancelled. The second most important are the officiant and, depending on the locality, witness(es). The wedding can go on without them, but in general, someone has to fill those roles. Everyone else—your bridal party, parents, siblings, and BFFs—can go pound sand. No one else is going to notice or care that these relatives are missing and it certainly is not going to ruin the day itself. Celebrate with the people who turned up for you (chances are, there are going to be more of them than you’ll be able to talk to, anyway) and, like the Captain says, deal with the frayed relationships after the wedding, once things have settled down a bit.

  13. Weddings are such a blur, and if you try to talk with everyone you only have a few minutes with each person. Maybe a helpful reframing would be to plan a newlywed visit with your grandmother and spouse in the next year, so you have time to talk and look at pictures and reflect.
    I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    1. This is a great idea. No one came to my own wedding except our witnesses but I made sure to plan a special trip to see my grandmother with my husband post wedding. She appreciated it and especially appreciated that I made her a little photo album with pictures from our wedding so she could look at them and share with her friends

  14. I don’t know how the grandmother justified herself, how that conversation went, etc. Maybe the grandmother travels frequently and travel is no big deal for her. But travel for older folks can be a very big deal (not saying it is in this case).

    Right now my father won’t even think about traveling by himself, doesn’t matter for what. He would absolutely *have* to travel with someone else, and even then he might refuse because of concern relative to being away from his (many, many) doctors. It’s difficult to imagine what would cause him to pack a suitcase, in fact.

    My grandmother, on the other hand, when she was alive, had a go-for-it attitude, notwithstanding some material infirmities that left her in significant pain. She wanted to be involved, come what may. It kept her alive. But not everyone is like that, to say the least – growing old can be a scary experience for some. And even with her, in her last decade or so of coming to visit us (from outside the US), we always made sure to meet her when she first entered the US, because traveling within the US as an old person is not as easy as it is elsewhere (somehow, in the UK, for instance, society is naturally more solicitous of an older person – oh, hello dearie, can I get you a cup of tea? — that is just missing in the US).

    This may or may not be relevant to the LW.

    1. My grandmother on my Mom’s side was like that too…she was a hoot and always had a great time where ever she went. She was one of those German Grandmas that made great pie and smothered you in her bosom when she hugged you. She died when I was in college and I wish she could have played the accordion at my wedding and enjoyed a cold beer. I miss her more and more as I get older.

  15. “Maybe the idea of ghosts first sprang from the divided vision of grieving people, the way we can both see the party as it’s happening and see the echoes of what the party should be like, our longing giving shape and color to the empty spaces where our loves should be.”

    What a perfect and beautiful sentence, perfectly and beautifully expressed. Thanks, Cap.

  16. “Maybe the idea of ghosts first sprang from the divided vision of grieving people, the way we can both see the party as it’s happening and see the echoes of what the party should be like, our longing giving shape and color to the empty spaces where our loves should be.” A beautiful sentiment, beauttttttttifully written. A little poem, right smack in the middle of thoughtful advice. You’re a good one, JenniferP. The world is a better place for your words being in it.

  17. My vote is that it’s not at all unreasonable to be hurt by this. Skipping your wedding under these circumstances is a big deal. Even if it’s because she’s worried about money, or elder physical wear and tear, or turning into a werewolf, you’re still allowed to be upset. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this right now.

  18. I also lost my mother (relatively) young and grieve her absence at a lot of celebrations that I wish she could be part of. I am sorry for your pain LW. I think you should feel the fuck out of all your feelings and journal (or whatever) your anger and grief and disappointment.

    My advice going forward though? When this isn’t quite so raw, maybe go visit your grandma. Maybe with your new spouse. Maybe take her out for a slice of wedding cake, show her your wedding pictures and show her your ring (if you did rings) and tell her you wanted to include her in this way. Be as generous as you can in your assumptions about her and her reasons for not coming. Give her the gift of non-guilt. Assume that now it is your turn to take of her, all while knowing you have every right to your feelings about her not taking care of you.

    The usual way of things is that our older relatives do eventually need our care. Maybe she does not yet but if you love her, check it out for yourself. And even if after all that you find you still cannot respect the reasons she didn’t attend your wedding? You’ll know you tried.

  19. LW, of course you’re not wrong to feel sad, but since you ask how to let go of this, I hope that seeing it from your grandmother’s point of view might help. As well as the other potential reasons the Captain and other commenters have suggested as reasons why attending may be difficult for her, there’s also the fact that she would have to make the trip on her own, something older people often find especially daunting. I also agree with the advice to put the letter away for a while: I understand you’re reading it through the lens of your hurt right now, but my impression of it from what you describe is that she listened to and understood your pain and did something she thought would help. I’m so sorry people from your mother’s side won’t be there, but I hope you have a joyous day anyway.

  20. Just my two cents: I think it’s completely reasonable to be hurt and even a little mad that your grandmother won’t come to your wedding.

    Skipping the wedding of a close family member is big deal. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. And I understand that sometimes money, health, and age can prohibit people from traveling, but… “I just can’t” is a pretty crappy response.

    The least she could have done is say, “I’m so sorry, I’d love to be there but at my age, travel is just really, really tough. I hope you know I love you and I’m super disappointed that I won’t get to be at your wedding.”

    When I got married, there were a few people who didn’t come, didn’t RSVP, or were generally flaky about wedding events (shower, rehearsal, the wedding itself). I was surprised how hurt I was that they didn’t seem to care about how big of deal these events were to me.

    I decided to see their responses as data: information how much time and energy they were willing to invest in their relationship with me. And that data has been useful. My SIL didn’t RSVP to my wedding shower and didn’t send a gift, card, or so much as a text. When her baby shower rolled around, I sent a gift but put much effort in. Like the good Captain: sometimes the best strategy is to “do less” in relationships that aren’t fulfilling to you.

    1. Yeah, this is kind of where I am too. It doesn’t change the LW’s options of how to react, but if I knew my being at someone’s wedding meant that much to them, as a blood relative and as the only connection to the LW’s mother that the LW feels close to, I would definitely be writing a sweet letter about how sad I was that I couldn’t be there and how much I understood what it meant. If it was at all possible for me to be there, I’d be there. If it really wasn’t, for health reasons, I’d spell that out completely. No, it’s not required, but having that information can help ease the pain, and if I had to disappoint someone I deeply cared about that way, I’d want to ease the pain as much as I could.

      1. I wonder if Grandma might be more in need of kindness and pain easing than LW. LW is getting married, expects a new life with a loving partner ahead, apparently has a bunch of other nice people who will be at the wedding. If Grandma’s presence was considered vital, LW might have included her in the initial planning.

        But Grandma seems to be widowed or divorced, is towards the end of her life, has lost a child about whom this brings up all the feels, is totally unlikely to be in perfect strength and health for traveling comfortably, and may not know many people at the wedding besides the busy bride.

        LW saw her grandmother as a narcissistic, dissembling, manipulative person before the invitation. In light of that, LW’s reaction to Grandma’s reply seems like it has more to do with the past trauma and grief she mentions than with any kind words Grandma didn’t say (kind words in addition to writing a letter about how much she appreciates her memories of time spent with LW over the years).

        I really, really don’t think anybody with health reasons ought to “spell them out completely” when declining invitations to make the inviter feel better. That sounds like such a degrading thing to expect or offer.

        1. I guess it depends on your personal level of privacy around that sort of stuff. I have none and grew up in a family that had none, not in a negative way, but just in a very open way. So for me, letting people in on that kind of thing is part of what being very close to someone means.

    2. Respectfully, I don’t think it’s always helpful to look at non-attendance as data. For instance, I RSVP’d no to a family member’s wedding; I’m taking immunosuppressives and am simply too tired to travel or stay up past 9. I haven’t shared my health issues with this relative, and I love her! I’d go if I could but right now I can’t.

      LW, I encourage you to put the most generous possible spin on your grandmother’s actions. I know a few people are saying that she should have simply said traveling was hard or she was unable to do so for X reason, but sometimes it is very emotionally costly to admit to one’s own illnesses or infirmities. IlFor me, it’s a bit like admitting that I’m less than what I used to be, or should be.

      Weddings are such hugely emotional events. You wrote that you’ve been planning for a year, so I’d guess that over the course of the year, you’ve experienced many feelings about losing your mom. That’s really rough, and it’s hard to hit a milestone event that you would have wanted to share with her. It is perfectly understandable that you’re experiencing a sense of loss now that her family members have told you they won’t attend. But had they said they’d attend, you would probably still miss your mom? In other words, I wonder if it’s easier to focus your emotions on your relatives’ absence rather than on the most painful absence, your mom’s?

      Carolyn Hax said something really lovely in a recent online chat, about how her readers have no idea how well they know her mother, because her mother is a presence in so much of her advice to readers. I thought that was so beautiful—such a loving tribute to her late mother. Are there ways that you can include memories or favorite objects at your ceremony to remind yourself of your mother? Are there ways in which she already is present in choices you’ve made?

      Best wishes for your wedding!

      1. MF didn’t say non-attendance was the data, it was how they handled it that was the data, and her grandmother could have handled it better. I’m not particularly fond of the ‘most generous spin possible’ type of advice in general, because it far-too-often leads to unlikely scenarios being held up as a reason someone was wrong in feeling their feelings/drawing boundaries in response to those feelings, no matter how far the most generous spin might be from the truth. I’ve also noticed that this has a increased chance of happening when the feelings are around a wedding.

    3. It seems to me that we spend a lot of time on letters here talking about how “no” is a complete sentence, and how we don’t have to give reasons, and how sometimes other people see reasons as an opening for negotiation. Which, in fact, LW did with her grandmother, in a completely pure and loving way. But the grandmother DID give her an acceptable reason (“I can’t afford it”), and LW offered to “solve” the problem for her.

      The fact is, it can be hard for anyone, let alone an elderly person, to say, “I don’t want to come because I’m in poor health; I don’t want to come because I’ll be lonely; I don’t want to come because I won’t be looking my best; I don’t want to come because I’m bone-tired.” I don’t think it’s fair to put the burden on Grandma to decline the invitation with just the right words to be acceptable to the LW.

      1. Yes, exactly “I just can’t” is what we would recommend, right?, to mean “look, no, and please don’t negotiate around this any more” especially after a previous negotiable reason got negotiated at.

        Maybe there’s even something else that would manage to communicate I care about you + I have reasons please don’t work around them, but this stuff is hard and nobody’s perfect.

        1. I would hope we would encourage some kind words along with it, not because they are the bare minimum required but because kindness is a good thing.

          1. But kind words are different from reasons. I see a number of comments here suggesting that Grandma needed to give LW just the right “reasons” for not coming, and I don’t agree with that. “I love you so much and I wish I could come but I just can’t” is a loving thing to say, and I do think it ought to be accepted and not cross-examined.

          2. Respect is a good thing, too. As in, respecting someone’s no and allowing them their privacy even when profoundly disappointed.

            I keep thinking of how different the comments might be if a guy asked out a girl on a very nice date and she had private reasons for turning him down. So she delays giving an answer. She gives a reason or two that he finds flimsy. He offers to solve her objections with his money. He sobs on the phone to her. She admits she wasn’t terribly straightforward, offers appreciative memories about their past friendship, finally admits it has to do with grief over a great loss. He’s crying every time he thinks about it and writes in. Says in the comments that he always knew she was a bit of a narcissist and would gaslight him.

            I expect no one would say, “Yeah, you deserved more kindness when she declined your invitation!”

            It’s not a perfectly analogous situation, of course, but somehow it seems some people feel Grandmother has huge obligations here that I don’t see. Like she should come, but if she absolutely can’t, she better lay out the absolutely-can’t reasons to be judged for sincerity and validity, and if she can’t do that, she should at least soothe the bride’s disappointment by doing more than writing a memoir of happy memories and talking with her through sobbing disappointment.

            I don’t think anybody is obliged to travel to a wedding. I wouldn’t expect anyone to give reasons or reassurances when they decline an invitation. I think commenters might kindly advise the guy to not chase obviously reluctant people whom he considers to be narcissists and to rethink his sense of entitlement to other people’s presence and privacy?

          3. I think the difference is whether there’s a close relationship to start with. And maybe the LW’s relationship to the grandmother isn’t as close as she thought it was, which is information. But if someone truly dear to me – my husband, best friend, parents, niece – needed my presence, I would move heaven and earth to be there. And if I couldn’t, and maybe the LW’s grandmother really truly couldn’t, especially with the possibility of health and travel issues, I would explain why I couldn’t and express my grief and not being able to be there. Not because it’s something I would owe them, but because they are so important to me and I would want to ease their sadness any way I could. I wouldn’t do this for everyone, and I wouldn’t do it for everything the people closest to me might casually invite me to, but it’s definitely part of what it means to me to be very close to someone.

          4. @ Shifrah She didn’t do the loving ‘wishing you well from afar’ type thing though, what happened was she didn’t return the RSVP, was evasive when tracked down, eventually gave an answer and followed it up with a ‘look what I’ve done for you’ letter, which is where most of the problem is coming from.

      2. Agreed 100%. The grandmother can’t go, which isn’t evil in and of itself. Unfortunate, maybe, but it is what it is. (The LW’s hurt feeling are of course perfectly valid. Sometimes things just suck even in the absence of villainy.)

        The only thing in the grandmother’s behavior that earns a mild Hmm of disapproval from me is the not RSVPing. Having to hunt down an answer and then getting a no would have hurt me more than a proactive “I’m sorry I can’t be there.”
        (Stepdad and aunt should have RSVPed too of course.)

  21. “She then wrote me a passive-aggressive letter, full of “I” statements, talking about how she has all these wonderful memories of going and doing things for and with me throughout my childhood. I’m glad for her to have those memories. Problem is, the memory I’m going to get to keep with me for the rest of my life is that she couldn’t be arsed to make an effort for me.”

    LW, I’m going to assume you are around the average marrying age and therefore on the young side, and maybe haven’t had to opt out of a major life event for someone you cared about yet (wedding, graduation, birth, baptism, funeral, etc.). But the day will likely come when distance, finances, health, or fractured relationships will get in the way of you participating in someone else’s Important Life Event. Maybe if you think about what reaction you would hope for in that situation, it will help you view your grandmother’s RSVP with a little more compassionate distance? If someone you felt close to decided to hold your “no” RSVP as the only relationship memory of you that mattered, how would that feel? If you tried to tell them “but I value our long history together, here are examples” and they maintained that your inability to attend was all that mattered to them, what would your response to that be?

    One of my close relatives declined to attend my wedding because they were scheduled to move that weekend. At first I was really put off because I sent out save the dates well in advance of them scheduling their move. But I had to remind myself that they are the parent to three kids, one of whom has special needs, and were moving because they were getting divorced. It wasn’t about me, and I’m sure they already felt bad to miss my big day because of something as unfun as moving, and so I’m glad I just told them I’d miss them and didn’t put my disappointment on them. My wedding was the biggest thing in my life at the time, but it wasn’t in hers, nor should it have been. It was a tough pill to swallow at the time but I’m glad I didn’t let it damage how I felt about her or our relationship.

    1. Oh dear. I recently had to last-minute cancel my plans (and airline tickets) to attend a family lifecycle celebration due to a personal crisis. The personal crisis had to do with my ex doing a very unreasonable and malicious thing that made me feel like it it was a bad/unsafe time to leave the country—even for just a few days—and leave my children behind. However, in explaining to my (very beloved) relative why I couldn’t attend this event, I ended up disclosing a lot about my marriage/divorce that I would have preferred to keep private. That information then ended up becoming common knowledge among a lot of people I’d have preferred to keep it from.

      I wrestled with just leaving it at “sorry, wish I could come but can’t” but that felt cold given how much I truly wanted to be there. The thing is you usually don’t know the whole backstory. People just don’t usually say “I’m having trouble getting to the bathroom on time these days” or “my fear of flying is too out of control at the moment” or “my abusive spouse won’t let me and there will be hell to pay if I cross them.” The longer you live, the more of this you will see and experience. If you have compassion for all concerned, yourself included, you’ll have a happier life and it’ll be a gift to those around you.

      1. Yes, people often have reasons for not disclosing their reasons. Could be shame, could be reasonable concerns about privacy/gossip, could be secrets that aren’t theirs to tell.

    2. “The memory I’m going to get to keep with me for the rest of my life is that she couldn’t be arsed to arsed to make an effort for me.”

      Without discounting LW’s hurt feelings, which she is very much entitled to, this sentence was troubling to me too. I think to a great extent we have the option of choosing how we will react to something, and I wonder if this is the best choice, not just for compassion but for the LW’s emotional health going forward. So as an alternative to this, you can choose to assume Grandma is just too old/too tired/too emotionally fragile to be there, even though she would otherwise love to be, and you can choose to assume that pride or privacy or fear of breaking down is preventing her from being honest about these reasons. Making those assumptions is an act of generosity that you are extending to your grandmother, even if she doesn’t ever know that. And — and this is the important part — it doesn’t matter whether those assumptions are true or not. You make the assumptions out of love for her, and you don’t look to hard at whether they’re accurate. “I know my grandma loves me, so I know there must be good reason why she’s decided she can’t come” is a much better story to tell yourself than, “My grandma has decided she can’t come, and hasn’t come up with a reason I think is good enough, so she must not love me (or love me enough).”

      There are times when what one person wants/needs directly conflicts with what another person wants/needs, and disappointment by one party or the other (or both) is a natural and understandable reaction to that. But it’s also an opportunity to extend love and forgiveness to the party that has failed to be what you wanted/needed them to be. I encourage you to try to re-frame the issue in this way if you can, if for no other reason than that you deserve a happy wedding day. Making peace with this issue will help you to have that happy day while still thinking of your grandma with compassion and affection.

      1. This bothered me a lot, too, especially since the LW complained about her grandmother’s “letter full of ‘I’ statements”. The LW just wrote her own letter full of “I” statements! I understand that she feels let down, but the near-total absence of consideration for what might have prompted her relatives to decline is . . . odd, and not very mature. I guess I thought that either they were not that close any more, in which case declining the invitations shouldn’t have been that big a surprise, or they were, and the LW should have been able to see her grandma’s side of it, or at least love her enough to forgive it.

        1. “odd, and not very mature.”

          Can this not turn into an insult pile-on of LW? She, like 99% of the people who write in, is struggling and showing a lot of vulnerability in describing what her thoughts and feelings are like in this situation, and the letter doesn’t include any indication that she’s been cruel to her grandma. Is it necessary to shame her just to shame her? Unusual for this comment section, at the very least.

          1. Yes! I also want to point out that this conversation happened while LW was tracking down missing RSVPs. There’s a very easy way to decline a wedding invitation without giving an explanation if you don’t want to have a conversation about it: sending back your RSVP saying you can’t make it.

            (Much sympathy to you, LW–every wedding seems to come with a certain amount of RSVP drama and no amount of advanced planning will prevent it.)

  22. In terms of how to deal, the book Crucial Conversations has some really good advice about how to reframe and tell yourself a different story. It’s terrible advice for people dealing with abusers, but for people who are mostly well-meaning or who one doesn’t have to love with, it can be really helpful. If you can reframe the story so that it is about her health or her grief and not about you, as some folks are suggesting, it is just much easier to handle the situation. The tl:dr idea is that you come up with several different stories about what could be going on and then pick the one that is the nicest. (It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the gist, and again, not ideal for abusive situations.). Sometimes it takes work and sometimes deep down you don’t really believe it, but letting the good story be at the forefront of the brain just makes life easier. (Also sometimes at work I’ve been able to convince the person whose behavior triggered the event that they really did have the best story going on and that improves their behavior going forward.)

    1. Thank you for that caveat about this being “terrible advice for people dealing with abusers.” I wish books like that clarified this. I wish I had known this when I read them to try to deal with the abusive relationship I was on the target end of.

      1. I have been told that their most recent edition added that along with a caveat about workplace harassment and when to get HR involved, though the edition I read did not have it… it was very yes this is great advice for things straight white dudes are most likely to encounter.

        Still, the book is good overall. Their little verbal suggestions to make the other person feel safer really do work. When I teach a class with group projects I always make them read the appropriate sections of the book and it seems to help.

  23. It’s valid to want a loved one at your wedding, and valid to feel loss and pain that your grandmother will not be present. Let yourself grieve, and if anger is part of that grieving process, then let yourself be angry.

    However, before expressing that anger to your grandmother, it may help to consider some of the other possibilities, such as there could be reasons for her declining that are embarrassing or painful for her to talk about. People have already mentioned health. There could be a number of reasons that we can’t even imagine. For myself, I have had to opt out of situations where somebody was present who I could not be around due to trauma. It’s not always easy to explain such personal reasons, even to family, or *especially* with family. I’m not saying that your grandmother has this same exact issue. It could be something different that I have not thought of.

    And I want to acknowledge that it is possibly that your grandmother is refusing to attend for reasons that are unkind, such as holding an old grudge, but not being willing to speak about it. (You know the family situation better than I do.) And if that is the case, then it is truly unfortunate. If you believe that she is being passive aggressive in this way, then the best way to respond would be to not address anything other than what is spoken. Ignore any unspoken subtext you believe she is trying to convey. If you respond to her politely (even if not warmly), then that will thwart any intention to get a dig at you by not coming to your wedding.

    You don’t mention when your mother passed away, but was it recent? And even if it wasn’t recent, is the process of planning a wedding, bringing up some of that grief? The reason I ask is that grief can affect us all in different ways. Is it possible some of the intensity of this emotion is affected by that grief? And if that is the case, that doesn’t mean your feelings are less valid or that you don’t get to feel them. But one way to address this feeling (if grief for you mother is, in fact, an issue) would be to find ways remember your mother on this day. (Examples could be, using her favourite flowers, or giving a toast to her during dinner.)

    1. I hadn’t thought about that possibility until I read your comment, krysmagmailcom, but you are correct, it could be terrible grief over the death of the bride’s mother.

      There was a wedding in our extended family last summer, where one of the elderly guests kept on quietly crying, off and on. I introduced myself to that woman during one of her quiet, non-tearful moments. She was the groom’s father’s mother. The groom’s father had died suddenly a few months before the wedding – and this was the first time the groom’s grandmother had seen the groom since the day of his father’s funeral. She said to me that she knew she wasn’t supposed to cry at a wedding, after all she was happy her grandson was getting married, but she missed her own son so so much… (Listening to her say that almost made me want to cry, too, and I didn’t even know the groom’s father!)

      I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I agree that it is possible that the LW’s grandmother is suffering grief over the death of the LW’s mother. I surely can understand the LW being upset at her grandmother. If it is grief that’s keeping the grandmother away, I hope that the LW can grow to forgive the grandmother at some point in the future.

    2. Another thing about Grandma’s decision being influenced by the fact that your mom is gone:

      Your grandma would be the only person from her side of the family. No one to assist her should she need it; no one to chat with frequently; no one to introduce her to other people and facilitate conversations. You’re going to be WAY too busy.

    3. For myself, I have had to opt out of situations where somebody was present who I could not be around due to trauma.

      This, this, this. In that situation I sent my niece an email full of “I” statements and a card and a gift to the charity she’d specified. Maybe she sees me as passive-aggressive now! But I didn’t want to dump my miserable experiences onto her wedding day. Can’t be helped.

      LW, do you have time or money to get counselling? Might be worth considering.

  24. LW, I had a difficult grandmother growing up (not that I’m inferring that your relationship was difficult) who alienated a lot of her family as she aged. I’m still not over how she treated my mother (her DIL) and my dad. I think she would have liked to see me get married even though it would have been impossible for her to come. She would have made some excuse or said something mean about it so that I would be angry with her, because that was who she was. I don’t know why, but I think it was easier for her to know people were angry with her, rather than felt sorry for her. I hope that you can delight in the guests that attend your wedding and raise a glass to those who couldn’t make it.

  25. My grandma, at the end of her life, reached a point where she said, “I cain’t” (in that East Texas drawl) much more often than “Yes, I’ll be there.” And it was a lot of things – physical needs, reluctance to accept the help she would need – she accepted help from me graciously*, but not from other people – tiredness, just having a lack of energy. Finances became a worry as she reached her 90s in relatively good health and wasn’t sure if her savings would last her out another decade. And just the emotional burden of having lived to be in her 90s – she lost her son, wasn’t allowed to parent her children because of her sexuality, outlived all her siblings, lost her partner, and all the thousand other things that come from living a full and, yes, happy life.

    For my dad, a lot of this grief was shared – he hadn’t had her around as a kid, he’d lost his brother, he’d lost his extended family. For me, most of this grief was quite separate – I never knew my uncle, Grandma was always just Grandma, I’d only known her family/partner in the ‘grandparent’ stage of life, so I always known that they would pass while I was still young. It was very easy for me to meet Grandma where she was at, but very hard for my dad at times and I think that shared pain/grief and the competing needs that they had around it played into it a lot. Neither of them were wrong! There was just no right way to deal with it, and I think you and your grandma might be in the same boat here.

    *I am very, very good at offering help to my older relatives in a way that comes across as “I am offering this because you deserve to be treated with deferential respect, not because you need it.” I offer my arm as a show of respect, not because they’re unbalanced; I do chores because they have the right to expect my assistance when I’m visiting them, not because they can’t move like they used to.
    If there is someone like that in your family, you might ask them to have a gentle talk with Grandma to see if visiting becomes more feasible with their help – my mom often asked for my help with my grandparents because sometimes when I said, ‘hey can we do this together?’, they’d see it as both physically and emotionally easier and might change a ‘no’ to a ‘yes.’ But if there isn’t, or if you think it’s most likely to be too emotionally fraught to have a very gentle conversation, then that probably isn’t a great route to try.

  26. The hardest part of feelings is that they don’t care what our “logical” side yells at us (as though logic is the opposite of emotion, psh). They want to be heard and understood and FELT. And they really want an outlet up to and including expressing them full emotional vomit style at the person who is hurting us (whether intentionally or not). Your grandma doesn’t have to be wrong for you to be hurting. You don’t have to be wrong to move past it as best as you can.

    What if you gave yourself permission to have your feelings full stop without worrying about getting stuck in them? What if you loved yourself really hard right now and with so much compassion and gentleness? What if you looked in the mirror, an actual mirror, and said, “I am not crazy. I’m in pain. It won’t last forever. But it’s real and I’m sad and I need to cry about it.”

    It can be frightening to feel the pain and anger and grief. We worry that those feelings mean we’ll never get back to a happy relationship with the person who has hurt us. But you can only deal with the feelings moment by moment, knowing, even if you don’t believe it yet, that time is going to soften the edges.

  27. Okay, I seriously could have written this letter. I almost DID write this letter. I too am getting married early May of this year. My mom is also dead and I have 2 “mother stand-ins” from my family who aren’t coming (my fiance also has close family that are probably not coming). One of mine I understand, but the other I am incredibly hurt about. I’m not sure how long ago your mom died, but mine died when I was a preteen (I’m in my early 40s now so this was 3 decades ago) and my dad remarried 2 years later. My stepmother died last summer a month after we announced our engagement. It was a strained and difficult relationship, but she was around for a long time, and it was awful timing. (Plus we had a family crisis/scandal erupt a week ago and while I’m hopeful it will die down before the wedding, it won’t be gone entirely.) So while others are offering you sage advice from years later, I am feeling a similar pain right now and sending you Jedi hugs of solidarity.

    Here are some things I am finding helpful in making it through; use them if they help you too, ignore them if they don’t. First of all, I’m letting myself feel what I feel. A mix of hurt and anger about the “no” RSVP, grief about the crisis, joy at the “yes” RSVPs, whatever it might be; it’s okay. A wedding is a huge rite of passage, and unlike, say, being born or starting your period, it involves a lot of work (and money!) for months beforehand. Whatever you feel, it’s legit. I have also personally decided not to talk to my no RSVP again until after the wedding. YMMV, but for us it’s normal to go 2 months without talking, and I have a great excuse – wedding planning! That way I can decide how I feel about things after the biggest rush of emotions is over and we are properly married. I am also reminding myself that we need the two of us, an officiant, a marriage license, and at least 2 witnesses. As long as we have those things, at the end of the day we will be married and everything else is extra. (This doesn’t always help, but often.)

    I have leaned a lot on my Team Me. I have a lot of bridesmaids, and I decided that for me the name for a group of them is a Comfort of Bridesmaids, since they have given me so much support. There’s the one who can help find cheap, practical solutions to the seemingly unsolvable issues that come up. Or the one that will let me vent and pour out my heart and reassure me that I’m not being impossible. Or the one who takes me to see Marvel movies for a break (conveniently, one came out this month and another is coming out next month). And so on. This might not be exactly the way you can make it work, but do you have a Team You that you can lean on?

    Lastly, I’ve been trying to focus on the family my fiance and I are starting to build. Whether other family members come through for us or not, we at least have each other. We’ve been leaning on each other a lot and propping each other up. I’m excited about being legally related to him. I think it was the right choice. And I hope we can keep supporting each other for many years to come. I had considered giving up on finding a life partner, so am incredibly thankful we met.

    So there’s my two cents. I don’t know if it’s helpful or not, and you can feel free to ignore as needed, but I hope that at least sparks some ideas for what might help. Nothing will make it completely better, nor make your mom be alive again for the wedding, or bring other family members that decided not to come, but I hope you still have a wonderful day.

    1. (On a lighter note, I just reread the thread about getting married in thirty days and confirmed that my fiancé has no deep-seated need to be pelted with grain. We both laughed almost to tears. Thanks, Captain!)

  28. “There are going to be ghosts at your feast no matter what happens, maybe they’ll be friendlier if you invite them in and name them.”

    I think this is right. It sounds to me like you are grieving for your mother right now. Maybe you are “still” grieving if she passed away recently, or maybe the wedding has stirred up a new side of an old grief. I hope that you can honor your grief without letting it distance you from your current happiness.

    For me, incorporating the memorial ceremonies of my faith tradition has given me a good structure for that. I’m not really a practicing member of my faith tradition, but it gives me a familiar form to work in. I light a candle, I say a prayer, and then I do some small pleasant things that my loved one and I used to do together. I don’t do this necessarily on a schedule, but more when there’s a special life event that I want to “invite” my “ghost” to.

    From a mother who is not your mother, I wish you much joy on your wedding day, and much love in your marriage.

  29. my cousin married an evangelical who suppressed contact with those not part of their church. she didn’t come to my father’s 80th birthday because “her daughter had a horse show” (the husband came with her mother), her aunt’s daughter told us how she and her husband made plans to visit midweek when they were in the area: 10 minutes after they arrived E commanded “S, CHURCH” and they left., when the aunt died neither cousin nor her mother(who was the aunt’s brother’s widow) showed up at the funeral ;AFAIK there were no health issues preventing them.

    LW, could there be similar issues here?

  30. So. I have a lot of family members (on my darkest days, I suspect this group constitutes most if not all of my family members) who keep me in their lives only because faaaamily. They might love me, but I get the feeling they don’t particularly like me; I’m included when it’s expected and traditional to do so, but not otherwise. It’s a hard, cold, sucky feeling.

    As for why I keep emotionally investing in these people anyway, the fact is they’re all I’ve got. I haven’t had much success in making friends, certainly not of the sort who I’d be able to call a ‘chosen family’, and if I didn’t have even these perfunctory, obligation-driven connections, I’d feel lonelier than I do already.

    Hopefully in the case of your life, this kind of feeling is limited to this particular branch of your bio-family (you’re getting married (congrats by the way!), so your somebody-in-my-corner count is already at least 1 higher than I can claim). Which might make following the advice I consider standard operating procedure a bit easier: manage expectations.

    If what she can give you consistently falls short of what you need, you’ll be stuck deciding whether that’s better than nothing or just an unpleasant reminder of what you wish your relationship were like. It’s not a fun choice to make, but hopefully realizing that you *do* have a choice brings you some peace.

    (All of which you can absolutely disregard if you *do* typically have a close relationship with her; many other posters have suggested physical or emotional reasons why she just might not be able to be there for you this time. But I figured I’d offer this perspective in case this isn’t the only time you’ve felt less-than where she’s concerned.)

  31. I am 62 and not in the best of health. I hang out with many people, friends and family, who are older than this. As people get older, their capacity to cope with events and with other people may well diminish. If someone, even a someone very dear to me, asked me to get on a plane to go to a wedding, I would not be able to give an enthusiastic ‘yes’. And that’s at my comparatively not-terribly-old age. For a lot of the people I know who are older and more infirm than I am, it would have to be a definite ‘no’.

    The ‘no’ in such cases is not an excuse, it’s a good reason. It may even be that the older person is establishing a boundary here: ‘whatever our relationship has been in the past and may be in the future, I just can’t get on that plane to come and be exhausted and unhappy at your big event or any other big event’.

    I realise that this decision is tough when you’re on the receiving end of it, and when you’re in the grip of wedding organisation fever. For every tough interpersonal decision there’s someone on the other end who is maybe going to feel pissed off. And in your case, it’s magnified because of grief. So, I really do get this. However, I’ve seen people go apeshit over weddings, because they’re in that zone and they feel that anything, big or small, that goes wrong with the planning is going to ruin the day irrevocably. But in the whirl of the day itself, as noted by some of the commenters here, you’re just so elated to have got to the day, and to be getting married to the person you love best, that all the imperfections fall away. In this elation and joy, it may be you’re not going to even notice much who turned up and who didn’t. If grandma had got on the plane from Texas she might be standing in the crowd inwardly cursing her best shoes which are now too tight, the prospect of getting through a social event with a lot of people she doesn’t know or care about and wondering how soon she can decently leave.

    The advice here is really good. Don’t burn any bridges that would imperil a future relationship with grandma.

    1. I do think this is likely. I was lucky enough to have both my grandmothers at my wedding – they both lived within a mile of the wedding venue, even – but one was too tired and infirm to come to the ceremony on the day and just attended the reception, and the other ended up having a fall and had to go home, which I felt dreadful about. Being driven ten minutes to the wedding, sitting on a chair eating sandwiches and being driven ten minutes back was exhausting. If they had needed to make a long journey, maybe a plane, a hotel room etc., then realistically I might as well have been getting married on the moon.

  32. Sometimes people make weddings the be all of family interacting. Thinking back at my own wedding ( which several family members had to travel a good distance for), some people we weren’t close to came, and others that I really wanted to share the day with did not come. Sometimes, it is about traveling to an emotional event, when you rarely leave your own town, spending time with many people you don’t really know, not having a pretty dress, not feeling like you have done enough with your life and all these people are going to be at your Granddaughter’s wedding judging you. Do you visit your Grandmother at other times of the year, does she visit you? My brother and his new wife (gosh over 40 years ago now) worked a visit to my grandmother into their honeymoon. Sometimes it is just really difficult to attend an important event, especially without the emotional support of her daughter to lean on.

  33. I am a grandma and I am tired. My son wants me to do a lot of things with him and his child and I love them and they are awesome but sometimes he just asks too much. We had a similar argument where he probably thinks I’m being selfish. From my perspective I’m trying to remind him of all that I do for him and all the other stuff I am responsible for. He would probably think I’m saying a lot of “I” statements but that’s because I’m trying not to say “YOU are asking too much!”

    LW I really feel for your grandmother, it sounds like she really tried to be there for you when you were younger and I’m sorry that you will only retain one memory of her from now on. I would be devastated if I had tried to be a good grandma for years and turning down one request eliminated all that. It sounds like she was trying to explain herself, I’m sorry that it didn’t reach you.

    One more perspective from an old person: we have lived long enough to know that weddings are kind of overrated. The wedding is not nearly as important as the marriage. And from a guest’s perspective, weddings are tiring without a lot of reward. There’s travel, expense, the boredom of sitting around, having to eat road food, loneliness of being around strangers, etc. She might anticipate that you would have a small amount of attention to give her on the day, so that her presence is more or less symbolic while she has real feelings and real struggles.

    I agree with the advice to set this aside and look at it again later, because right now from my perspective you are being a little unfair, and I feel sorry for your grandmother.

    1. Weddings may be overrated for *YOU*, the guest, but for the couple getting married, it’s a day to make lifelong memories. (I’ve been married for six years, but my memories of my wedding day are still very special to me.)

      That doesn’t mean you have to attend every wedding you’re invited to. But it does mean that when you decline an invitation, you should keep in mind how important the occasion is for the couple and you should try to be sensitive to their feelings. Telling your grandchild, “I just can’t attend your wedding,” or “Your wedding is not nearly as important as your marriage” is not going to cut it if you want to foster a warm relationship.

      1. I’ve been married for 28 years, and my memories of my wedding day are pretty blurry. I remember that I was so touched my elderly grandparents were there, but I really didn’t get to see much of them–it was a busy day!

        So if I were invited to the wedding of a beloved niece of granddaughter, and I felt I couldn’t go, I’d try to make my “no” be full of fondness, but I wouldn’t feel that bad about not showing up.

        I would expect that I would have future opportunities to demonstrate that I love them.
        I might write them a letter with stories about the fun memories I have of them from when they were little and we were closer.

      2. Counterpoint, at least half the weddings I’ve been to were structured around the dreams of the happy couple while neglecting the comfort and enjoyment of guests to some degree, because it’s really expensive and hard to do both. I’m talking not having enough seating or food for everyone, locations that were inaccessible to anyone with mobility challenges, one bathroom for 100 guests, outdoor weddings with no protection from the elements, etc. Most non-professionally planned weddings will have some issue because it’s usually the biggest party the happy couple has ever had to plan and rarely do amateurs nail it on the first try.

        I’m sure after seeing this play out dozens of times it does eventually dampen enthusiasm for attending. I say this as a person who has had fun at every wedding I’ve attended, including the one where there was almost a mutiny against the bride because she was threatening to move the whole thing indoors, after it had all been set up outdoors by a team of 10 people for 6+ hours. Maybe Grandma just can’t face another plate of bland chicken served at 9 PM, or traveling by train, plane, and automobile to another mountaintop ceremony where it is windy and 50 degrees. That doesn’t mean that she should be barred from having a warm relationship with the LW.

      3. I didn’t think moss was suggesting anyone actually say to a person getting married that weddings are overrated in comparison to the marriage! Just that this might be in the background of someone’s thoughts when declining an invitation.

        Of course a wedding is important. But it’s most important to the people getting married, as it should be. I’ve been married 19 years and my wedding day has receded in importance as we’ve made new, shared memories with each other. That included taking my husband to meet my last living grandparent, who couldn’t make my wedding because her visa application was rejected.

        (Okay, I do still resent the US government for that decision…)

        LW, my husband, grandmother and I got more value out of that visit than we would have gotten out of her attendance at the wedding, because it was low-key time we spent unhurriedly with her, on her turf. Perhaps you and your spouse could plan a post-wedding visit to your grandmother?

    2. LW accepted her stepdad’s “not feeling up to it”, I bet she would have accepted “I don’t have the energy to travel and attend a wedding” from her grandmother, even if she still felt sad about it. I don’t see why she wouldn’t have said that instead of “I just can’t” if that’s the only problem.

      A list of all the times LW’s grandmother spent with her isn’t the same as an explanation for why she isn’t going to be at the wedding, which is what the LW wanted. I don’t think it’s unfair for the LW to be upset that her grandmother isn’t coming for seemingly no reason.

    3. I love this comment that really articulates how the grandmother might be feeling about all of this. I completely understand how hard it is when your “I can’t do this” is misinterpreted as “I don’t love you enough to do this.”

  34. I feel you, LW! My grandmother ultimately did end up coming to my wedding, but she spent the six months leading up to it warning me at every opportunity that she probably wouldn’t. The wedding was in March in the midwest and she said she was worried about the weather. It was a lot more hurtful than she probably realized – she wasn’t going to be the one driving anyways, so it was like really, if there’s snow on the ground you won’t even put on a dress and get in a car to celebrate my wedding? She’s in good health but increasingly anxious as she gets older so I’m sure there was more to it than that, but pinning it on a flimsy excuse was hurtful. My family doesn’t talk about feelings, though, so I don’t know why I expected more.

  35. If you don’t want to reach out at all and consider this relationship closed, ignore all of the following advice.

    Would it be feasible to offer to set up a livestream of your wedding so Gma can watch the ceremony and toasts (assuming a traditional event where those things happen, and assuming you would be ok with streaming it to your Gma in the first place)? Is there someone on her end that could set up a computer to watch?

    I can’t tell from your letter if you would be happy if Gma changed her mind and said yes, in which case this sort of effort might be a middle ground for her to be virtually present live. There are generational differences in technology and she might not even know this is an option. I’ve been the remote party helping elders watch live events and facetime and their face afterwards is almost always amazed at ‘technology these days’.

  36. LW, the other thing to think about is, if your grandmother DID end up making the trip and coming, how much time would you spend with her? Would you sit next to her at dinner or get her out on the dancefloor? Would you go dress shopping with her? Would you have more than 30 straight minutes to spend by her side? Weddings are not intimate affairs, for the most part; the people we want in the room often end up as a blur of bodies and well-wishes. It will probably be more meaningful to both her and you to visit before or after the fact, to tell her the stories about the day, and to show her the photos. She does not have to perform her grandmotherly duties in person, on the day, in order for them to count. And if you are still feeling hurt about it, then by all means talk about it! Tell her you wished she could have been there. At the wedding, make a toast to the relatives who couldn’t be there, due to time/age/distance/death. Ask her if there is another way to include her in the event, if not in person.

  37. LW — I am so, so sorry this has happened to you. I had very similar things happen to me, twice (both times, it was the person I had thought I was closest to on my mother’s side). One time was a no-show; the second and more important time, the person came but didn’t really care about the event.

    Both times, an older female friend gave me the chance to be held and soothed while I sobbed out my disappointment. Both times, this helped more than I would have believed. You have every right to feel disappointed; the absence is a loss. It’s okay to grieve it as a genuine loss.

    I wish you all the best, and I hope your own Team You is there for you. Have a lovely wedding and an even lovelier married life.

  38. I couldn’t attend my sister’s wedding several states away. She had a camera set up Skyping the whole thing (better options now) and I virtually attended from my living room. Obviously needs tech on both ends and might not work for Grandma but it was a great idea that I think more people could use.

  39. Some folks are suggesting that grandma should have given a better answer than “I can’t”, and are suggesting possible things she should have said. I don’t think there’s anything she could have said.

    LW was very upset, for very legit adult reasons: grief, the hefted up symbolism of a wedding, a long family history, I’m sure. I have seen, in my long career teaching, lots of folks try to give “reasons” to upset teens. (I do it myself. It’s so tempting…) We interact with upset teens from the position of “If I can just convince this upset person that my boundary has a legit reason, that person will stop being upset with my boundary.” I have rarely or ever seen it work.

    Upset brains don’t really listen to reason. Upset brains are agitated, and don’t settle with logical argument. Upset brains often use debate to only further build the case for being upset. if Grandma had fifty things that made travel difficult, an upset brain would find fifty holes in those arguments.

    Captain was very wise to suggest that LW put the letter away for later. Upset brains do respond, sometimes to a pause and a break.

    1. “I don’t think there’s anything she could have said”
      Letter writer accepted her stepdad’s “Not up to it” response fine, and per the update the grandmother said she’d handled it badly, so maybe cut this LW some slack before saying she can’t hear a logical argument?

      1. I don’t mean any insult to LW, or to suggest that there’s anything wrong with her in any way. If a person, in general, can’t hear a logical argument, ever, they have a challenge to work through. If a person doesn’t logic well when they’re crying or otherwise emotionally agitated, they have a human brain, doing what human brains do. I learned not to “logic” the emotional brain for teens, but I found it very freeing for myself, to be able to walk away from conversations where folks were trying to logic me out of my legitimate strong feelings. LW doesn’t have to have some debate with her grandmother, where they establish, once and for all, who’s right. She can just grieve the thing she really, really wanted, with good reason.

        1. I actually agree with you, Jen, I think OP acknowledges in their letter that they’re coming from an emotionally hurt space of feeling abandoned / orphaned / unloved, which is primal inner child stuff, and I think their response needs to be an emotionally compassionate one, not a logic based “I understand because of reasons X and Y and am no longer upset.”

          1. It’s one thing not to be able to make it to a significant event. It’s quite another for all three of LW’s maternal relatives not to respond. Regardless of their reasons, the way to decline is to express love, regret and profound well wishes. With this offhand behaviour I’d be hurt too.

        2. I have no wish to logic her out of her feelings either, which is why I got to writing the first reply with my shoulders round my ears from all the ‘put yourself in her shoes’ comments and might have been a bit harsh, so sorry for that. I do take issue with the implicit removal of responsibility from the grandmother (who I had seen above had admitted she had miss-stepped) from having handled it better (or returned her RSVP card on time), by saying nothing could have worked.
          I still see it as unfair to view her as incapable of respecting legitimate reasons (the poking holes bit) while upset, as those things aren’t the same thing. Also, saying the thing that was true for teens being also useful for adults would have been good in the first post, as without it it did sound patronising.

        3. Yep. It can be simultaneously the case that grandmother did what she had to do and was justified (how often do we say that you can say ‘I can’t, I’m sorry’ without an excuse, here?), and that LW can be upset about it. It’s the flip side of “No is a complete sentence”–the person you are no-ing gets to be upset about it and it might damage your relationship.

          There’s no magic way to ask things of people such that they won’t possibly say no, and there’s no magic way to say no that won’t hurt someone, and there doesn’t have to be a bad guy. Adjudicating who was right, who made the wrong ask or the wrong answer, is pointless in many cases. Sometimes you need incompatible things and that causes hurt; that’s all.

  40. LW, I don’t know how fresh your grief is, but when my mother died someone recommended the book Motherless Daughters to me, and I found it very helpful, so I thought I’d pass that along.

  41. I feel like there are a lot of responses on this thread explaining the situation to the LW, in hopes that the explanation can help LW to be in less pain.

    There is a compassionate motive to these comments, but it’s also problematic. We might have had similar experiences, but we have no way of knowing whether these are applicable to the LW. Secondly, even if they are… it doesn’t change that it just *hurts* to realise that not only will your mom not be at your wedding, but your grandmother won’t be there either. It’s ok for LW not to see it from grandma’s perspective right now.

    Anyway, LW… it’s ok to be hurt, and to sit with that hurt. It’s ok to grieve, without tying yourself up in knots to working out whether that grief is ‘justified’, or what reasons your relatives might have had for making the choices they are. It’s ok to be upset with your grandmother, and for it to take time until you are ready to speak again.

    I hope you can share what you are going through with your future spouse, so they can support you and be tender with you.

    I did wonder whether your mom had any friends that she was close to that you could invite, in place of the people who aren’t coming. Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone there who can tell you from the heart how happy and proud your mom would have been.

    In the past, I have tried to make myself just… not grieve, and what I have found personally is that this actually prolongs and intensifies the grief, and makes it more likely to be triggered unexpectedly by random things. Hopefully if you give yourself some space to feel what you feel, even if it’s unpleasant and painful, it will actually make things easier on the wedding day itself. Sometimes I put boundaries around it like ‘ok, I’m going to let myself write furiously in my journal while sobbing to Adele for an hour, and then after that I’m going to get up and go do something else’. It helps me experience my pain, without feeling quite so overwhelmed by it.

    Best of wishes to you, and I hope you have a wonderful wedding.

    1. Yes, this! Trying to figure out who’s “right” and figure out what I “ should feel” has caused me way more unhappiness than actual sadness, if that makes any sense.

      1. It does! It’s so exhausting, and the self-doubt (“did he really mean it like this? what if she has stuff going on that I’m not aware of?”) eats away at you.

  42. LW, I feel for you, and I think you’ve gotten some great comments about seeing your grandmother in the best light and about being compassionate to and about her. I’m so sorry about your mom, and I’m so sorry that none of her family will be able to represent her at your wedding.

    Reading through the comments, I felt my shoulders tightening, and I just thought you might need to hear that maybe your granny is just being a butthole.

    My granny is a butthole of the HIGHEST order. She was a butthole when she was young and healthy, and she is a butthole now that she is old and in a nursing home. I think she approaches every situation in life with the thought, “How can I possibly make the most misery and pain, and wring out the most drama?” And over the years she has gotten really good at playing Sweet Southern Lady while hurting as many as she can.

    You mentioned in a comment that she is a bit of a narcissist, and in the original post you said that her letter was passive aggressive, and I just, I saw my own granny’s brand of buttholeishness all over it.

    And I’ve had a lifetime of being pushed to see her in her best light. My aunt, the only of her 3 living children who speak to her, still does it. She gets all tied in knots and writes pages of messages about what granny said or did, how it hurt, how she explained very carefully how it hurt, how granny tried to twist it all around, so she carefully explained again, and how, at the end, granny GRUDGINGLY admitted that she she MIGHT have been hurtful is you SQUINT and if you’re totally SENSITIVE and it probably didn’t even happen that way ANYWAY but if an apology means so much to you then FINE. My aunt sees this as progress. My granny loves, loves, loves it. I keep trying to tell my aunt what I learned a long time ago: Did Granny say or do it? Was it hurtful? Then she meant to be hurtful, and she is LIVING for your painstaking explanations of just how hurtful she was. Yeah. If you could see into my granny’s soul? I think it’d just be a great big butthole, staring you down like the Eye of Sauron.

    When I was younger I did try to see her in her best light, and I tried to reason with her, to word things exactly right to get her to see that I also had feelings, tied myself in knots to be lovable enough and basically did all the same old things you do before you know someone narcissistic is narcissistic. I did the Please Love Me dance before I really wrapped my brain around the fact that it really wasn’t about me.

    I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong! But I thought maybe you needed to hear this. I remember the revelation it was when I was repeating all the excuses people made for my grandmother and my husband said, “Well, you know, OR!!!!! Some people just aren’t nice.”

    1. WORD on the butthole granny thing. I had a grandma who was nice to some people, unkind to others. And I was in the latter camp. When she was very ill and about to die, people she had been nice to were weeping while I felt a vague depression. It feels like I was supposed to find her wonderful and if I didn’t, it was on me.

    2. My grandma told my mom, who told me: “Never feel sorry for a mean old person, because they were a mean young person.”

  43. Dear LW,

    Planning a wedding while grieving your mom must be so very hard. A beautiful affirmation of life, definitely something your Mom would have wanted you to celebrate as fully as possible, but also a challenge. It seems like a wedding isn’t complete without a grandma, and I’m glad you told her how much you wanted her there. I had a hard time figuring out who could come to my wedding, and I felt so sad when I realized that my guest list wasn’t going to include the mothers of my parents, though it was for slightly different reasons (protecting myself and my Mom from toxic behavior). I felt ASHAMED that I hadn’t included everyone in the extended family. And I felt like I had to justify their absences, even years later!

    In case you’re gearing up mentally for explaining why grandma isn’t there, please remember that you don’t have to explain anything on your wedding day, or you can say, “she just wasn’t up for the trip,” or whatever script makes it easy on you and minimizes the trigger. It seems like people are getting better at accepting weddings as individualized events and not traditions with strict, strict rules.

    I am so sorry she isn’t going to see you on the day. I’m glad you are talking through it with her. You’re brave. Sending lots of strength for you.

  44. I was in the grandmother’s position. I had to skip a very important wedding due to physical limitations at the last minute. I was heartbroken. My dress, shoes, etc. hangs in my closet with the tags still on. On the advice of a social worker, I wrote a card to the bride after the wedding, emphasizing my love for her. I never heard back. I didn’t get a thank you for the hundreds of dollars I gave as cash for the wedding and I don’t expect to ever hear from the bride again. Maybe she doesn’t care about what I wrote and is angry at me. Sometimes, life really stinks and things just can’t be fixed.

    1. I’m so sorry. If virtual hugs from an internet stranger will help, all of them for you.

  45. You are not insane. Not at all. My dead father’s family had almost no representation at my wedding and it hurt so much. I struggled to let it go too, and I felt so abandoned and unimportant to them. But seeing and working through it as a grief process ultimately really helped. I had to grieve that these people didnt want the same kind of relationship I did and grieve that they would not be standing in for my dad, and grieve that my dad wouldn’t be there. That last alone was the one that hurt the most. But I made small ways to include him on the day and focused on the people who were making a huge effort to be there and celebrate with us and it was a damn fine day and very good for my heart and soul. Wishing you the same. Good luck.

  46. It’s wonderful to see so much compassion in the comments, but all of them seem to miss the most crucial bit of information in the letter. LW’s grandma did attend the wedding of the sister.

    So whatever the truth is, it isn’t illogical for LW to assume that this is a personal dig— especially if there’s a longstanding pattern of that type of behavior. LW knows these folks better than we do, there’s a lot of behaviors that look ok on the outside in my own family. But once you understand the context and history, it’s pretty clearly insulting (or at least thoughtless) behavior. I’m guessing that this reaction is an accumulation of underlying emotions— big milestones bring that out.

    1. “It’s wonderful to see so much compassion in the comments, but all of them seem to miss the most crucial bit of information in the letter. LW’s grandma did attend the wedding of the sister.”

      I’m not seeing this mentioned anywhere in the letter or in the comments Letter Writer has left. Where are you seeing this? Am I just missing it because I’m exhausted?

  47. Oh LetterWriter – I am so sorry. It really hurts when there are so few people in a particular corner of your life, and they manage to fumble the ball for one of your important dates. My parents are divorced. My mother died before my wedding. My dad decided not to come to my wedding. There were reasons, all based in his anxiety and discomfort, but it meant that the only representative from my father’s family was my brother (which was awesome! and surprising!). If this had been the only time he’d let me down, or if he had handled it with any grace or sense of regret, or even if he’d acted differently afterwards – but it wasn’t and he didn’t.

    On the one hand, I meant it when I told him that I understood and wouldn’t hold it against him. On the other hand, what I understood was that my life would never be more important to him than his self-centeredness, and that I would never be able to rely on him for emotional support and so should stop expecting any from him. Prior to my wedding, I had spent the entirety of the energy need to “hold the family together”. After my wedding, I’ve focused on the people who were literally and figuratively *there* for me. Which, in truth, includes many other people who couldn’t be there in person, but who made it clear that they were with me in spirit – through lovely cards, messages, phone-calls, and visits after the fact.

    I respond now when my dad reaches out (a few times a year) but I don’t waste my emotional energy catering to him. There are so many people in my mother’s family who demonstratively care for me, there are people in my husband’s family who value me…I’m no longer allowing myself to be trapped in a family system where I do all of the work and get little-to-nothing in return. Did it hurt? You betcha it did. But it was pretty funny when an elderly great-aunt who couldn’t make it to the wedding (health reasons) later said to me about him “he never was what you would call mature”.

    So the only advice I have shadows what was said above: look at this as part of a larger picture, and deal with your gramma accordingly. If it is a stochastic event, not the norm, and she demonstrates elsewise that she loves you – maybe honor the hurt, but forgive her. If this is a pattern of activity where she has previously prioritized others and neglected you, then maybe this is the final straw and greater emotional distance is called for. Hugs to you.

  48. I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds recent, and like everyone is making some grief based decisions here.
    I think it is often easier to cope with people’s hurtful behavior if you assume everyone is doing the best they can.
    Remember the days when you could barely breath? Maybe some of them are still there.
    I lost my mother this year, so I say this with only love, and a good few tears.
    Your aunt, it sounds like you filed where she belongs.
    Your step father lost his life partner. As someone about to be married, you can imagine.
    Your grandmother (I believe you when you say she’s a narcissist. Maybe this puts your aunt in some context too) lost her child.
    As a daughter and a mother, I believe she hit the grief top tier. I fervently thank a deity in which I do not believe that my grandmother is far enough into Alzheimer’s that we didn’t have to tell her her daughter died.
    This is a terrible pain to have to include in your wedding. Face forward the best you can as you form your new family. I wish you peace of mind and love.

  49. So many beautiful things said here. I would suggest one small thought from my experience.
    I was a late arrival and married late, so all my grandparents were gone by the time of my wedding. One of the three surviving great-aunts came, the other two were too frail for interstate travel. My husband & I sent them wedding photos, and went and visited them a year or two later…they were so delighted at the company that they sent me home with some treasures from their mother.

  50. Hi LW, just wanted to offer congratulations and condolences for this wonderful, sorrowful, and stressful time in your life. The wedding industrial complex markets weddings as The Perfect Day Of Joy, but we all know it’s so much more complex than that, thus my weird wedding wishes for you.

    Anyway, feeling hurt, maybe a bit abandoned(?), is totally legit, of course. Don’t beat yourself up over all the feelings, good and bad, that will surely come up to and beyond the wedding. Take care of yourself.

    Just please don’t read too much into the other choices and attitudes people have about your wedding day. The older I get, the more I realize that people, even the closest family members, have issues and reasons for their choices that they will not share with anyone. And that’s if they are honest about those things with themselves. Things they will take to grave rather than talk about with anyone else.

    I don’t know if your grandmother has reasons for not going that she doesn’t want to tell you, but it is worth considering as a possibility, just as a way of understanding that her not being there may have a lot less to do with her relationship with you and a lot more about her and things she doesn’t want to talk about.

    Other commenters have suggested health problems. I can relate to that, because in the past 15 years, I have seen varying levels of denial among aging relatives about their health problems. From one relative insisting their joint problems would go away with weight loss and prayer (despite having excellent health insurance that they could see a doctor about it), to another relative who spent decades hiding their progressive Alzheimer’s and denying it when it was obvious to everyone that something was wrong. I hope that is not anything your grandmother is dealing with (or not dealing with). I only offer those as examples of people having issues that definitely negatively affected their ability to engage in events like weddings, and choices they made to not address those issues, not even for themselves, let alone others who would have liked them to be more present in their lives.

    Please have a fantastic wedding, LW!

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