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.
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.