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Dear Captain:

My parents get along pretty well with my father-in-law, let’s call him Peter. He is a widower so they usually invite each other to visit, my husband and I included. We usually have lunch, some bottles of wine and everyone has fun. Last time my parents visited Peter my mother stumbled across an old newspaper. It had a eulogy for my mother-in-law (let’s call her Nora). She was a great woman, a social worker and activist. Unfortunately, she passed away before I met my husband.

After my mom read it, Peter came back with some printed documents and handed them to my parents. They were some poems written by Nora, that he found after her death. My mom started immediately to read them and after finishing the first page said if I wanted to read them too.

Peter and Nora had had problems during their marriage. By the time of her death, they barely speak to each other, and were practically divorced. For that reason I think Peter probably didn’t know what Nora wanted to do with her writings.

So I said “Thanks, but I don’t want to, it makes me feel uncomfortable.” And everyone asked why. So I said “well, because I don’t really know if Nora wanted them to be public. Maybe is personal stuff, and it feels wrong.”

Awkward silence ensued and then they replied the following:
Mom: “It’s no big deal sweetie, I’m sure Nora wouldn’t mind”.
Peter: “Well, it doesn’t matter much because she’s dead”
Dad: “But the only reason people write poems is to be published, isn’t’ it?”

They insisted, but I kept firm and refused to read anything. But as my parents read them and I didn’t, I was the one that ended up feeling out of place. (In case you wonder, my husband was taking a nap and missed the conversation.)

I’m super defensive about my privacy and the idea of being exposed terrifies me. My mom and I used to have big arguments about this topic. Some of the things she did include: Throw away T-shirts claiming that they made me look fat. Open bank slips with my name on it. Go to my University and asked my teachers about my grades. She finally stopped doing these things long time ago, but I still feel threatened when she starts asking me personal stuff or comments on photos or personal things I have around in my house.

And I also used to write a lot during my twenties. I have at least a dozen handwritten notebooks, with tons of personal stuff: poetry, therapy tasks, ideas, cooking recipes, drawings, rants about people, etc. I really would hate if someone reads them but I don’t have the courage to toss them.

So, I honestly don’t know if I did the right thing or if I just got defensive and missed a chance to get to know Nora better. Would you please give me your advice and opinions? And also, what can I do with my notebooks? Any ideas?

Thanks a lot.

Privacy Champion.
(she/her pronouns)

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Hi Captain!

Husband and I have been married a year and to make a long back-story short, I have found your responses re: “dealing with difficult people” immensely helpful for dealing with my MIL.

So here’s the current issue: while my in-laws have very few lasting friends, they do consider themselves close to my FIL’s cousin, Rick- and by extension, his wife, Rena. My FIL’s father died last summer and we took the time/days off work/expense for all pre and post funeral gatherings. Rick’s mother died a few months ago, and as we’re both fond of him PLUS knew it was important to my FIL, we made that funeral too.

Right now, Rena’s father is very close to death.

Unfortunately, my MIL has been using the status of dying people as an easy manipulation technique. She sends strings of texts “updating us” on the status of various aging people’s diagnoses, operations, etc. and it is hard not to engage with these texts because of the subject matter. While we know she doesn’t have empathetic or even sympathetic (unless towards herself) abilities, it similarly seems inappropriate here to focus on that. But this has become a pattern and she clearly assumes we will attend Rena’s father’s funeral. She has also started claiming she is close with several other people who also don’t have long to live. (FYI all of the people involved in this Q live 6-8 hours away.)

Is the “right thing” here to attend Rena’s father’s funeral?

We have a tight budget, are out of bereavement days, and were saving remaining vacation days for a belated honeymoon. My husband will now have to use up a few unpaid sick days to attend any other events during the work week. He is worried at prospect of no real sick days, plus thinks more absences will reflect negatively on him at work. But he is also HIGHLY nervous at idea of saying no to his mother.

Rena is also a difficult and unpredictable woman who often provokes/creates drama seemingly just for the hell of it.. MIL tends to encourage this/holds us responsible when we are Rena’s target because it supports MIL’s own goals- so we both expect her to pull the “hurting Rena” card if we try to miss this funeral.

Am I being a huge bitch? I have a bank of rage/resentment issues re being a doormat in abusive relationships in the past and so maybe my feelings here are from a knee-jerk negative response, which isn’t appropriate here because death is involved?

Would love to hear your thoughts on what we “should” do in this scenario, what we should do when the other claimed close ones die, and what any scripts could be.

Thank you!!
Ragey (But Want to Retain Relationships)

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Hi Captain!

What do you do when someone who treated you badly dies?

I went to school in a small town, an “everyone kind of knows everyone somehow”-type place. This isn’t really my type of place, and I left to attend a big university in a big city. I return to the town during breaks, but I don’t think I’ve spent more than six consecutive weeks there since I left for college two years ago.

This morning, I found out that a guy who I knew (sat next to in high school band, had some mutual friends, our siblings dated), “Mitchell”, died in a freak accident yesterday. Since this is a small town, and I had mutual friends with him, my Facebook feed is full of “RIP Mitch” and memorial events being planned. Also, since I’m returning to said town for about three weeks at the beginning of summer for my brother’s graduation, I’m sure I’m going to encounter people who want to talk about Mitchell.

The problem? Mitchell sexually harassed me in middle school (and continued to be an asshole to me in high school). Given the memories of the sexual harassment, and how awful it was to be dealing with that as a mentally ill 12-year-old with DD breasts and lots of other body issues, I’m having trouble seeing all the happy memories and sudden reminders of his existence. So:

1. What’s the appropriate thing to do when people try to engage me in conversation about the death? Obviously, it sucks that he’s dead, and I would never wish that on anyone, him included. But apart from “Yes, that’s awful, and I’m so sorry for his family”, what else can/should I say?

2. Not many mutual friends know about the harassment- they think he was a great guy. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but if someone asks for my Happy Memories or Nice Stories, what do I say?

3. What do I say to my mom? Since our siblings dated, she knows Mitchell’s parents, and since we were in band together, she knows that I knew and interacted with Mitchell. I don’t really want to tell her about the harassment- we don’t have that kind of relationship- but I also don’t want to pretend that I feel much beyond a neutral “someone is dead and that’s unfortunate for them and their family” feeling.

I’m in the process of acquiring a therapist who can help me sort things out, and I have tons of college friends who didn’t know Mitchell and can be a good Team Me, but I’m dreading the return to my old town. Help!

Signed,
Not a Small-Town Girl

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

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

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

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

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