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Hi Captain,

My estranged father is about to die (I am working with family to make the degree of peace with which I feel comfortable). My mother died about a decade ago. Besides the problem of anticipatory grieving and emotions feelings around an estrangement, I am struggling with a desire not to go to his funeral.

The church and hometown I situation in which I grew up were small and sometimes a little cult-like. The church left me with a lot of trauma. I have almost no contact with anyone from that period of my life any more and I like it that way.

However, it was my dad’s church and he’s known some of these people since the 70s. Particularly because of the estrangement, I don’t have a right to plan the funeral/memorial or decide to exclude some people. I expect to see a lot of people there whom I last saw at my mother’s funeral and whom I hope never to see again.

But I will be grieving. I need to go.

Might you have any scripts for how to handle people either bringing up the estrangement or attempting to make small talk? I don’t want to talk about the estrangement with anyone but my siblings. I don’t want to make small talk. I want to grieve and see him buried.

Thanks,
/Not A Bad Daughter I Swear

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Dear Captain,

Longtime lurker, first time LW. Thanks for providing such a safe, thoughtful & humorous space for thinking through life’s issues.

My ex-stepfather (XSF) is elderly, ill & failing. I foresee him dying sometime in the next year or so. I do not wish to go to his funeral, but I believe many members of my family will view that decision as unforgivable. Allow me to elaborate:

XSF & my mom were married for about 13 years, but since their divorce they have had an on-again, off-again relationship. I lived with them both for six years, then left the state for college & grad school, never to return. He was financially generous (more than my bio father was able to be at the time), but that is the only positive thing I can say about him. My mom, who had worked since age 12 in a difficult industry, stopped working when I was in high school. XSF paid for everything: a beautiful home, clothing, vacations, etc. I accepted these things without question. He paid for half of college-I paid for the other half. I went on to borrow for grad school, pay for my own wedding & home, etc.

Unfortunately , XSF was and continues to be unapologetically misogynistic, racist, homophobic, alcoholic, verbally abusive, and paranoid. I grew up in a culture which actually embraces many of these qualities, & while I fled the state out of gut instinct to get the hell out of there, it was only with time & growth that I recognized that I needed to get him out of my life. This was pretty easy to accomplish because even when living in the same house, our relationship was managed through my mom. To give you a flavor of our relationship: XSF is fond of nicknaming people: one of mine was “Mouse” because I (uncharacteristically) was always so quiet around him. Another of my nicknames was “Sprout”, in reference to my developing breasts. Need I say how utterly impossible it was for me to have a real relationship with this man? My younger brother has always had a better relationship with him, since XSF had no other sons & my brother was eager to bond with a father figure (bio dad was largely absent).

Since the divorce XSF has made no effort to contact me. My long-suffering stepsisters (with whom I never lived) made minimal efforts as well, which was fine with me. At the time, it seemed to me that if my mother was allowed to divorce & not speak to him, I was also entitled to do so. It was a huge relief to not spend time with him during my brief visits home.

During times they have been back together, I made a few gestures (some big, some small) to reach out to him & establish at least a civil relationship, for Mom’s sake. She convinced me to invite him to my wedding (to a man of a race he frequently mocked while I was growing up!), because they were once again dating, & she wanted him there. Fortunately, he behaved civilly.

Since XSF has become more frail, my mom has become one of his primary supports: cooking, shopping, cleaning, etc. He is rude to health care providers, refuses basic supports such as physical rehab, & continues to be verbally abusive to his daughter & (probably) my mom. In short, he has not changed. Despite this, during a recent social event with friends, Mom characterized XSF as “a good stepfather” to my brother & me.

I fear that when the time comes, I will go to the funeral out of a wish to support Mom, be a “good” daughter, avert conflict, “pay my respects”, etc. I want to have a preemptive conversation with Mom, saying that I think it will be more awkward for everyone if I attend. She tends to believe in doing what is socially expected, rather than being true to oneself, but she fully knows how strongly I feel about XSF. I know she will be sad if I don’t go, but I think that sadness is really grief about the relationship XSF & I never had.

I guess what I need is a succinct way to explain to friends & family why I am not going, without coming across as a bitter, ungrateful, disrespectful grudge-bearer. They all know he is a jerk, but “he gave you so much!” In a culture where the standards for male behavior are so low, he is viewed as a “Good Ol’ Boy”. But….I just can’t.

Thanks ,

Ex-Stepdaughter
(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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wide-brimmed black hat with veil

Nature has ways of staying "don't touch." We have fancy hats and words we learned in therapy.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have some pretty intense reactions to being physically touched. Basically, I can’t stand being physically touched by most people – and I especially don’t like being hugged. It makes me feel trapped and physically sick. I’ve learnt to deal with it on occasions where it would be awkward or rude not to, so it doesn’t impact my interpersonal relationships too much, but I still don’t like it.

However, I really cannot deal with being hugged if the person hugging me is very emotional – like if they’re crying. On the few occasions where this has happened to me, I’ve been very shaky afterwards and I felt like I’d been physically violated. Now usually I just avoid situations where this might occur, I go about my life with minimal physical contact and I’m fine. However…

My grandfather’s funeral is coming up (he’s got at the most a couple of weeks left and funereal preparations are under way). I know it might seem self-involved to be concerned for myself when my grandfather is going to die, but this is a huge issue for me.  

First of all, it’s very important to my mum that I attend the funeral, so not attending isn’t really an option.

Now: My mum has never been very respectful of my desire to not be hugged, even though I’ve talked to her about it, and it’s not something any of my extended family members are aware of.

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