Carolyn Hax: A grieving relative and a wedding’s pressures

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 18, 2012

Hi, Carolyn:

My relationship with a close family member has taken a turn for the worse. She suffered a tragic loss almost a year ago and is clearly still grieving.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

The problem is that I feel that in her anger/grief at her situation, she is taking her feelings out on me — she’s blamed me for being unsupportive and uncaring (I strongly feel that this is not true). I’m also not the first person she’s written off for these reasons.

She’s so upset with me that she’s now declined to be my maid of honor, less than three months before my wedding. Our family is devastated that “we can’t get along.”

I understand that she has been through a lot, but I’m also hurt deeply by her treatment. If this were a friend, I’d sadly assume the relationship was over, but this is family and I’m under a lot of pressure to make things right by my wedding. I’m at a loss as to how to prevent this relationship from deteriorating further and conflicted by my hurt feelings vs. her grief. Am I being unfair? Do I ignore her behavior because of the understandable cause of it?


Hurt in Richmond

It’s good she’s not a friend, because I believe your friendship-ending assumption would be premature.

“Tara” (I’m naming her, for simplicity’s sake) suffered a “tragic loss” and she has written off at least one other person besides you — and the fact that you noted this means you recognize, on some level, that it is more about her grief than it is about you. If anything, it sounds as if you want a push one way or the other — in the form of permission to hold this against her, or encouragement to redouble your patience.

I also suspect you want this push because the wedding looms, the family presses and your patience is ticking down like shopping days till Christmas.

However: Like Christmas, the wedding is an artificial deadline — a manufactured climax to the story of you, Tara and her grief, a story that’s bigger than any one day. Ten years from now it won’t matter whether she stood at the altar with you; it will matter how you handled yourself and your relationship in light of her grief.

Accordingly, tell anyone who pressures you to “make things right by my wedding” that there’s no deadline here; you love Tara and care about her and will give her all the time she needs.

Tell this to Tara, too. Explain that whether she stands with you or not is beside the point (though you’d love her to) — the point being that she gets the care and support she needs from you. If she can articulate what that is, then, great, but if she can’t, then you’ll need to listen to her in more subtle and sensitive ways.

In other words, the way to keep this relationship from deteriorating further is to keep firmly in mind what this isn’t about at all (a wedding, a family unaccustomed to loose ends); what it’s somewhat about (you); and what it is primarily about: “a close family member” who needs all the compassion she can get.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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