Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
Columnist

Carolyn Hax: What decency demands after a family tragedy

Dear Carolyn:

Do I owe it to my kids to keep in touch with their grandparents (my in-laws) after the death of my husband?

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of “relationship cartoonist” Nick Galifianakis. She is the author of “Tell Me About It” (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon.

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My husband died in a car accident last year, and we have still not completely recovered from the shock, although we are doing much better. We have a lot of support from family, community and friends. We are fortunate also to be financially secure.

My husband’s parents, who live a half-hour away, wish to continue keeping in touch with me and the kids. I have never really liked them and only dealt with them out of respect to my husband. Now that he is no longer with us, I would like to cut off the relationship.

They are nice, loving people. I just don’t see eye to eye with their values and judgments. To pretend to be nice to them is too much for me at this time. My kids are 10 and 12 and like them enough but don’t seem to ask to see them, either.

Anonymous

You make no mention of what you owe your in-laws, but, wow: They lost their child just as shockingly as you lost your husband.

You also imply you have sufficient support not to need them, double wow.

While I sympathize deeply with all you have faced — your loss, your impulse to streamline your emotional commitments, your frustration with your in-laws — none of these justifies denying “nice, loving people” their grandchildren.

Please imagine yourself in their position long enough and often enough to see you through this emotional errand, even if it’s only to drop your kids off for lunch with your in-laws once in a while. Decency doesn’t just demand it; it absolutely insists.

Dear Carolyn:

Is it ever okay to respond to an e-mail that was sent to your spouse, not you? If the e-mail attacks you, for instance? Does it make a difference if you read your spouse’s e-mail, or if they forward the e-mail to you? Or if you know the person? What if you don’t?

I know this is all rather vague, but I think details muddy the waters. Friends seem torn; some think replying in any case is a serious boundary violation, and that it’s up to the recipient to reply or not, while others believe that once you are married you are “one” and they would be determined to “get the last word” in defense of themselves and their union, regardless if that seems petty. Thoughts?

Crossing Lines?

Even if it’s “okay,” is it ever a good idea to do something non-essential that you’re so unsure about doing that you ask 20 different people for permission to do it?

I like to decide for myself whether details muddy or matter, but the sparse information you’ve given me points to dealing with this through your spouse. Or, of course, not at all; there’s a lot to be said for starving such hostility of attention, besides an “I don’t appreciate those remarks” reply from Spouse.

Angling to “get the last word” is petty stuff in just about any context — living honorably is the only winning move — but if Spouse isn’t on your side in this, then any “last word” will be a hollow victory indeed.

“When you are married, you are ‘one’ ”: Separate shoes, though, right?

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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