Dear Carolyn: After many years of suspected (vehemently denied) psychological issues and drug use, and after burning bridges with an entire extended family, my 32-year-old niece died yesterday.
I’m overcome with, I don’t know what, sorrow, guilt, relief, anger, ambivalence. I had enough stress in my life that I didn’t want anything to do with her in recent years. Her mom, my sister, went in endless cycles of writing her off, eventually sending more money, and then long tearful phone calls to me that were the same over and over.
Relief is that this agony is over, guilt is that we all felt we had to turn away from her, anger is that her need to get high was more important than everyone who loved her. I wish this could be a reason some other kid gets off drugs, but it won’t be, they think this’ll never happen to them.
This is a long way of asking, but what can I do to help my sister, and myself, and my own kids, cope with this awful thing?
Grieving: I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s awful to witness a slow-motion tragedy.
I suggest you cope with the loss by sticking to the most basic truth here — that a life precious to all of you is over. The how and the why, and the anguish of these, are really secondary, and no one is under any obligation to make sense of a senseless death.
If you come to some way of turning her loss into motivation to help others, then of course that aids healing, but right now your feelings are complicated and there’s nothing wrong with that. Feel what you feel on your time and be present for your sister as you can. You might find “ring theory” useful here (wapo.st/ringtheory) for its simplicity: comfort in, dump out.
Dear Carolyn: My son is 2 1/2, and my husband wants to take him on vacation with his parents to Florida. I cannot get the time off from work. I don’t really want my son’s first plane trip to be without me, plus, I don’t feel ready for him to be that far from me. I trust my husband and in-laws, but neither has been my son’s primary caregiver. My husband rarely gets time off work and really wants to take him. He always defers to me on the kids, but sounded really disappointed that I said no. Am I being unreasonable?
Parent: I wouldn’t call it unreasonable — of course you want to be present for “firsts,” and it’s hard to send your baby off on a plane without you, though sending him off in a car is statistically a bigger risk.
But I would call your decision unfair: You’re taking something valuable and material away from your husband and child, just to preserve something conceptual for you. This is a huge opportunity for your boy to get closer to his daddy. If your husband hasn’t yet learned to care for his son solo, when exactly is going to be the right time?
A “yes” would be a loving and selfless gift. Deep breath, step back, yield the controls. Your husband has the same right to them as you do.