Dear Miss A,
My mother married my step-father when I was eight. He is a wonderful man who has influenced my love of politics, my sense of humor, and my sense of family. I know it is possible to be loved by people who aren’t really obligated, because I am sure that he loves me. The trouble is, his family made me feel exactly the opposite. My step-grandmother and step-uncle have been horrible! They are passive-aggressive, catty, and hypocritical. They have undermined me emotionally, bad-mouthed me to relatives and family friends, and publicly disapproved of every goal I have ever set for myself.
When I was a little child, I never noticed it. But my mother noticed, and I think that was the real reason they did it. They knew I wouldn’t understand, and they knew their comments about and to me would infuriate my mother. And I think that the way I feel about these people is a little bit my mother’s fault–I think if she had kept quiet about it, I wouldn’t have had to acknowledge it and make a final stand for myself by cutting them out of my life. I think my mother wanted me to know that what they were doing was wrong not because she wanted to prevent me pain (she causes plenty of it herself) but because she wanted to live vicariously through me. She wanted me to cut them out of my life because she didn’t feel that she could cut them out of hers.
At Thanksgiving, word reached me that my step-uncle had had a brain aneurysm. Today, the doctors declared him brain dead. I promised my mother that, if my step-dad needs me to go to the funeral, I would go. On one hand, I feel that this is unquestionably the “right” thing to do. But on the other hand, I don’t trust my mother to honestly assess whether my step-dad needs me, and I am stressed out–I have grad school applications due in just six days and I am trying to get a promotion at work. There’s also the sense that I’m being manipulated. Despite my step-uncle’s public disapproval of me, my mother wants to prove, once and for all, that she raised the “better” person. I feel like I am nothing but one big last word.
What my mother doesn’t know is that she has something of a reputation for being one of those people who gets a thrill on being a part of tragedy.I feel like, if I become The Girl Who Goes to the Funerals of People to Whom She Does Not Speak, then I unwittingly tap into this legacy of being an emotional vampire. I DON’T feel like the bigger or the better person. I feel angry and petty and snobbish for holding on to this for so long. And I feel strangely jealous of my weaknesses. I hate that these small, sad people have any say in the ultimate shape of my character, good or bad.
Lastly, I know that none of these people are the real issue. This isn’t about my mother, my step-grandmother, or my step-uncle. This is about being there for my step-father and step-sister during a difficult time. How do I put this all aside and focus on them? Is it possible to be there for them without flying half way across the country to feign grief and jeopardize my professional dreams?
I don’t think you need to go to this funeral. You were never close to this step-uncle and they live “half way across the country”.
At the end of the day, you are an adult and you can choose to attend or not attend. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. Another thing that comes with being an adult is taking good care of yourself. Nobody else will. I don’t want to see you not do your best on your grad school applications, and miss out on a promotion at work because of all this drama. Say you can’t go because of committments here in DC – work and your future. You’ve been a great step-daughter and step-sister in the past, and that will speak for itself.
I suggest that you stay in touch with your step-father and step-sister by phone, and perhaps write a very kind and meaningful card or letter to them to give them strength and support. Think about buying him a book on losing a sibling. I purchased a book a year ago when my ex-boyfriend lost his mother, that I think might be really helpful for you. It’s called How Will I Get Through The Holidays? 12 Ideas for Those Whose Loved One Has Died by James E. Miller. The holidays can be particularly tough for those who have lost a loved one since that is a time we typically spend with our family and closest friends. Also, you may want to think of doing special things for him throughout this first year, which is always the most difficult. Again, it sounds like you’ve been a great step-daughter to him so don’t feel guilty about this one particular event.
– Miss A
Andrea Rodgers is a Dating & Relationship Expert for HealthCentral’s Sexual Health Connection. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.