Three years ago, one of his children died of an accidental drug overdose. It was devastating for everyone in my family, but for me it felt like one of my own children had died. It was the worst time of my sister’s life, and I couldn’t help it because I was also consumed with grief. I had no more room for his.
She got mad at me for “stealing her grief by making her child’s death something of mine and not hers.”
We have since resolved much of the problem, but since the death of her child, she says she is “enlightened”. She says there is nothing worse than burying your child, and I agree. However, she also constantly tells me – along with other relatives and friends, and even the postman – how they should feel.
If you say, “I had such a terrible day,” she will respond, “Is that worse than burying your child?” No. So don’t let that bother you. If you say, “I love the beach and can’t wait to get back,” she says, “(the child) loved the beach; be sure to think of them while you’re at it. My brother has marriage problems and she said to him, “You are selfish and you only think about what makes you happy. Move on. It does not matter.”
How to handle this? I don’t want to start the argument again or break our careful peace treaty, but OMG – how do you say to someone, “I understand your child is gone, and I don’t want to minimize it, but now I want to be angry that ‘there’s a hole in my roof and I have to spend $2,000 to fix it. Or, “Just because your child is dead doesn’t mean you have to decide what other people feel!” But, like , friendly, not aggressive.
The grief competition is an unseemly and unsuccessful enterprise. Miss Manners supposes her would-be winners take solace in their singular desperation – but what a wretched and lonely prize it is.
Unfortunately, your sister, having considered herself a victim during your quarrel, now seems determined never to be beaten again.
Miss Manners suggests that you disguise your reprimand as an apology. But it has to be done with finesse and extreme humility: “Do you remember how awful it was to feel like you were stealing your grief? How terribly I acted thinking I was the only one wracked with pain?
“Well, I know there’s little comparison to what you’ve been through, but when other people are upset, you invalidate their feelings when you tell them yours is worse. I think you should understand how much how terrible it is and not wanting to inflict it on someone else.
Hopefully, this will help your sister understand, from experience, the outcome of her behavior — and not cause her to add this conversation to her list of problems.
New Miss Manners columns are published Monday to Saturday at washingtonpost.com/board. You can send questions to Miss Manners on her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.