Ask Amy: Sibling wonders about how to refer to dead relatives
- January 15, 2024
Dear Amy: My parents died within the last three years, after living wonderful, full, and very long lives.
My five adult siblings, all in their 70s, speak of visiting my parents’ graves as if they are still alive – as in: “I went to see Mom and Dad today,” or, “I’m going to see Mom and Dad on Christmas.”
I’m irked by this.
They seem to be in denial of the fact that our parents are gone and that they left us a beautiful legacy.
Saying they are going to see Mom and Dad seems disrespectful.
They are going to reflect, to think, to smile, to cry … but they are not going to visit.
This small matter nags at me.
Does anyone else find this odd?
Dear Annoyed: I will welcome responses from readers, but my own view is that while this may seem odd to you, it doesn’t really seem odd or disrespectful to me.
People who visit gravesites know that their family members are dead. It’s an inescapable fact.
But no two people process loss in exactly the same way. Many people crave connection and find comfort from visiting gravesites. Your siblings might in fact believe that they are communing with your parents’ spirits. More likely they’re not quite ready to use words like “grave,” “cemetery,” or “tomb.”
And, tempting as it is to apply a rational nomenclature to your deceased parents, you don’t really get to dictate how your siblings process this loss or how they perceive your parents’ existence.
You do have the right to be irked, however.
It might be a good idea to ask them to explain what they’re thinking when they refer to your folks in this way. I doubt that any of them will tell you that they believe your folks are actually alive, but when they visit their gravesites, they’re remembering and reviving the relationship, which might be very much alive to them.
Dear Amy: Over 50 years ago, at the end of our senior year of college, a friend told me she was pregnant and asked me to be her baby’s godmother.
I was young, immature and did not think through the responsibilities, but agreed.
I never should have. Aside from some brief babysitting and being present at the formal Catholic baptism, I haven’t had much contact with the child. The college friend married the baby’s father and they have had what seems to be a happy, prosperous family life.
After getting married a few years later my husband and I moved to another state. The friend and I have not been in touch except for exchanging Christmas cards.
Every year she sends a Christmas card with a brief note highlighting family news.
I feel bad that I failed in my duties as a godparent and would like to send an apology letter, saying it is long overdue, that I am sincerely sorry for letting the family down and for the hurt I am sure they feel.
I am not looking for forgiveness from them or to try to establish a deeper relationship.
I just want to admit my failure and to apologize, and let it go at that.
I’d prefer to let the relationship go.
Is this advisable? Or is there some reason I should just leave things as they are?
I don’t want to make things worse or cause more harm.
– Wondering Godmother
Dear Godmother: My instinct is that your embarrassment over this has caused you to inflate the impact of your neglect onto this family. Some godparents take the role very seriously; many don’t.
You were close to this family for a while, and then your paths diverged.
To a large extent, the child’s parents dictate how the godparent relationship will proceed, by inviting, including, and paving the way toward their own expectations.
To answer your question, yes – you could get in touch and acknowledge that this has been on your heart, but don’t inflate the impact of your failure.
You could write something like, “I really regret that I wasn’t a more involved godmother; looking back I certainly wish I had stepped up. I wish I’d been the godparent your child deserved to have, and I’m sorry I wasn’t.”
Dear Amy: Thank you for encouraging “Already Grieving” to celebrate a birthday with her cousin, who is terminally ill.
We did this in our family with my dad, and while it was very difficult, it really did turn into a celebration of his wonderful life.
– Grateful Son
Dear Grateful: Beautiful.
©2023 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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