It wasn't really that nice knowing you...
August 19, 2011 4:05 AM Subscribe
How can I comfort the loved ones of a dying person I don't like? And the dying person themselves? Snowflake details inside.
posted by katyggls to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My aunt's (mother's sister) husband is dying. He has terminal lung cancer and the doctor's have given him a very short time to live. They said it could be anywhere from six weeks to 3 months at the outside.
Understandably, my aunt and their (adult) children are devastated by this news, and my mother is also saddened by it, although she's more composed. The feelings of my aunt and cousins are still very raw, and they are very upset.
The thing that makes it awkward is that my aunt's husband and I have never gotten along. He was physically and mentally abusive to my aunt and my cousins earlier in their marriage, which I have never totally forgiven him for. He's also an extreme racist and homophobe. He uses racial and homophobic slurs constantly, and is always going on and on very loudly about how this and that minority are ruining America, etc. Not being the type of person that can sit in silence about that type of thing, we have on several occasions in the past had words. For the past three or four years I have severely limited my contact with him, which had the unfortunate effect of limiting my contact with my aunt and cousins as well, since as a peculiarity of their family dysfunction, they don't really go anywhere without him, and he refuses to visit at other people's houses, instead insisting everyone visit his home. Let me make clear that this was before he was ill. Now that he is, it is of course completely understandable that he not be expected to go anywhere.
My problem is that while I feel badly for my aunt and cousins that they are going through this, I personally feel no sadness at all that he's leaving this world. I don't wish him dead, but I feel nothing about his impending death. Not happy, but not sad or grieved in any way. I feel horrible about that, but there you are.
For several weeks (since the news was discovered) my mother has been pressuring me to come with her to visit my aunt and uncle (who is at home on hospice care). My cousins will be there also. I put it off and made excuses, but I feel at last that I can't really put it off any longer, that it's a family obligation and duty that I must see to, no matter how unpleasant. So I told my mother that I would accompany her tomorrow to visit them. I am dreading it. I have no idea how to act. My aunt and cousins will likely expect me to be very sad, but I'm just not, and I've never been very good at faking emotions that I do not feel. I've been told many times that I'm aloof or a "cold fish", so this has my social anxiety meter ratcheted up to 11.
How can I be comforting to my aunt and cousins, and display empathy and sympathy, when I don't feel sad at all? What can I say to my uncle? I am capable of being civil to him and have already decided that if he makes any of his usual horrible remarks, I will just pretend to have gone profoundly and completely deaf and not engage him at all. But merely being civil and tolerant hardly seems adequate. Surely my mother, my aunt, and my cousins will expect me to be somehow comforting to him, but I'm at a total loss as to how to do that.
I would prefer advice along that line, rather than people saying I don't have to go. I really feel I do, and I promised my mother, so I must. Thanks.