What to say to a dying relative with a fractured relationship?
February 25, 2013 9:30 AM Subscribe
My uncle is dying - the doctor says days or weeks. I haven't said anything to him, or his wife, or his kids, since they got the cancer diagnosis a few months ago. Our families have had a historically fractured relationship, so it all feels very awkward to me. Please help me figure out what to appropriately say to them.
posted by raztaj to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My parents came from very mixed backgrounds (different religions, continents, cultures, both immigrants), and this was a significant source of tension for how my mom's family received my dad and my mom's choices. I was 5 years old when we moved from the area where my mom's family lived, and contact was extremely limited after that - and when there was contact, it was usually conflict. 5 years after that, my mom died after a battle of cancer - and contact was then severed.
Maybe 7 years ago, a cousin found my brother on the internet, and contact between him and his parents (the uncle that is dying), and they've begun to develop a bit of a relationship. I've met with them a few times - a dinner when they visited, dinner when I was temporarily living in the area where all my mom's relatives are. Despite past transgressions, that particular branch of my mom's family has made a concerted effort to try and re-build something, it all still feels very uncomfortable to me. My mom's other siblings have made virtually zero effort to reach out.
Even though my mom's brother is dying, he seems more like one of my parents old acquaintances, rather than family. They feel like strangers to me, and I have admittedly been very distant despite their efforts to be friendly and kind. I have not been negative - just unresponsive. Even though my siblings have been able to re-establish some sort of relationship, they are also older than me, and have clear memories of the times we spent together as kids before we moved away - I really don't have a memory of any of that. It all seems very weird to try and build something with people who are strangers.
I feel bad about my unresponsiveness, and don't know what to say now that my uncle has been given a timeline. I feel like I should say something before he inevitably passes soon. But I feel like it's also too late to say something - since I know my siblings have been in some contact since we got my uncle's cancer diagnosis. I would like some guidance on figuring out what to say.
I've lost both my parents, so I have a better grasping of what to say *after* a loved one passes, but in the waiting period before, giving our family complications, I just don't know what to say.