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So my mother-in-law died and I feel like my siblings haven't been there for us at all..am I expecting too much?
July 29, 2006 7:45 AM   Subscribe

So my mother-in-law died and I feel like my siblings haven't been there for us at all..am I expecting too much?

My brother (whom I also consider my best friend) was out of town on business all week (fine), so he sent his wife and kids to the wake (also fine). But they blew off the funeral service, they sent no flowers and my brother never bothered to call or email my wife or myself his condolences.

My sister (whom my wife and I just bought a new Saturn for last month) called at the last minute to say she HAD to work late or she'd be fired, and blew off both the wake and funeral mass.

My wife is pretty hurt by all this, largely because her sister's in-laws were totally there for her. She's always had a good relationship with my sibs and doesn't understand there lack of support.

Are we expecting too much or should we accept the fact that some people just react differently to these things?
posted by cellardoor to Human Relations (30 answers total)
 
If it's your wife's mother that died, I think it would be nice for your own brothers and sisters to call, but I'd say beyond that they're under no obligation to do anything.

If my brother's wife's mom died, I doubt I would even call, but then I've only met her once or twice in the past ten years.

I guess it depends on how close were they to your mother in law. Unless they hung out and saw her often, I don't see why they'd want to attend the funeral.
posted by mathowie at 7:55 AM on July 29, 2006


If my brother's wife's mother died... well, I can't honestly say I'd care very much (not that I have a brother, but you know). How many degrees of separation do you want this to go? It's right for you to be there to support your wife, obviously, but I don't see why they would think it necessary to support you -- after all, this person that died isn't really related to *you*, the person they care about.
posted by reklaw at 7:58 AM on July 29, 2006


I have to disagree with #1. Your siblings should not have been there based on their relationship with your mother-in-law but on their relationship with you. Of course, if you are not that close then you shouldn't have expected much, but I suspect you wouldn't be asking the question if that were the case.

On the other hand, there is little if anything you can do about it, especially after the fact. If you must say something, then do so in a neutral tone ("I wish you could have been at the funeral.") and drop it
posted by TedW at 8:03 AM on July 29, 2006


There is no right answer. There is only that which you feel you should do.
posted by Postroad at 8:07 AM on July 29, 2006


Were they close to your wife's mother at all? The relationship dictates what they attend.

Like mathowie said, a phone call is nice, but why would they come to the wake of someone so distantly related to them?
posted by k8t at 8:10 AM on July 29, 2006


Well, I think it should depend on your siblings' relationship with you and your relationship with your mother-in-law, and/or your siblings' relationship with your wife.

My brother and my wife aren't close, so if one of her parents died, I'd expect him to offer his condolences for her but not much else. But because I am close with him, and I'm close with my in-laws, I *would* expect him to do something because of that.

The rites of death are for the living, after all.

And if he were married and his mother-in-law died, I'd be sure to do something to show my support for him, regardless of my relationship with his wife's family.

*Note: I don't necessarily mean that I would attend the funeral or that I would expect him to attend one. There are myriad ways to show support.
posted by solotoro at 8:16 AM on July 29, 2006


I appreciate the responses. We are a pretty close family and I think that has a lot to do with my expectations. I think if it continues to bother me, I might bring it up to my brother, but certainly not in a confrontational manner.
posted by cellardoor at 8:26 AM on July 29, 2006


If my brothers mother-in-law passed, I would definitely offer my condolences, but I would probably avoid attending the service. I've only met the woman once, and I cannot see any situation that will involve us being in the same room again.

I guess it entirely depends on how close you are as a family. My brother and I talk on a regular basis, but we only see one another during holiday-like events. If the situation were reversed (my wife's mother-in-law passed) I wouldn't expect them to attend any services. A phone call would be nice though.
posted by purephase at 8:34 AM on July 29, 2006


Keep in mind that the support that you guys need extends long past the funeral and wake, and this is when your siblings may turn out to be at their best. Some friends are good for events and some are good for the every day small pick-me-up stuff, and often they don't overlap too much. They sound like the second kind of friend/people, which isn't terrible to have in your life at all. I bet they'll come through for you.
posted by dness2 at 8:37 AM on July 29, 2006


I think you're completely right to expect some support here. It seems like you love and help your family very much. Their happiness seems to mean a lot to you.

Moreover, you seem like the type of guy who would stay through and be with them, if you could, should they be in a similar situation.

But, you know, ask what they were feeling. Perhaps they thought you wanted to handle this stuff in your nuclear family. Perhaps they thought your wife would rather not have to deal with them in this tough time also -- even if the relationship was good.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:57 AM on July 29, 2006


We're a close family too, and we would never dream of missing the wake and/or funeral if we were in town and available. I would probably feel a bit slighted if I were you, too. No, they don't have any obligation, but in a close family, there's a norm of support, and it doesn't sound like you got it in this situation.

That said, some people are so wigged out by funerals that they tend to act in a way they normally wouldn't, just to avoid going. It's too bad that it meant they weren't there for you, but it's not unheard of.

If I were in your shoes, I might say something like "it's too bad you couldn't make it, I really could have used the support" or something similar and non-accusing, just to register your feelings and give them a chance to explain if they want to. But then try to let it go and chalk it up to weird funeral-related behavior.

And I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by boomchicka at 9:18 AM on July 29, 2006


It doesn't matter one iota what their relationship to your mother-in-law was. It matters what their relationship to YOU is and your relationship to your mother-in-law.

If they knew that you hated her then I wouldn't expect jack. If you were on good terms with her and/or your wife was very close then yes, they should have made more of an effort.

But it seems that in today's world people have a harder time with death than ever before.

When my dad died in '86 I was in high school and my friends totally evaporated. I was devastated until all of them, in a group, showed up at the services. They, as 16 year olds, had no idea what to do with me. They sat around for three days trying to figure out what was right. In the end it worked out, but up til that point I thought I had NO friends.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:21 AM on July 29, 2006


following on boomchicka's notion, I would go as far as saying "hey, I don't know if you realize this or not, but I really could have used your support during this and the fact that you weren't around or didn't call hurt me." It's not accusing, but it's letting them know it's not cool.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:27 AM on July 29, 2006


It matters what their relationship to YOU is and your relationship to your mother-in-law.

That's silly. However close they are to him, and however close he is to his mother-in-law, that doesn't mean that they should be involved in this. Whatever next? Would his brother bring his wife? Would she bring her sister? The whole damn world would be at this funeral before long.

Basically, if you haven't directly met and dealt with someone often, you shouldn't go to their funeral -- even if they were your best friend's best friend. After all, why go to the funeral of someone you don't even know?
posted by reklaw at 10:51 AM on July 29, 2006


My sister (whom my wife and I just bought a new Saturn for last month) called at the last minute to say she HAD to work late or she'd be fired, and blew off both the wake and funeral mass.

Why the hell is it relevant to this question that you bought a new car for your sister? Ah, I see! Is it because your sister should know that you expect her to be beholden to you because you bought her a new car?

From the way your question is written, I get a sense of some kind of expectation or entitlement on your part. My experience is that an expectation is just a resentment waiting to happen. I've tried to move away from expecting people to behave in a certain way just because I believe they ought to, for inevitably when they don't, I just get annoyed, or worse, resentful. And a resentment will fester. It's like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. It'll eat you up with bitterness.

Your mother-in-law is not related to your brothers, sisters or their spouses, so they are most likely not feeling her loss on a personal level, as you are.

My wife is pretty hurt by all this, largely because her sister's in-laws were totally there for her.

Your siblings can't be expected to either be aware of, or even care about, any sibling rivalry or oneupmanship that's going on between the sisters as to who had the most in-laws to support them. Again, it reads as if there is some kind of expectation on your family members that they should be behaving in a particular way in order to fulfil your, and your wife's, expectations.
posted by essexjan at 11:07 AM on July 29, 2006 [8 favorites]


Are we expecting too much or should we accept the fact that some people just react differently to these things?

If you can accept it, please do. Why cause a rift over this? My mother didn't go to her best friend's child's father's funeral (the best friend and the father were not together, she had custody of their child, and my Mother did not know him at all), and now she's shut my Mother out of her life completely. My Mother who loved her, cared for her and her children in a lot of ways. It's her loss, really. Don't be like her- forgive them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:07 AM on July 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


I have two brothers, both married. If their mothers-in-law died, I wouldn't care. I mean, I'd be sad at their passing, but no more than any other person I read about in the paper. I'd offer condolences and such, but I wouldn't go out of my way to call. And I wouldn't expect them to do that for me.

I'm trying to imagine it from the other end. When my father died, my wife's sister offered her condolences, but she didn't make any special calls, nor did I expect her to.

It seems a little strange to expect this, but then I recognize each family is different...
posted by jdroth at 11:32 AM on July 29, 2006


My brother didn't come to his own mother's funeral. MY mother's funeral. Was I upset? Not particularly. He's had a lifelong phobia of death & funerals. He'd have had to get on a plane to fly & visit with relatives he can't stand & spend money he didn't have. He did try to make it in time to see her while she was still alive, because he thought that would matter to her, but that didn't happen.

Funerals bring out the best and worst in people, but usually the worst. Not because people are trying to be awful, but because they don't know how to behave
posted by clarkstonian at 12:05 PM on July 29, 2006


I can't understand your wife's disappointment and hurt feelings, and yours.

If your siblings tend to be inconsiderate or selfish or flakey, then their actions this time are just one more instance. Be the better person, and let it pass.

If they're usually sympathetic and caring, then you can be sure there's a forgivable reason why they didn't come through for you in the way you'd hoped.

I agree with dness. And I suggest that you ask for their support when you need it in the coming months -- if you need a babysitter so you and your wife can be alone, or if you need someone to talk to, or if getting together with family would be a helpful diversion.
posted by wryly at 12:18 PM on July 29, 2006


I've tried to move away from expecting people to behave in a certain way just because I believe they ought to, for inevitably when they don't, I just get annoyed, or worse, resentful. And a resentment will fester. It's like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. It'll eat you up with bitterness.

Wise words, essexjan, and worth taking to heart in a whole host of circumstances.
posted by scody at 1:39 PM on July 29, 2006


My mom is still bitter, twenty years later, at her own siblings' lack of support during my father's illness and death. It doesn't really do anyone any good. You'll also get different stories if you speak to the siblings than if you speak to my mother.

essexjan has it right.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2006


Essexjan is right on. People are wierd and have a multitude of reasons for doing all sorts of strange/kind/hurtful/shocking things. If you'd like someone to behave in a certain way, ask them to. "Hey bro, Mother Flanders' passing has been really hard on Maude and I, any chance you could come to the funeral services to lend a bit of support?"

Also, wakes/funerals/receptions are, frankly, awful things to be a part of, in my opinion. Even for people I am very close to, I don't get any joy/comfort/closure/good feelings out of them, and so I have no desire to go to one of someone I don't really know. But if my brother asked me to go to his wife's sister's father-in-law's golf buddy's funeral, I'm there.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:19 PM on July 29, 2006


I don't know how it is with you, but around here it seems like the wake is for everyone, but the funeral is only for those closest to the deceased. I wouldn't have expected your siblings to come unless, like Rock Steady said, you'd personally asked them to come for your support.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:45 PM on July 29, 2006


You are expecting too much. People have busy lives. If they call you and offer support in other ways - they don't need to show up. It's your mother in law - not theirs.
posted by trii at 4:46 PM on July 29, 2006


In my family there would be no such expectations, but that's my family, which is not close, and yours obviously differs. Personally I dislike funerals, finding they usually seem to have nothing to do with the person who has died, and I don't find them a comfort at all. I certainly wouldn't attend the funeral of a sibling's wife's mother, unless I knew her. I would call to express condolences, and probably send a card.

I will say, though, that if it came down to either blowing off a funeral or getting the sack, I would blow off the funeral, shiny present or no shiny present. That's her livelihood, and if she's telling the truth then it's no different to your brother being away on business.
posted by andraste at 2:02 AM on July 30, 2006


The more I imagine it the more the idea of my brother or sister even phoning me to offer condolences for my mother-in-law's passing seems an entirely alien concept, let alone attending the funeral.
posted by nthdegx at 2:55 AM on July 30, 2006


I guess I'm just surprised by the number of people who are saying that your expectations are unreasonable. Of course, just because you'd like someone to act a certain way doesn't mean that they're beholden to comply. And I have to agree with essexjan that 1) buying the car for your sister sounds a little irrelevant (unless it was just shorthand for - "look, we're a family that does everything for each other") and 2) that I also hope this isn't really about "my in-laws are more supportive than your in-laws."

However, with all that said, I would certainly go to my brother's in-law's funeral or somehow try to offer support. I've gone to the funerals of people that I don't know (the mother of my aunt through marriage; the father of a friend, etc. ) and knew that the people I was there to support - my aunt, my friend - felt that and were glad of it. And that was my point in going.

So I guess I'm saying that you're not totally crazy for thinking that your siblings might have shown more support, but I'd also recommend (like others above) that you don't turn it into a family feud. I'm with boomchicka and FlamingBore in thinking that you should mention it once just to get it out there and then let it go.
posted by chrisubus at 8:07 AM on July 31, 2006


Second IndigoRain -- I think you may be projecting negative intentions when you say your brother's family "blew off" the funeral and only came to the wake. I go to many wakes for friends of family, distant relations, etc, but only attend the funerals of near relatives. Funerals are rites of intense grief, best left for those closest to the deceased. I don't need to be a spectator to their mourning in order to show my support; that's what the wake is for. Your sister-in-law may have kept herself (and her children, especially if they are young) away out of respect for your wife's family and their pain, not because she doesn't care. (And another vote for essexjan's advice.)
posted by junkbox at 8:35 AM on July 31, 2006


I also suggest you make this the last time you use the phrase "blew off." It's judgmental (any maybe fairly so but maybe not) and more importantly it reinforces your anger. No matter how accurate it may be it doesn't help anything. Raise this issue with them if you need to but loaded words cause trouble for everyone.

Maybe they didn't realize you wanted/needed them in this? Death is uncomfortable for a lot of people and they're going to avoid things they think they don't need to. Maybe they misread you drastically.

I'm reminded of a close friend of mine. She's the younger daughter and very adventurous and independent, very unlike her older sister, who's more like their mom. She's never had the relationship with her mom that her sister does and that has at various times bothered both her and her mother.

I remember very clearly the day before her wedding hearing X comment on how much it hurt her that her mother wasn't participating more in her getting ready and other wedding-prep stuff and how she remember how much a part of her sister's prep she'd been and how uninterested she seemed in hers. Less than an hour later I heard X's mother comment how X never asked her for help with anything in this wedding and didn't ask her to do all the things for her that her sister has asked for.

For X's mother it was all about being asked and feeling needed. For X it was the fact that it hadn't been offered unbidden. I'd never before seen people so close and far in their needs at the same time. Your siblings may not feel that same need for you to ask them but maybe they have no idea that you feel neglected.
posted by phearlez at 1:14 PM on July 31, 2006


I think they should at least show concern and care for your wife.
posted by onepapertiger at 7:20 AM on August 2, 2006


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