Death in the family, family playing stupid games as usual
July 16, 2010 6:04 AM   Subscribe

BadlyBehavedFamilyFilter: Someone has died. Share the information with family members who I know have an interest, or MMOB and steer clear of the mess?

I have no contact with my sister, and don't want any. Probably mutual.
My father has minimal/virtually no contact with my sister. She doesn't want any, somewhat mutual. I think he makes occasional overtures, but is overall relieved to be out of the picture.
My mother keeps contact with my sister, although it is very strained.

My sister has 4 kids. One lives here with his father's grandmother. Two live with their father in Hawaii (she lives there also), and they co-parent. One is less than a year old, lives with her, and is currently contested property in a nasty custody battle that began when father #3 beat the crap out of her one time too many.

Father 2 has just died. I barely knew him, so my interest is minimal. My father, however, had a relationship with him through the grandkids, and has expressed respect, appreciation, and a general liking of him & his family through the years. Loose contact has been maintained post-breakup, and in fact they had a get-together locally this spring over grandkids.

I am quite certain that my father WILL consider this important information. My mother (divorced, and not pleasantly so), who relayed the information to me, specifically asked me not to mention the matter. The reason she gave is that my sister does not need the extra stress of my father's involvement.

So: Respect my mother, as Person Who Will Be Dealing With This Mess & keep my blabbing mouth shut? Respect my father & tell him someone he cared about died but specifically state that contact with my sister (and mother) will not be welcome? Call my father & suggest he make contact with the inlaws stat, no reason specified? Filter the information through my brother (tempting, but not fair to him, so scratch that as an unworthy thought). Apply mental eraser & practice the zen of amnesia? Hope that God provides & that the information reaches him some other way in a timely fashion?

One way another I suspect someone's going to be ticked at me when the facts become better known, whether it's for sharing or for not sharing. Your thoughts, please.
posted by Ys to Human Relations (22 answers total)
I have a family dynamic similar to yours in that there is a very complicated diagramm of who talks to whom and who doesn't talk to whom and who acts as messenger between whom and yadda yadda. The best thing to do, I often find, is feign ignorance, unless you actually have a stake in the outcome of something.

I would keep your mouth shut until your father finds out on his own. It seems reasonable to assume that, since he was fairly close to the deceased, he will find out in some way sooner rather than later. If he mentions it to you, feign ignorance. If he mentions it to your sister or mother, you can honestly say he must have found out some other way.
posted by Nixy at 6:13 AM on July 16, 2010

I'm not sure who father #2 is, but what I"m reading here is that you have one or more nieces or nephews (and your father has one or more grandchildren) who have an unstable mother and have JUST LOST THEIR OTHER PARENT.

For the love of god, please your father so he can REACH OUT TO HIS GRANDCHILDREN WHO HAVE JUST LOST A PARENT.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:14 AM on July 16, 2010 [15 favorites]

Actually, sorry for the extra yelliness. I live in a similarly crazy family, where when one line of communication gets broken, it's as though all of these other family relationships are unfairly severed. At the end of the day, it usually means there are kids out on some leaf who know they have four grandparents and aunts and uncles and don't understand where they are or why they don't know them. This isn't to say you should swoop in and be all "AUNTIE YS IS HERE TO SAVE YOU" but if you keep the kids in mind, I think the right thing to do (tell your father, who seems to genuinely care) makes the most sense.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:19 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry you're having to deal with such emotional crisis, you have my sympathy.

That said, I'd tell granddad about the death, because he deserved to know. If sister doesn't want him around, she'll let him know.

Then I'd let the first calls from mom and sister go to voicemail, to gauge their emotional state, while I sipped Pina Coladas by the pool.
posted by new brand day at 6:20 AM on July 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm with pazazygeek on this one. Allow your father to reach out to the kids.

Sadly, I have no advice about doing that while minimizing the drama from your sister and your mom.

(yes, I get that your sister's grief is real, and ought to be respected, but that doesn't remove the kids' emotions from the picture. This really feels like a nobody wins situation the way it's laid out here.)
posted by bilabial at 6:23 AM on July 16, 2010

For the love of god, please your father so he can REACH OUT TO HIS GRANDCHILDREN WHO HAVE JUST LOST A PARENT.

Yes. Death trumps family dramatics. Unless your dad is some kind of nut, which doesn't appear to be the case, his presence and support and condolences for the kids will be appreciated. Plus, since you say he liked the father and his family, he will want to pay his respects.

If you *really* want to have plausible deniability, email him a link to the online obituary. With a throwaway email address.
posted by gjc at 6:25 AM on July 16, 2010 [7 favorites]

I would tell. For the grand-children's sake.
The emotional needs of children trump those of adults.

If your father's compassion could in any way help these children to deal,
then the emotions of the adults should give way to the needs of the children.
posted by Flood at 6:31 AM on July 16, 2010

Ask your sister if she is okay with him knowing.

This is the kind of thing that gets better when you communicate about it. You don't want her to cut you off, too, because you disrespected her wishes in an incredibly stressful time in her life. At the same time, she might be okay with you telling him. Ask!

Please don't dismiss this as "family dramatics". She just lost the co-parent to her children and is going through a nasty custody battle.

The guy isn't going to get less dead. If you must, tell him after your sister has had some time to grieve.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:31 AM on July 16, 2010

I agree with everyone else. In matters like this, the most important people are the kids. Do what seems best for the kids, which I would think would be to tell your father. The rest of the people involved need to just suck it up and act like adults, for the children's sake.

(Also, you say your mother told you not to contact your father, because your sister didn't need the stress. But are you positive your sister would feel the same way?)
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:32 AM on July 16, 2010

Not clear who father #2 is.
Call your mom and tell her that you're done playing family games and ask her specifically to call the people involved and tell them what needs to be told, for the sake of her grandchildren and everyone's sanity and whatnot, and make the specific point that she needs to do this instead of calling you (who seems to be only marginally involved anyway) with the info while telling you to shut up about it. If that doesn't work I would consider going for line 2, respect our father and all that. But honestly, if people around me were that tricky, I'd probably not talk to any of them.
posted by Namlit at 6:34 AM on July 16, 2010

Personally, I would tell for two reasons. 1) It seems (based on your description) the better thing to do all around. 2) Being told something and then being explicitly told to not tell X pisses me off (it makes me a player in a game I don't want to play), and I would tell X just to make the point that if you don't want me to tell someone something, then don't tell me.
posted by forforf at 6:48 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

D'oh, your estrangement with your sister is mutual (thanks to the mefi member who pointed this out to me).

Your mother put you in a bad place. This kind of weird "you'll feel guilty if you don't pass this along, and I want you to do it, but technically I told you not to say anything, so I can't be held responsible...either way you're screwed" manipulation is classic in estranged families. In this case, tell your mother it's not your business, then stay out of it. Tell your mother not to pass along news about your sister again. You both have telephones; if you want to share information you can. I have nearly cut off family members that I otherwise tolerate for playing telephone like this. By ignoring this you're probably doing your mother's relationship with your sister a favor.

Likewise, if your sister wants to tell your father, she can. It's not like she's stranded on a desert island and you're the only hope she has of passing this super important message along. As for "do it for the children!!!" your sister is responsible for the welfare of her children, and can make the decision about involving your father in her children's lives. If you think she's making the wrong decision, or if we think she's making the wrong decision, or if her kids resent her later, tough luck. It's up to her. Frankly, I think that anything that stresses her out or triggers long-buried family struggles in this difficult time is inevitably going to make things harder on her children, who depend on her for security and relative level-headedness. Again, it's not up to me. It's up to her.

And what will happen if you do tell your father? He calls her and...what's next? She doesn't have to tell her kids or let them talk to your father anyway.

Personal anecdote, my father gets along fine with my husband, likes him, talks about him fondly (it helps that he has a penis). My husband tolerates him because he tolerates everyone. I do not get along with my father (to put it mildly). His warm fuzzies towards my husband are almost completely irrelevant to whether or not I want him around.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:23 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with ifds,sn9, in that it is not your responsibility to try to manage this situation, and that just because your mom says it will stress your sister out doesn't mean it necessarily will.

What would you have done if your mom hadn't mentioned your sister's feelings at all? I think you should do that.
posted by cottonswab at 7:34 AM on July 16, 2010

I read this as Father 2 being the poster's step-father, therefore co-grandparent with poster's father, and which is why poster's mother is the person dealing with this.

I vote for not being a pawn in your mother's game. In general, withholding information like this because of other people's drama is not good. Withholding from your father will hurt his feelings, which is either part of her game or a consequence of irrational thought due to the stressful circumstance she's in (I suspect the former).
posted by ellenaim at 7:39 AM on July 16, 2010

You've been asked directly not to get involved, so don't. If your father had some minimal contact with the deceased, at some point that family will let him know. It is not your responsibility.

I speak with some experience on the matter. I, too, am more of a "we should let people know" person with no secrets, etc., so when my step grandparent died many years ago, I wanted to call my step siblings to let them know, even though they are estranged from the entire family. My step parent specifically asked me NOT to call them, and I obeyed that wish despite the fact it went against my own principles.

I don't have any regrets, and frankly, in retrospect, it was never my place to make that call or be the bearer of news.
posted by kuppajava at 7:45 AM on July 16, 2010

can't your father get in touch with father 2's family and go from there? why involve the daughter at all?
posted by elle.jeezy at 8:17 AM on July 16, 2010

Response by poster: 1) Father #2 is the co-parent.

2) "If your father is not a nut..."

My father IS a nut. I just went 15 years without contact myself. My concern is more that he has legitimate reason to want to pay his respects in some way to the in-laws.

I haven't forgotten the two boys, it's just too big an issue for me to deal with. Bi-polar father, now deceased. About to resume full-time living with a mentally/emotionally unstable mother who has just been socked with 2 life-shredding disasters on top of her personal problems, which include recent unemployment. 3000+ miles from the family support structure, and virtual strangers to me. And frankly, my mother running to the rescue will probably resort in further destabilization, because my mother & her children never learned how to deal with each other.

I think my father has a place & can offer a lot to his grandkids, but this mix is way, WAY too unstable for me to want to introduce him to it. But there is a very strong compulsion to tell him *something* because this IS a need-to-know situation: Someone he cares about has died.

Anyway, do please keep sending me your food-for-thought as I keep processing how best to navigate this. It is both appreciated & helpful.
posted by Ys at 9:30 AM on July 16, 2010

Death is a matter of public record.

If you try to placate all the animosities, feelings and preferences of a bunch of unreasonable people, they will make you crazy.

A family member died. Notify whomever you think appropriate. If there's fallout, just say "I did what I thought was right." Repeat as needed.
posted by theora55 at 9:31 AM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your mother likely told you, then told you not to tell him, in order to exert power over him (via you.) Of course you should tell him; you're aware that someone he cares about has passed. You don't need to tell him how you know, or talk about your mother at all, or worry about whether your father's behavior is stressful to your sister, or anything else. Just notify him, and move on. If your mother wants to make an issue out of it, just say what theora55 just told you to say, and move on.
posted by davejay at 9:42 AM on July 16, 2010

If the in-laws want to let him know, they will.

In my opinion really isn't a need-to-know situation, honestly, unless the recently deceased or his family want him to know.

It sucks that they aren't in contact and that he'd probably like to know, but it doesn't approach the level of need. Stay out of it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:01 AM on July 16, 2010

Father2 is the father of your sister's kids? And you're trying to figure out whether to tell the father of both of you? That's sticky. Ultimately, the reactions of your sister, mother, and father are beyond your control. I'm not sure what is "right" in this situation, but it certainly isn't going to help things if your dad finds out months down the road.

When my maternal grandmother died, my mom's cousin1 didn't tell cousin2. Therefore, cousin2 was not able to attend a funeral she didn't know was happening. Cousin1 is now kept absolutely ostracized. I haven't seen her since (10 years). Not sure if that's a relevant story, particularly, but I write it to illustrate one of the life events that if you screw them up, they stay screwed up forever.
posted by rhizome at 10:49 AM on July 16, 2010

Response by poster: Hallelujah, my sister just sent my father an e-mail, which he forwarded to me. Problem solved, no indiscretions necessary on my part! Thank you all for your thoughts and advice. If nothing else, spending this time considering with you all kept me from doing something rash &, as it turns out, un-necessary. Thank you!
posted by Ys at 12:41 PM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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