Make a trip to see elderly relatives, even if she caused odd mini-drama?
December 16, 2013 12:29 AM   Subscribe

Should we make plans to drive several hours and stay in a hotel, after flying across the country with our young kids (who'll be ages 6.5 and 4.5) next Spring, so that they can meet my husband's elderly relatives, with whom he has always had very good relationships... that is, until his octogenarian Grandmother said something to him over the phone that caused my husband to suddenly have a strong negative/ambivalent reaction to the whole idea?

My husband asks the hive mind this question - we've been in the initial stages of planning a detour to an already-reserved trip this Spring to meet up with a group of old friends and all stay in a large rental house together. On this proposed detour, we were thinking we would arrange to drive down to visit my husband's extended family. We would get a hotel so as not to impose too much on his elderly family members. The group trip location is about a 2-hour drive from where my husband's 86-year-old Grandmother, his Great-Aunts (his grandmother's 83-and 91-year-old sisters), and his 49-year-old Aunt (his grandmother's daughter) live on the US East Coast, 3 time zones away from us. Culturally, Grandmother and Great-Aunts are first-generation Americans raised in NYC by Italian immigrant parents, and they don't ever travel. We have not been able to visit them in 5 years, but when we last visited them, our oldest kid was just a baby and we all had a really wonderful visit at the Great-Aunts' shared home. In the meantime since our last visit, we had another child, who is now 4-years-old - and she is Grandmother's first and only great-granddaughter, who Grandmother always says she is so eager to eventually meet.

We were looking forward to finally introducing our son and daughter to who we thought were "the healthiest members" of my husband's dysfunctional extended family. By choice, since 2007, my husband has not had a relationship with his mother, who like us, lives nowhere geographically near any of these women. His mother has never met our children. During our last visit in 2008, we felt extremely supported in my Husband's choice to cut his mother out of his life. Aunt (husband's mother's younger sister) made a point of saying to us "It's sad my sister is missing out on knowing her grandchild, but honestly nobody is judging you for not having Husband's Mother in your life. We have all known for years she is not well mentally." Which is in total agreement with how we understand his Mother's mental health condition to be.

My husband spoke to one of his Great-Aunts the other day who reported that she and his Other Great-Aunt are not in good physical health - one is in rehab after a broken hip, the other was recently in the ER for breathing difficulties. They say they might be able to meet us at a restaurant for lunch or dinner "if one or both are still alive in 5 months" (her words, oy) and we offered to treat them and let them choose the restaurant if they're feeling up for it. They tentatively accepted.

Then my husband spoke to his Grandmother over the phone recently, to check in and to also thank her for the Christmas gifts she sent to our children. During the nice conversation, his Aunt (Grandmother's daughter) came up. Grandmother suddenly changed her tone of voice and chided him: "You know, you should really call her AUNT FirstName." Huh?

After they hung up, my Husband was feeling really surprised and discombobulated to have been harshly called out by his Grandmother, for, for... not using the word "Aunt"? It took him by surprise because she has never treated him like that in his entire life. Not even when he was a child.

Now he's feeling alternately irritated with and confused by his Grandmother's remark, because he doesn't know which (if any?) meaning Grandmother was trying to communicate to him. It could have been something like:

1) Grandson, I wish you would call my 49-year-old daughter "AUNT" FirstName, even though you're 36-years-old and all, because I need to hear you to acknowledge that FirstName is your Mother's Sister even though you have cut your mother (my daughter) out of your life.


2) Grandson, I'm hinting to you that your Aunt is actually mad at you and that she is holding a grudge against you because once upon a time you called her FirstName instead of "Aunt" FirstName.

Or both meanings? Or none of the above? Who knows? Grandmother definitely stirred the pot!

His Grandmother's odd statement caused my husband to reflect on the fact that his Aunt has not returned very many of his texts or calls in the last year or so, but then again, they had a nice phone chat recently, which she ended after a few minutes because she was getting out of the car for work. And during whole the conversation Aunt was warm and pleasant, as she always has been. His Aunt recently opened a restaurant and has understandably been very busy, but my Husband had thought nothing of the implications of his Aunt's overall hard-to-reach-ness until his Grandmother's comment started to make him wonder … if Aunt has maybe been holding some sort of grudge because he's been calling his Aunt by her First Name instead of Aunt First Name. Or something? Gah.

If this sounds ludicrous and over-thinky, well, Husband says that grudge-holding is apparently A Thing in that family, and from family lore I've heard, I believe it's easily possible. But we thought Grandmother and Aunt were certainly the exceptions to the crazy, up to now they've been nothing but kind, so this whole thought process leaves us at a bit of a loss. Now my husband is questioning the point of us even making the trip detour. He's wondering if he would be happier with his memories of these folks as they used to be instead of going out there and trying to create new memories, given his Great-Aunts' illnesses, his Grandmother's odd statement, and his Aunt's very busy schedule and/or possible passive-agressive grudge-holding.

In our shoes, would you still try to make time on this already-planned trip to detour and drive several hours with the kids (and get a hotel) in order to briefly visit these relatives? [To be clear: we are going on the trip to see our friends anyway, so the trip's on no matter what. We could easily cancel the proposed detour portion (to drive/hotel stay to see these relatives) probably without any hurt feelings on their end because of the Great-Aunts' stated health concerns and the fact that we haven't made firm plans with them.] Your thoughts?
posted by hush to Human Relations (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is months from now right? Just keep planning it and forget grandma's comment. You all are reading too much into it.
You'll go out to eat, it will go okay, but you'll never feel bad that little child never met them.
posted by k8t at 12:48 AM on December 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: 86 year old Grandmother gets an annual pass on saying something 'off'. Who knows, she may have been having a 'moment' when she thought she was talking to the child version of your husband. Please don't let this slip, or your assumptions about it, spoil the only likely chance your kids will have to meet their great-grandmother and great-great aunts.
posted by Kerasia at 12:49 AM on December 16, 2013 [69 favorites]

It's only a 2-hour drive from where you're going to be anyway?

Goodness, don't let one slightly 'off' remark stop you from seeing these old folks. Sounds like it might be your last chance.
posted by Salamander at 12:59 AM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

1. It’s bizarre to me that you’re even considering canceling the trip.
2. Very odd to be offended.
3. The Grandmother is right.

If this sounds ludicrous and over-thinky

Yes, it does.
posted by bongo_x at 1:04 AM on December 16, 2013 [31 favorites]

She's 80-freaking-6. She ought to be able to make random oddball comments without the younger generation psychoanalyzing her motives... of which there is likely none except OLD AGE and possibly deteriorating faculties.

Go visit them. If you only get the chance once every five years, this could easily be your last opportunity for any of you to see them still alive... and really, would he rather be wondering this at the funeral?

Then again, it tends to appear to me that the majority of the cutting-family-off that happens these days isn't because the offending party was truly horrible beyond belief (which occasionally happens, and justifies the cutting-off) but because the offended is so special-little-snowflake that they take everything personally and can't just live and let live, allowing the things that don't matter to roll on by as they should. --- Not saying that this is you or your husband, but oh my, it's coming across as a petty excuse for avoidance. Are you sure there aren't other reasons for his not wanting to go?
posted by stormyteal at 1:06 AM on December 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

Best answer: It's possible that these people are up to something sort of jerky (like weird grudge-holding about the word aunt), but it's just as possible if not more so that it was just a weird thing that his grandma said.

Also, even if his aunt is holding a passive-aggressive grudge for no reason, it would still be nice for his grandma to meet her great-grandchild and for you to get a picture for your child to remember.

And the great-aunts will most likely be alive, if a little sick and dramatic.

All in all, I'd say the benefits outweigh the risks here -- if I were you I would go.
posted by feets at 1:09 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dude, she is 86. Let it go. It is most likely nothing, and on the off chance that its something, the best way to deal with this sort of petty grudge is to ignore it, unless your husband wants to join the family ranks of passive-aggressive pot-stirrers.

But really, she's 86. She's probably just saying things. If there is a motive, its probably that 80 years ago young adults didn't call old adults by their first names without a family honorific attached and she's not 100% comfortable with it because she is 86! She's allowed to have (and express oddly) idiosyncratic and old-fashioned opinions on manners at her age.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:27 AM on December 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm not Italian, but I am "first generation" raised by immigrant parents in one of those fairly strong "respect your elders" cultures: I see nothing wrong with your grandmother's comment - I would be addressing my "elders" with their appropriate familial titles, as that is what is expected out of me and my cousins' generation. All of my parents' siblings are a good chunk older, so I can see how the smaller age gap between you and your aunt may have let your husband feel he can dispense with calling her "Aunt", but maybe as others have said, your older relatives feel it's proper to call her Aunt So-and-so.

I would contact your aunt, and ask how she would like to be addressed since grandmother had brought it up: Mention that because of the smaller age gap and culture, you haven't called her "Aunt", but that you would be happy to address her as "Aunt" if that is what she wants. Yes, I'm old fashioned so I say don't let something as trivial as properly addressing your elders cause a rift between you and your extended family.
posted by Seboshin at 1:48 AM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: They say they might be able to meet us at a restaurant for lunch or dinner "if one or both are still alive in 5 months" (her words, oy) and we offered to treat them and let them choose the restaurant if they're feeling up for it. They tentatively accepted.

After they hung up, my Husband was feeling really surprised and discombobulated to have been harshly called out by his Grandmother, for, for... not using the word "Aunt"? It took him by surprise because she has never treated him like that in his entire life. Not even when he was a child.

This is totally normal behavior for an elderly person. That it happened doesn't mean anything more than that he's interacting with an elderly person. Elderly people are often capricious and odd like that, it's an age issue -- not anything to do with his relationship with anybody or anybody's personality or really anything personal at all.

For example: my grandmother is a wonderful person who has been a huge presence in my life for my entire life, I love her to pieces and she loves me, and she is in great shape for a soon-to-be 88-year-old...but at this stage of her life, she says and does extremely weird things all the time. She remembers things that didn't happen, declares things that make zero factual sense, has "off" emotional reactions, makes tons of non sequiturs, acts surprised at basic facts that she obviously knows (I mean *basic,* like that I'm an only child), etc. She can be really difficult to be around until you accept that her emotions and thought process are *not* going to be linear anymore. They are *not* going to follow normal cause and effect. You just have to let that stuff go.

I think you all should definitely go on this trip and visit your husband's relatives. It actually seems awful to think that you wouldn't, considering that there probably won't be a next time. But your husband also needs to prepare himself that his grandma and great-aunts will probably *not* "make sense" and that there will likely be *a lot* of this kind of age-related weirdness. This is not the time to be a sticker for accuracy or rigid about plans or ready to go on the defensive -- as much as possible, he needs to let everything be water off a duck's back. If he's good about handling the kids' acting up, then maybe he could mentally re-frame his relatives' behavior in terms of how he'd understand/take it if one of the kids were doing the same sort of thing. He might also want to remind himself to just humor his relatives. Some weird, meaningless senior moment thing is just not so important that it should overshadow his love for these relatives or theirs for him.

I get that he's probably anxious and that it might be especially hard for him to see these relatives not thinking clearly if his mother has mental issues as well, but if he lets himself get worked up over age-related thinking/communicating/perceiving problems it's going to make the trip a horrible experience for everyone, and that would be a waste and a shame. If he isn't sure he can handle that, then this is the time for him to see a therapist and do some prep work. That's honestly worth it, if it means that he ultimately has a good trip, and he and your children get to feel a happy connection to his side of the family. Speaking from experience, it becomes too late *very* quickly and making that trip after the connection with the loved one isn't possible, because of age-related dementia or a serious illness or death, is a lot worse.

In terms of planning -- his grandmother and great-aunts will almost definitely beg off in embarrassment/anxiety/tiredness/illness if he gives them an opening to. That is *not* about how much they love him or want to see him, that's about them being scared and tired. But it's best/happier for everyone in the end if you guys all get together, so it's important that the logistics don't become a crazy-making rejection loop once you're on the vacation/in the car/in their town and things don't blow up before you actually see each other -- which means that you guys probably have to take the reigns. It also might be best to hash all the planning out with your husband's aunt beforehand, because his great-aunts and grandma probably get tired very easily and have a lot of other physical limitations, and his aunt sees them more so she probably has a good idea what kind of plan for the get-together is doable/best.
posted by rue72 at 2:23 AM on December 16, 2013 [15 favorites]

What would you regret most in the future?

Will you regret letting Granny meet her great-grandchildren despite her age-appropriate-oddities, or will you regret NOT letting her meet her great-grandchildren because of her age-appropriate oddities? Will you regret spending time with Aunt or will it make you feel good, with the benefit of hindsight?

This is one of those times when you need to anticipate how you will look back at this situation.

Personally, I'd take the detour and make the trip.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:07 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just snapped at my 19 year old for calling his aunt and asking for her by her unadorned first name, and my family's been off the boat for 120 years or so.

It didn't mean anything dire-- it just means I don't like it when the younglings are disrespectful to their elders.

I would blow the comment off, and make sure to call Aunt FirstName "aunt" in front of grandma. She's 86, she might not get the chance to see her grandchildren again. Those are pictures you'll cherish when your kids are grown.
posted by headspace at 4:14 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another vote her for giving the elderly a pass. It just isn't that important in the grand scheme of things.

Look, I was raised to always use honorifics (like Aunt or Mr. or whatever is appropriate), but as an aunt and great aunt myself I don't always get called more than my bare name. Okay, I'd PREFER to be called Aunt, but I figure I'd rather be called by just my name than not called at all.
posted by easily confused at 4:34 AM on December 16, 2013

Best answer: Much to my surprise I have entered my eightieth year. It is just a fact that I might not live much longer but I am aware that mentioning this ordinary reality does seem eccentric to younger people. When I have an inexplicably stressful and stupid day, I also sometimes say things that I would certainly have put more diplomatically in earlier years.

Cut them some slack. The family is changing and if you go, make sure you are going to be able to make the trip and the visit as stress-free for them as possible as well as for you. Some days it takes all the energy we sick old people have just to get ourselves put together and out of the house. We tire very easily; it's daunting to go out to a restaurant, meet people and visit, knowing you still have to get back home, up the stairs, carry out your daily routines, take your meds and not be too tired to sleep that night.

If you are going to do the trip, please put aside all judgment about what they say and do and design a meeting and introduction to include pictures and a focus on making this a memory for your children and your husband's elderly relatives. Accommodate their needs, one of which probably is to make it a short visit. Don't worry about what kind of interactions you're going to have; that's really not the point. What is important is just doing it. It will be work for you and I applaud you for doing it. It means a lot to old people, even if we are crochety and peculiar.

It sounds to me like they are apprehensive the visit is going to be really demanding and they are not sure they are going to be up to it. Reassure them with your planning and thoughtfulness and then go through with it. You won't get many more chances. Whoever said old age is not for sissies knew what s/he was talking about.
posted by Anitanola at 4:37 AM on December 16, 2013 [100 favorites]

1st- I wouldn't define what your husband's grandmother said as "odd" in any manner, doing so is a disservice to her. She made a legitimate comment based on her cultural experience, what more would you expect from her. Your husband should get over it and be a little more sensitive.

2nd- Anitanola's comment above is wonderful, thoughtful advice, if he reads/hears nothing else from this thread, it should be that comment.
posted by HuronBob at 4:58 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I honestly assumed she brought it up because she doesn't want your kids calling their great-aunts by their first names.
posted by spunweb at 5:23 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Older people can say random weird stuff. My mom is 74 and oy.

Just go on the trip, the main purpose is still there.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:32 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Husband says that grudge-holding is apparently A Thing in that family, and from family lore I've heard, I believe it's easily possible.

Do you see the irony in what you are considering as your (husband's) reaction to a family member? Be kind and forgiving instead. Enjoy the visit.
posted by rabidsegue at 5:37 AM on December 16, 2013 [13 favorites]

Best answer: To me it sounds like the whole trip is stirring up stuff for you husband that he didn't see coming. From a distance, I would guess it's stuff to do with facing his relatives' mortality, coming in close proximity with illness, frailty, vulnerability, and quite possibly some childhood demons about being judged and vulnerable himself.

I think it's totally normal for these phone calls and this planned (and apparently very rare) visit to bring these things up for your husband. That said, I think that it is no reason to cancel the trip. On the contrary. It's an opportunity for your husband to face some of these things, to grow, to become more emotionally comfortable with dealing with this kind of thing. I guarantee that that process will serve him not only with his birth family but also with his family with you, help him in his relationship with your children, and probably with his own aging as well.

Go on the trip! Plan ahead to give it the best chance for success! Not only logistically though (and you've got some great suggestions for that as well). Also emotionally. There's enough time that he can do some emotional legwork here that could make the whole trip both easier and more rewarding for him. I don't think therapy would be overkill, to be honest, especially with the right therapist. The strength of his own initial response to a pretty offhand comment demonstrates what primordial stuff these relationships are touching. I also really recommend the work of Harriet Lerner for developing a better understanding and strengthening yourself in complicated family relationships - and for changing family patterns.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:39 AM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This is going to sound much more harsh than I mean it to sound, but I don't know how else to say it:

Being so fragile that one cross word from a very elderly relative is enough to cross the detour off your list is a different way of holding a grudge.

People are disappointing -- people are assholes. If you cross every asshole off your list, you'll be very lonely. And -- you will be the asshole on someone else's list!
posted by vitabellosi at 5:40 AM on December 16, 2013 [19 favorites]

At Eighty-Six you get to be as weird about stuff as you like. Your husband is being MUCH too sensitive about this.

And if his Aunty is holding a grudge, who cares?

Seriously, you want to model forgiveness and tolerance for your children, so as long as the remark wasn't abusive, let it go and enjoy a lunch with the old people.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:41 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't let one weird comment from grandma throw everything into chaos or you will spawn a new generation of grudge-holdy passive-aggressive interactions in your family.

Do realize that to the great-aunts that getting out of the house and to a restaurant, especially if one isn't able to walk, is a HUGE ordeal. Do they need to hire a wheelchair van? Find a nursing aid that can come with them? What about steps out of their house? Or at the restaurant? Using the bathroom at the restaurant?

Also the sequelae of a broken hip at advanced age does have a 25% mortality rate at 1 year. It's not exaggerating to say that she might not be around in 5 months. She statistically also has about a 50% chance of never walking unaided again too. These are some big flashing pointy arrows that you shouldn't delay visiting them. It will be hard. It will be annoying. You can deal with it.
posted by fontophilic at 5:44 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm thinking that yes, you should go anyway. I agree - older relatives sometimes get passes.

But why not use this as an opportunity to have a conversation with the Aunt, and ask how they would prefer for you to refer to them? You could even put it in the context of your kids (oh, since the kids are around, I know we've always been casual and I've called you Firstname, but would you prefer I be more formal and call you Aunt Firstname?)
posted by needlegrrl at 5:46 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

When my paternal grandfather was 86, he didn't recognize me any more. The last conversation we had was when I answered the phone at my parents house, and it was him calling my father; I gushed that it was me and it was good to hear from him, and yes my dad was there but I wanted to say hi first - but Grandpa just sounded uneasy and uncertain and clearly didn't remember or recognize who I was, and asked for my father again.

I'd much rather have had him chide me about etiquette, because at least it'd have been a sign he knew who the fuck I was.

Let this go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:56 AM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Let's say your over-thinkingness is 100% right-- your husband's grandmother and aunt are holding a grudge because your husband addresses his aunt by her first name.

You should still go. Not every relative of mine is someone whose mannerisms and thoughts are ones I 100% "like" all of the time, but I still see them regularly and still get together with them because they're great people who are my family.

And, yeah, 86 year old grandmothers are going to insist on traditional etiquette. I still think of my grandmother's neighbor across the street as "Aunt Mae", even though I am almost 40 years old and this neighbor is not even related to me.
posted by deanc at 5:58 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I highly doubt that 49 year old aunt cares that her 30 something nephew calls her by her first name and not aunt.

I know some Italian Americans of your grandmother's generation and they do NOT go by their first names with anyone younger or approve of anyone else doing the same. It's either Mr & Mrs or Aunt Mary or Mom and Dad with their son and daughters in law. Never first names. She probably just let slip her low level annoyance with your husband's totally normal level of casualness that for her generation would be a bit rude. I really wouldn't worry about it and if anything I would call up aunt and have a little laugh about it while telling her you will now be calling her aunt in front of grandma.
posted by whoaali at 6:08 AM on December 16, 2013

Best answer: At Eighty-Six you get to be as weird about stuff as you like.

No, you don't. My mother, who will be 94 next week, tried playing that card when she was in her late 80s. She thought she had license to say whatever popped into her head, and wound up alienating people. She has since returned to conducting herself with her usual good manners and good humor. If you have your wits about you, you are not allowed to be unkind or unreasonable, no matter how much you may want to.

I think the grandmother was out of line telling a man in his mid 30s how to conduct himself with another person. If the 49-year-old aunt wants him to call her "Aunt," she should tell him so. This is between the two of them, and only the two of them.

I really wouldn't worry about it and if anything I would call up aunt and have a little laugh about it while telling her you will now be calling her aunt in front of grandma.

This is good advice. And then make the trip to see them all.
posted by Dolley at 6:25 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: your husband might need to reflect on his own contributions to it being a grudge holding family. we repeat the behaviors that were modeled for us until we make an actual concerted choice to change (and even then, some of us still keep repeating). this is a chance for your husband to break out of one cycle of grudges and passive aggression. he should model for his kids (even if they don't know the whole story this time) forgiveness and empathy.

go visit the relatives. get some nice pictures.
posted by nadawi at 6:27 AM on December 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

I think even in the worst case scenario -- everyone is holding the grudgiest grudge imaginable -- you should still go on the trip.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:44 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Nadawi is right.

This is normal stuff for old people. My father, for example, regularly sends me mail about how disappointed/offended he is by things I or my brother have done, that are utterly imagined. And last week an older friend of mine lectured me extensively about an imagined slight, in a way that was (according to normal standards) utterly inappropriate. I let it roll off me: they are old, and their brains are playing tricks on them.

That said, I think to some degree commenters here may be underweighting the family history. Cutting off your mother is a serious thing, and suggests there may be pretty extensive dysfunction throughout the family. If that's the case and your husband believes this trip might turn into a parade of unhappy triggers, that's his call to make. If he can rise above it and enjoy himself, then you should go. If he thinks it's going to be too painful, that's okay too. Families are tough.
posted by Susan PG at 6:50 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: kind of echoing Susan PG - i wanted to add - my comment in no way speaks to him cutting his mother out of his life. i have cut a sibling out of my life (in what was a very close knit family) and i would never question someone who came to that decision. i know it's not one that is undertaken lightly. it does mean that sometimes you have to work a little harder to stay healthy with the family you keep contact with though. it's my experience (like Susan PG says) that when a family member can be cut off, the dysfunction isn't just between the two with the conflict.
posted by nadawi at 6:55 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've noticed that the elderly people in my family are getting a little dramatic about this being their "last Christmas" or something like that. My grandfather had about 8 last Christmases before he actually had his last Christmas. I have a feeling this is largely fear based. I mean think about it, these people really are approaching their last Christmas (or whatever) and if it were me I'd probably be making comments like this to avoid actually thinking seriously about how this really might actually be my last Christmas. So yeah, totally normal.

And calling an elderly woman Aunt soandso, well I would look at it as calling her a nickname or a term of endearment. Even if she hasn't noticed anything or mentioned anything to your grandma I bet she would get a kick out of you calling her that.

Definitely go.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:59 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

My grandmother is my favourite person in the world. She is 91, and sometimes, she says rather... insensitive things, even to me, whom I sure she loves very much as well.
It hurts, because ideally, the people you love the most should be the kindest to you, but I let it slide. One time my mother got involved and it just ended with everyone being mad and me not going over for a week or so, and that hurt more than just ignoring the comment and thinking that, as others here have pointed old, old ladies get to slip up once in a while.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 8:15 AM on December 16, 2013

GO, it's a gift to your children, believe me.

Huh, I was counting on crazy talk to be one of the perks! Like, the ONLY perk!!
posted by thinkpiece at 9:25 AM on December 16, 2013

I love it when I am called Auntie Cairnoflore. Some don't do it anymore, especially in public, but I really wish they would. I know it is kinda dumb and old-fashioned. I still always call my Aunt, who is 84 Auntie blah blah, though. My sisters just call her blah blah.

I never say anything to them when they call me by my first name because they are adults and get to call me what they want.

It is a term of endearment to me. I like it. I become almost delirious with joy when they use my auntie nickname which almost never happens anymore.

Give them a break. They are old and much closer to the end of life than you and your husband. They really could be in a different situation in 5 months than they are now. See them and call them what they like. They will not be around forever. It will make them happy.
posted by cairnoflore at 9:29 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Reading this question I kept waiting for the dramatic thing the grandmother did, and I truly was surprised when I realized it was this "Aunt" thing. Heck, at 38 I could see myself finding it slightly odd/disrespectful to hear someone call their older relative by their first name; I wouldn't say anything about it but I don't think the grandma here is crazy for doing so. From the outside looking in, it seems like an appropriate response would be to just ASK the aunt if she wants to be called aunt, with the understanding that a) she should have so herself if that's the case, b) he hasn't committed some grievous sin for overlooking it until now, but also c) now that it's in the open it shouldn't be a huge deal to him to change if that's what she'd like. No harm, no foul all around.

Is there more to this for your husband? To be tipped into this spiral of analysis and motive-crafting - and ESPECIALLY to seriously consider cancelling what might be his last trip to see some of these folks - because of this alone seems a little ... extreme, to me. If this is a one-off then so be it - your husband is just as entitled to his moments as his grandma is - but I would strongly suggest he reflect on what might truly be bothering him. It sounds like there are some lingering issues with his family dynamic he still needs to process, either alone or with a professional.

And to add to the chorus, I would definitely try to put the whole matter out of my mind and go on this trip.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:29 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Chalk this one up to "old person being old" and let it go. But it won't hurt to ask Aunt Whatshername if she prefers to be called by the title Aunt.
posted by windykites at 10:35 AM on December 16, 2013

Model good behavior to the kids and break the chain of irrational grudge-bearing by going to visit the elders. Get lots of photos of your kids with these folks who your kids may never see again. Enjoy your time together, turn off your egos and focus on these old folks who are soldiering through the aches and pains of old age, and looking down the barrel of death.

Husband does not get to deny the kids this connection to their elders. It's not fair to the kids or the old folks.
posted by nacho fries at 10:36 AM on December 16, 2013

Best answer: I love it when I am called Auntie Cairnoflore. Some don't do it anymore, especially in public, but I really wish they would. I know it is kinda dumb and old-fashioned. I still always call my Aunt, who is 84 Auntie blah blah, though. My sisters just call her blah blah.

I don't think your husband's issue with the "aunt" title is petty, and I don't think he should feel that he *needs* to just lump it and call her "Aunt So-and-So" to appease anybody. In most circumstances, sure, it would be no big deal, just a nod to an old person's traditionalism, maybe a sweet term of endearment, etc. But in this circumstance, it sounds to me like he's reading a subtext of "your mother and us are a package deal" and/or "acknowledge the hole left by your mother" into his grandma's request to use the title, and that (almost definitely inadvertent, in my opinion) subtext is upsetting to him given his relationship with his mom.

If it upsets him to use "aunt," then he should just not use it. If he gets called on not using it, or if he can't get it out of his mind, it's totally OK for him to tell his grandma/great-aunts/aunt/whoever that being reminded that this relative is his mother's sister (by calling her "Aunt So-and-So") makes him think of his mom, and that's upsetting for him, and he doesn't want to deal with that every time he says his aunt's name. His grandma/great-aunts/whoever might pout, but they'll get over it. I guarantee that they care more about having a good relationship with him and seeing him/the kids than whether he uses the honorific "aunt," especially considering that he's never used it before now and they've had a good relationship with him regardless. I get why he's making the connection, but I strongly doubt that, in their minds, the "aunt" thing has anything to do with his mom or that he's related to them through her. I very, very strongly doubt that they think *at all* that his relationship with them is contingent on his relationship with his mom, considering how they reacted when they found out he'd broken off contact with her.

Maybe he's also worried about hearing your kids call these family members "aunt" and "grandma," etc, because that'll remind him of his mom (and that she's not around), too. That's OK, that's a perfectly fine thing for him to think about and talk out with you and maybe even talk out with these relatives beforehand. If you guys think it would go over better for the kids to use titles rather than first- or nicknames to address these relatives, you can teach them to use nonsense or foreign titles, it doesn't have to be "Aunt So-and-So" and "Grandma [Last Name]," etc. There's probably an AskMe up right now that would give you hundreds of options, and if there isn't, go ahead and post the question! Regardless, nobody is going to (or can) demand that he create a relationship between himself and his mom or the kids and his mom, just because he's got a relationship with these relatives and is helping the kids have a relationship with these relatives. They've made it pretty clear that they're *not* a package deal with his mom.

I think he's working himself into a lather worrying that they're sort of mocking him with this, that it's a sign that they don't care about him or are mad at him or hate him now. For what it's worth, I really, really, really don't think that's true. From how you've described their actions and relationship with him here, I think that they love him and want to see him (and the kids).

Anyway, dealing with old folks can be tough, he's going to have to try and let things go in general, to be flexible and cut them some slack. But something that will probably make that easier is for him to just assume/remind himself that, regardless of what worries or irritations happen to be plaguing him at any particular moment, they actually do love him and he loves them. Maybe sometimes he'll have a tough moment and will just have to take that on faith, but that's OK.

He's wondering if he would be happier with his memories of these folks as they used to be instead of going out there and trying to create new memories, given his Great-Aunts' illnesses, his Grandmother's odd statement, and his Aunt's very busy schedule and/or possible passive-agressive grudge-holding.

For what it's worth, no, I don't think he would be happier. In my experience, not going would make him feel like he no longer has a (birth) family, and he's likely to feel grief and loneliness, and eventually both he and the kids would regret the kids never getting to meet or have memories of their only remaining relatives on his side of the family.

I don't think the trip will be easy, but I do think that it's worth it.
posted by rue72 at 10:53 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another thought: this "possible interpretation" of your grandmother's request really stood out to me:

Grandson, I wish you would call my 49-year-old daughter "AUNT" FirstName, even though you're 36-years-old and all, because I need to hear you to acknowledge that FirstName is your Mother's Sister even though you have cut your mother (my daughter) out of your life.

From what you've said, the grandmother and aunts have all been supportive of your husband's decision to cut his mother out of his life, correct? So where is this hurtful interpretation coming from? To this outsider it sounds like your husband might be keeping up his role in the drama by torturing himself with possible "hidden motives" like this. Towards that end, the kindest thing he could do for himself might be to stop and check in on how he's handling his decision to cut off his mother, what lingering guilt or grief he might be experiencing, etc. Even if it was the absolute right and best decision (and I had to cut my father out of my life before he died, so I certainly understand that it can be necessary), cutting off a family member can be hard and guilt-inducing. It would be a shame if he robbed himself of his grandmother/aunts' support by ascribing to them feelings they don't really have.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:05 AM on December 16, 2013

Response by poster: OP here. Thank you all for reading my lengthy question, and for all of your sagacious answers with so many fantastic perspectives to share - you've truly written so many good ones!

To those who have wondered why my husband is acting so bizarre, petty, special-little-snowflakey, overly-sensitive, insensitive to his elders' needs, fragile - I'd rather not get into too many details, so suffice it to say he's grappling with some depression issues, and as @Susan PG correctly intuited he had one hell of a childhood to overcome. And clearly he's not there yet.

Thank you!
posted by hush at 11:27 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

bongo_x: "2. Very odd to be offended.
3. The Grandmother is right.

2. Not so odd. It's none of grandmother's business what two adults call each other.
3. It's none of your business what hush's husband calls his relatives. Wow. That's obnoxious.

4. She's an old person, with all the possible (previously-unheard-of) flakiness that this implies. Give it a pass.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:45 PM on December 16, 2013

Except it's not just two adults who are on the same rung of the latter. It's an aunt and an elder vs a significantly younger nephew. It's proper for the nephew to acknowledge her with respect.
posted by gardenbex at 4:25 PM on December 19, 2013

In your family/worldview, perhaps.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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