I'm just a tourist here. I don't know the etiquette to death and dying
April 1, 2018 12:48 AM   Subscribe

My mom is likely within a week of dying. I've gotten to spend considerable time with her over the last 2 months and I'm grateful for that. I face two dilemmas that I can't resolve internally. One is straightforward, the other is more nuanced.

1. My wife and I have two children, a 3-yr old and a 5-month old. The 3-yr old has (had?) a great relationship with his grandma. His last experience with her was positive, reading books, sitting in her lap, laughing. The usual. Should he come see her one last time? She's gone (basically), with occasional hallucinations and delirium. A friend said maybe tell him (if he comes) that "grandma is sleeping, but she can hear what you say, if you want to say goodbye". My wife leans towards "yes", i.e. they should come. Most family friends say "no". We want to be honest with our boys, but I fear that this would taint his memory of her. Traveling with two kids is a major pain in the ass, too. We'll have to come back to settle the estate and the funeral. I think my wife's take on this is clouded by her desire to be here for me, which is appreciated but not needed. I'm ok.

2. My mom had an illegitimate daughter 18 years before I was born who was put up for adoption. They've never met, though my sister has reached out every decade or so over the last 30 years. She's been rebuffed at every attempt at contact. My mom has lived in fear that her secret would be revealed and wanted nothing to do with my sister, was even angry (furious) at her for reaching out. My sister found me on Facebook and we have had a friendly relationship for the last 3 years or so. She has 3 kids, and 7 grandkids, a husband, a whole life of her own. Nevertheless, she has a hole in her life. My sister wants to meet my mom, wants to exist, wants closure, wants to be part of my life. I'd like to help my sister if I can, just because this is the drama that defines her life and if I could help fix that (partially) then I'd be happy to. My aunt thinks she should not be revealed to the world. I want her (and her family) to come to the funeral. I want to end the secrecy. Should life be for the living, and try to heal my sister, or should the grudge of a dying mother be honored?

Lastly, I'm doing fine (considering) so thanks in advance for your condolences, but this isn't about me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like a definite no for the kids.
I think if your mom really doesn’t know what’s going on, then having the opportunity to see her would be good for your sister. It might be overly disruptive for her and her family to come to the funeral though. That should be an opportunity for the family to say goodbye to your mom and this would be a big new thing for them to deal with on the middle of that. They can always meet your sister at a happier occasion.
posted by bleep at 1:11 AM on April 1, 2018 [8 favorites]

1. No, I wouldn't take the 3yr old to see Grandma but I would take him to the funeral if that is possible. He is used to Grandma responding to him in a certain way, and she won't do that this time. He might not understand her lack of response is not about him. There is nothing to be gained taking him to see her in that state.

2. Here you are thinking about the actively living, rather than the nearly dead, and I too would think like you. I would invite Sister, but not her family, to visit your mother in hospital.
posted by Thella at 1:14 AM on April 1, 2018 [20 favorites]

1. I would allow the children to see their grandmother one last time if *they* expressed an interest. Your wife leans towards yes so I would follow her guidance over your friends'. I feel we as a culture do shelter children from the messy parts of illness and death too much, however it is your and your wife's ultimate call. I do think it is bittersweet and life-affirming to have a new life meet an old one as their paths are just crossing in this world. All of my children have felt it very important to know that they had interacted with relatives that have passed on, even if they were only a few months old. They like to see the pictures and hear the stories. The "grandma is sleeping" line is a nice one. You wife would like to be with you, even if you feel you do not need her. Please let her help you, she loves you and knows you well. Building walls right now is not healthy.

2. Yes, I would invite her to your mother's bed, and I would invite her to the funeral and include her, tastefully, in the obituary (not to be harsh, but she isn't illegitimate - she is a legitimate person who was born to an unwed mother. Oppressive and discriminatory language is hard-baked into our culture). Shame is a motivator for a lot of really unhealthy behaviour. There is no reason to continue the secret and a lot of excellent reasons to be guided by honesty and truth.

My heart goes out to you at this difficult time.
posted by saucysault at 1:31 AM on April 1, 2018 [57 favorites]

Regardless of what you say, it's always hard to lose a parent, and it marks a new part of your life. Take good care of yourself, and do what you need to do for you. Having your wife there to care for you sounds to me like a good idea.
I'm a permanent resident. We've been dealing with a lot of dying the last many years, and we (as a family) have learnt a lot.
Generally, we bring the children now. We do this because we felt so unprepared and scared when this all started because our parents had "protected" us when they were caring for dying relatives. We want our kids to grow up understanding that death is part of life, and that one needs help and care to pass away in a dignified and gentle manner. My stepmother died surrounded by her grandchildren, including the toddlers. However, to be honest, I don't think it is very important for your son when he is only three. I lost a great-grandmother when I was three, and I have no memory of her at all, dead or alive.
Regarding your sister, this is a more difficult situation. I have dealt with a similar, but not identical situation, and I decided to let the person my relative wouldn't see visit after giving it a lot of thought, because to be honest, I felt and still feel it was very problematic. The dying relative was helpless and could not protest. In the specific situation, I had a report with my relative where I could say to them firmly, you must accept this, because it is the right thing to do, appealing to their sense of obligation. They couldn't speak but signaled they understood. I also ushered out the other person very quickly, and then spent the last hours alone with my relative soothing them and caring for them. This is where your wife and sons can help: if you let your sister come in for a few minutes to say goodbye, your wife can be there for her and help her with her grief when you have to send her out, and then reassure your mother.
Your sister should definitely be at the funeral, and bring whoever she wants. From your description, it seems your sister is a person you are happy to have found, and funerals are for the living, not the dead.
posted by mumimor at 1:52 AM on April 1, 2018 [10 favorites]

NO - a 3 year old can not visit with his Grandmother who can not interact with him. Attending her funeral is your and your wife's decision. I tend towards being at the wake or similar celebration of your mother, but any funeral home or gravesite experience at the age of 3 is too traumatic. I say this as a parent of a 6 yr old. I say this as someone with memories of beeing 2 and 3 yrs old, myself.

I don't know what to do about your sister, but why would you let her visit your mom now, as some commenters suggest? Your mom has been very clear about this, it will hurt both of them so so much.

Fuck yeah your sister (and maybe her family!) should come to some sort of family gathering soon! Long overdue! I don't know if the funeral is appropriate, necessarily, but why not? Embrace her. But don't make your mother face this trauma while she is alive and unwell. Your sister knows you value her, surely she can understand and be compassionate here?

I'm a person adjacent to your sister's situation in some ways and I would understand. Your mom is not totally cognizant right now, you can start preparing extended family as appropriate without your mom knowing. Do that. Your sister should be welcomed with compassion by your extended family, you can facilitate this.

Much kindness.
posted by jbenben at 1:57 AM on April 1, 2018 [11 favorites]

I come from a different angle on this.

I realised when my mother died, that dying is a very personal event, often desired in solitude. I found out from palliative care nurses attending that often the moment of death is when the dying person is alone, even if only for a few minutes. Almost as if that moment is sought for its separation.

I feel that you and your wife are trusted, 'quiet' visitors or carers, but bringing new people or young children into the situation is unfair to the dying person, and to her wishes. She has made her feelings very clear about meeting her daughter. Sad as it is, please respect her wishes.

Wakes and funerals are for the living to respond to the death in their customary ways. That might be the time to extend the invitation to your sister.

I had a similar situation with a relinquished sibling and for an unavoidable reason, they never met their mother. The child had died meanwhile, though my mother never knew this and had searched for her child. But if we had found my sibling, we would not have brought them to my mother's last/ dying days. If she had been alert and aware, maybe. With her permission and assurance of privacy. But in her last days, I feel it is too late. Delirium, morphine, pain, medical routines, cleaning etc and the personal nature of ones own time of passing, would not have constituted a reunion.

A dying person should have their agency honoured, even if we disagree with them. There are ways you could (continue) to support your sister's processing of her story, but your mother's consent is more important.

The children is more nuanced. A very quick visit to see grandma asleep/resting and leaving without noise or emotion is something you might manage. Maybe it could be to put a flower in a vase or say a prayer (if that's your groove.) I think your children are very young for this, even though I agree with others that we do shelter ourselves in western culture. It's not really out of probability that your children could react more emotionally than you predict. In a hospice or palliative setting this is likely to be distressing to others, as well as your children/family.

(I'd like to cautiously present the idea that wakes aren't always the best place to kick off family reunions of such a personal nature. In my situation, some airing of the secrets caused some divisions and hurt during the wake, and for some time after. Maybe just keep that in the back of your mind so you can recognise there's more emotional labour here to manage the interactions. It would be nice/ healing if it all was a loving experience, but as you've said, there's a variation in views.)
posted by honey-barbara at 2:34 AM on April 1, 2018 [29 favorites]

Sorry that this is happening to you & your family.

My experience with dying people is similar to honey-barbara's - when my dad was dying he seemed to turn inwards and was not really concerned with people or the world. In life he was very dutiful towards his mother (though I suspect their relationship was abusive on her part and I'm not sure he actually liked her), but when he was dying and we asked if he wanted to see her one last time his reaction was basically "oh hell no", and we respected that (not least because she was also terminally ill and a really stressful person to be around and the logistics of getting her there would have been complex).

In your case I would bring neither your kid nor your sister to see your mother at this point. Kid because I imagine it'll be more stressful than helpful for him and he won't have a lot of context for what's going on, why grandma isn't acting like grandma etc. I do agree that we suck as a society at normalising death and dying around children but I think there are other ways you can work on it that don't involve bringing your three year old son to see your mom right now and all of the other kid/travel-juggling this would involve.

With the sister, I imagine it's going to be stressful for you, her and your mom if she comes. I don't think there's much point in arranging a deathbed meeting that your mother's past words and actions have shown that she really doesn't want - it's not going to be the start of any kind of meaningful relationship for your sister, because the relationship is going to end as soon as it starts and I can't see your mom being in a position to deal well with the meeting right now.

It does sound like you're putting a lot of thought and energy into considering/arranging the most-perfect outcomes for other people (giving your son a final encounter with grandma, giving your sister a chance to meet her mom), and I want to emphasise here that dealing with a parent dying is super stressful anyway without the pressure you're putting on yourself to make perfect choices on other people's behalves. Your son will be okay either way. Your sister most likely already has a bunch of feelings and regrets about this, and she'll be okay either way too.

With your sister, I think the most meaningful thing you can do is to integrate her more into your family. Her best opportunity to get to know your mom, at this stage, is to hear stories about her from the other people who loved her. I would focus on that and the things you can do to make her a part of your lives now that the parent (who, let's not forget, repeatedly rejected her and may reject her again if you organise an in-person meeting) is no longer in control of that relationship.

I totally agree about not letting the shame of a previous generation set the agenda for this generation (after my dad and my grandma died we found out my grandad wasn't actually my dad's father and that my grandma had kept this a secret for 50+ years out of shame - I'm still furious that the outdated morality of an older generation meant I never got to know anything about the man who supplied a quarter of my DNA, so I really do get how toxic this stuff can be and the impact it has on the lives of the still-living), but I really don't think the deathbed meeting between your mom and the daughter she never wanted to acknowledge will go well for either of them, and it sounds like it'll be more stressful for you too.

You can't give everyone around you perfect end-of-your-mom's-life moments. Be as kind and compassionate as you can to everyone involved, including yourself - in this case that might mean not burning brain cycles on whether or not you should arrange stressful visits with your kids and your sister. It's okay to choose the lower-stress-for-you options now and then do what you can to make sure your kid knows that grandma loved him and that your sister can feel connected to your family later on when you're not also trying to juggle your mother's imminent death.
posted by terretu at 3:17 AM on April 1, 2018 [19 favorites]

Totally talk to both your son and your sister about whether they want to come.

If your son says yes, he wants to see grandma once more, after you explain what it will be like, then you should bring him along. I gave the same choice to my kids (who were a lot older at the time - 11 and 13) whether they wanted to see their grandmother when she was dying, and they both said no. I was sad about that, because I think my mother would have liked to see them - although she wasn't ever the sort to insist. I gave my kids the choice, they took it, and I respected it. Same for your son - even at age 3, it can be his call, under your guidance, with no pressure either way.

With your sister - I would absolutely invite her and whoever she wants to bring along to the funeral, but even now... I'm thinking of a scenario where you give her the option to come along with you for a short incognito visit during your mother's last days. Your mother may/may not know it had ever happened, but it might mean a lot for your sister to have just one chance to say goodbye.

As several people already said - there are no correct or perfect answers here. Do your best.

Take care of yourself. You have my warm wishes at this difficult time.
posted by rd45 at 4:45 AM on April 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am going to buck the trend and say bring the grandkids. I had a close relationship with my grandmother who passed when I was 4. We were separated for 3 to 4 months while she died of cancer. I think one visit to living, but asleep grandma who was clearly (but not terrifyingly) sick would have helped me transition to dead grandma. I didn't understand the separation or death, partially because grandma looked even better than usual in that casket.
posted by Kalmya at 5:01 AM on April 1, 2018 [9 favorites]

My mom died of dementia a couple of years ago. The dying need to pull inward, and it sounds like your mom is doing that.

I'm here to second what terretu said very well above.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:10 AM on April 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is totally anecdotal, but i know two people (adults) who still don't go to sleep easily (and put it off, even if tired), because someone close to them died when they were kids, and they were told that the person who passed is now sleeping. so i might wanna word that differently.

as to going to a funeral, i think it sort of depends on how you view death etc. in your family. if its not a bitter, dark thing, but more of a celebration of who they were, what they did, and being ok with missing them like hell, it balances out. imo death is pretty straightforward with kids, like my 3 yr old nieces' grampa passed away a few months back, and they seem ready to accept that he's not gonna be around anymore. but i don't know if its necessary to go see gran as she is now, because its not how she was before. maybe ask the kid (i'd be more like YES if this was a teenager or something but 3?) – ultimately its up to you guys.

and i'd def. invite your sister. there's no benefit to perpetuating generations of secrets, sorrow etc.
big hugs for you and your family in this rough time you guys are going through.
posted by speakeasy at 5:45 AM on April 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Please do not under any circumstances bring your sister to your mother’s deathbed. I feel sorry for your sister, but your mom has made it clear that she does not want to meet her. Bringing an unwanted person to someone dying who is literally trapped and completely subject to what other people decide is unspeakably cruel. Even if your mom seems unaware, you do not know what she can comprehend. And even if she doesn’t comprehend, she should not be subjected in her last days to someone who is just there to look at her. It is already too late for your sister to have a relationship with her.
posted by FencingGal at 5:53 AM on April 1, 2018 [66 favorites]

The dying person is not a prop, nor a non-choice-making person. Sneaking in, incognito visits etc are very unfair treatment of your mother's wishes. As her close family member, she entrusts you to honour her passing how she wishes it. Her whole life is to be considered, and she has said how she feels. Yes, we can say she doesn't know, or say it's fine to consider the living more, but she had volition and she asked you to respect it. You and living people compose your own stories about her passing after she has gone, but whilst she's living, this is her passing. 'Turning inward' is a very good way of describing what the dying person often needs. Also privacy.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:54 AM on April 1, 2018 [18 favorites]

I don't think it would be helpful for your son to see his grandmother like this.

Bringing your sister dishonors your mother's wishes. That's a big deal. Including your sister in future family events is the best way to help her.
posted by shw at 5:58 AM on April 1, 2018 [11 favorites]

I would not risk disturbing my dying mother's mind with a direct defiance of her explicit request. She is not present but she is conscious.

I would let them come to the funeral under the condition that they not reveal their identity just yet. Now is not the time. A funeral is not the time. So much grief. No need for drama. Not fair to the sister and hurtful I know but now is not the time.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:00 AM on April 1, 2018 [9 favorites]

No to bringing the young children. They are too young to get this. Also, it has been my personal experience that last moments like this will stay fixed in your mind forever. Is this really the image you want your kids to have in their minds whenever they think of their grandmother?

Also no to bringing the sister to the bedside, and a much stronger no. This is against your mother's express wishes and it should not be up to you to violate those wishes during the most helpless and vulnerable time in your mother's adult life. Your duty is to your mother here, not your sister. Moreover, your sister can't "meet" your mother in any meaningful sense now, and if she could that would be verb distressing for your mother during her final days.

On the other hand, yes to having the sister at whatever kind of funeral/memorial/wake you have. These things are for the living. But only if it's under circumstances in which you're sure if won't be distressing to the other attendees. It's great that you are sensitive to your sister's desires and feelings, but in point of fact she is not part of your family. She just shares some genetics. You don't "owe" her anything.
posted by slkinsey at 7:00 AM on April 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

It is already too late for your sister to have a relationship with her.

Stronger no than that, even: Your mother didn't want a relationship with your sister. Maybe it was only "out of fear for her secret," maybe it was the context your sister was conceived under or the fallout from that relationship -- you have no way of knowing what your mother's real reasons were. (It sounds like your aunt might, though.)
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:11 AM on April 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Sister, yes. Kid, no.

A 3yo doesn’t need to say goodbye.

Your sister deserves to be included and to meet her family.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:17 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also I answered assuming you weren’t going to bring your sister to your mother’s bedside, just the funeral. The bedside would be inappropriate. But she should be aware that she’s sick so that she can begin to process.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:21 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

2. Do you mean bringing your sister to see your mom now? If so, I agree with those who say it’s really disrespectful to bring someone your mom didn’t want around to her deathbed. We actually don’t know much about what dying people are aware of. Even if she were 100% unaware in some way you could prove, it’s still incredibly disrespectful. The funeral is a different story; they’re for the grieving and your sister is an adult and can make her own choices about that.
posted by kapers at 7:22 AM on April 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

PLEASE don't bring your 3yo to a dying woman's bedside and then explain it as "she's sleeping" ... I had *massive* sleep problems as a child because of a similar situation, and it took a long time to process it and get past it.

Your child will not gain anything useful from this, and you're liable to bring havoc to your household if you mess up your preschooler's sleep, even moreso if there's a baby in the house.

Half-sister: bedside no, funeral yes.
posted by mccxxiii at 7:40 AM on April 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

My step-MIL died after a brief battle with cancer about a year ago, when my daughter was 2.5. 3 year olds absolutely need to say goodbye. In fact, they have an unusually frank manner about death that might surprise you. My daughter saw Gran B. one time when she was ill; my father-in-law hadn't really prepared us for how ill she was, which is a bit of a regret of mine. I wish I'd been able to prepare my daughter more. But I think it was good for her to see her grandmother in decline so we could talk about it and she could process that her illness and death were real, as her first question was that, well, if Gran B. wasn't here, we could just call her, couldn't we? We did a lot of talk like "she looked really old all of a sudden and couldn't move much." It was very, very factual for her. I do wish that we'd been able to see the body; I think that would have been even more helpful for her, though her grandmother was cremated so there was no opportunity. Around the same time, I brought her into the backyard to see a dead mouse so she could understand what "dead" meant. It's concretely very different from sleeping, which is a common fear at this age because it's so often used as a metaphor--you don't want your kid to think they'll go away forever when they go to sleep.

(My daughter's comment about the dead mouse? "Oh. It's not sad. It's dead.")

Recommend this book for help processing.

Meanwhile, I think your mother's attitude toward her child is incalculably cruel and you could do some real good in the world by offering your sibling closure. I'd really search your feelings for what that means to you, personally.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 AM on April 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

Since there are very strong feelings here regarding the possibility of the sister visiting, I'd like to expand a bit on my thoughts on this. First of all, I think the OP should focus on what is good for them. The passing of a parent is a turning point in one's life, and the choices one makes then can have a profound impact on the future. Death is a part of life, but it is not a trivial part of life. Second, after experiencing at close hand the deaths of a number of relatives and some other people close to me, I realized that in some ways, one dies as one has lived. I mentioned my stepmother dying surrounded by family, including toddlers. That was good and right for her, because that was who she was. It was clear to all that it was what she wanted. Another relative struggled with death as he had struggled with life, he was a fighter, and he fought back at everything, making his final days much harder than they should have been. There is no one way of dying, just as there is no one way of dying.
The relative I described above was a person who had suffered through life, and turned much of that suffering into anger, and even hate. If they could have, they would have turned away every relative and friend except me and one more person. I could have honored that. But I realized that would have had a huge negative impact on my life after my relative passed. In essence, I told my relative that they couldn't do this to me. And they accepted that. I'm totally convinced that my relative understood what was going on and why I made that decision. Again — you die as you have lived, and my relative created a situation where they were putting an unacceptable burden on me, and I reacted as I would have done if they were well, which was an important part of our closeness. I know, because I was there, that my relative died peacefully and literally in my arms, as they had wanted to. But I set my terms because I was the one living on.
Only the OP can know their mother and themselves and their family and weigh the consequences of their choices. There is no right and no wrong. There is not a perfect or correct or moral way to do this. Some people are ready to go with peace, others aren't. Some people die suddenly and unexpectedly, others pass away at home, surrounded by family. You can't exactly plan how you want to go or who you want to be there with you. But relatives or friends can do a lot to help, and among the things you need to do as a relative is to take your own situation and feelings as the point of departure. If I had known what I know now, I would not have permitted my fighting relative to struggle like they did. I would had supported and led them. And sometimes that can include going against their wishes.
Take care all.
posted by mumimor at 7:52 AM on April 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

I was 3-1/2 when my grandmother died, of a brain tumour after breast cancer, which according to my mother made her like a crazy person at the end. I have absolutely no memory of my grandmother at all, including of seeing her in this end-of-life state. I don't think it really matters for the 3-yr-old but may for your wife and other family members. I personally think it would be better if westerners, at every age, were more involved in death and considered it a natural part of life, which it is, but it's really up to you all and your norms and mores.
posted by mmw at 7:53 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Should life be for the living, and try to heal my sister, or should the grudge of a dying mother be honored?

My mom died this past summer and we had some decision to make regarding some stuff not exactly similar to this but not entirely different. We basically erred on:

- no deathbed visits from people she was not super close to in life, period. And this did mean fighting off some people who really wanted to see her. While she is alive, to my mind, it is your job to give her the path out of this life she would have chosen, is how I frame it. I have no specific advice on kids except that lots of people have traumatic experiences that can range from "I saw my grandmother on her death bed" to "I didn't see my grandmother on her deathbed" and as much as you can make this a kid-directed choice, i think you will be happier. When my grandfather was in the hospital when I was a young kid, I was 3 and got to go see him (I have no memory of this) and my sister was a baby and did not. My Mom, for her entire life, felt weird that my sister had not gotten in to see him. Neither me or my sister cared terrible much, so think about your wife also.

- Once your mom dies, I do think it's okay to decide "This secret stops with me" though I'd think a little bit about your relationship with your aunt since her wishes are clearly different. I'd also only bring your sister's whole family to the funeral if it's a big sort of event. Because there will be mixed feelings within your family about the appropriateness of her being included and unless you want to be the "Fuck this family in particular" person (and maybe you do, I don't know) it's a pretty aggressive move to invite a lot of strangers at a time when people are really not feeling their best. Are you the only other child?

this is the drama that defines her life and if I could help fix that

It's also worth giving this some thought. This may be true, it may not be true, but putting yourself in a fixer position is both admirable and problematic.

tl;dr You and your wife are the smallest chosen-family unit here and people can be weird about death and dying and how much is and is not under their control (both the dying person but also the people caring for them and related to them). No decision is right, per se, but some are more normative and that can at least help guide your decision making process. May the next few weeks be peaceful for you.
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 AM on April 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh, and for an alternative way of talking about what's going on with grandma: just be as frank and factual as possible. "Grandma is very old and her body is shutting down to prepare for death. This makes her sleep a lot and she might say funny things. You don't have to worry about this happening to your body because she is very old and it's a special process that happens when you're very old. She can't talk to you, but she can hear what you say if you want to say goodbye." With my daughter, we gave a rough explanation of what "cancer" meant, that it was a sickness that she didn't have to worry about catching like a cold, that started in Gran B.'s body. Any time we strayed from being really frank, it got confusing. For example, she thought that our explanation of a funeral as "a place for people to say goodbye to Gran B." meant Gran B. would BE there. But her big concern was about who would take care of my father-in-law, who would ride trains with him and have dinner with him every night. I'd be prepared for a lot of questions and maybe a year or so of processing. At 4, my daughter still sometimes talks about missing her.

Also, some control issues popped up for both me and the 3 year old right after--some battle of wills over the potty, specifically. I think that's normal. You're both processing something out of your control and so suddenly little things seem very important.

Good luck.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:11 AM on April 1, 2018 [8 favorites]

No to bringing the young children. They are too young to get this.

I was three when my grandfather died. My parents visited him every day for that last week while he was dying. I knew something was going on with Pop, and that I wanted to see him and say that I loved him. My parents kept me away from him until the memorial service.

45 years later, I am still bitter, and still angry with my parents for their bullshit about how they were "protecting me" from pain and that I was "too young" to understand. I was old enough to know that I wanted to say goodbye to someone I loved if they were never going to be here ever again. Their making my decision for me was the start of a lifelong distrust on my part of anything they told me about any family member who was sick.

Children, while simpler than adults, and certainly more ignorant than adults, aren't stupid. Ask your kid. Go with the answer you're given.
posted by tzikeh at 8:40 AM on April 1, 2018 [16 favorites]

Also, I would think hard about your aunt’s feelings before inviting your sister to the funeral. Assuming this is your mom’s sister, she will be grieving too, and it’s not unreasonable to have a deep desire to honor the wishes of a dead person at her own funeral. Your aunt also might know some very difficult things about this that you have been shielded from. Of course, your sister is not responsible for any of it, but that could explain why your aunt feels as she does.

If your sister has grandchildren and this is “the drama that defines her life,” that is very sad, but going to the funeral is not going to fix it. Yes, funerals are for the living, but your aunt is living too. I am not saying yes or no on this because I don’t know enough - just that your aunt’s feelings are worthy of consideration.
posted by FencingGal at 8:42 AM on April 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

My grandmother died when I was three, and I saw her a few times in the hospital when she was in pretty much the same state your mother is in now. It terrified me, and gave me nightmares and sleep problems for years. So I'm pretty firmly on the side of not bringing the kids to see her again.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:51 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

ooh I'm sorry i misread the 2nd question too. yeah i cant say about visiting your mom, but would still welcome her to the funeral if she would like to go.
posted by speakeasy at 9:12 AM on April 1, 2018

Let your mother have her funeral the way she would have wanted it, before you start moving on. It’s not the place to declare that your mother was in the wrong and her wishes are now of no account. Your sister has got the rest of her life to meet your family.
posted by Segundus at 9:26 AM on April 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

I was with my father almost until the minute he died of dementia and pneumonia. Family members were coming to visit him on his deathbed (close ones, like his sister), and it was extremely difficult and frightening for them to see my father when he was near death. My poor brother, who came from far away on the last day of my father’s life, almost fainted. I would absolutely under no circumstances subject a three year old to that. He can say goodbye at the funeral, which, after all, is how the vast majority of people say goodbye to loved ones without feeling angry or traumatized that they didn’t see the person on their deathbed.
posted by holborne at 9:32 AM on April 1, 2018

Funerals are for the living.

Invite your sister.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:35 AM on April 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

With a three-year-old, you should really be guided by your sense of the child. For a hugely sensitive and imaginative child, it might be too much. For a child who is very attached, on the other hand, not being able to say goodbye might be devastating. Older children--absolutely. (I am baffled by people who think it's a good idea to teach their children that participation in the dying process of their family and loved ones is optional. What do you think that's going to mean for you?)

Bedside visit of daughter, no. I have an estranged relative and the thought of that person showing up and making a performance of grief over me while I was helpless to do anything is horrifying. But funeral, yes. Your mother will be gone, so having the daughter there will not be imposing any sort of relationship with her upon her.
posted by praemunire at 9:45 AM on April 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Have aunt and her family met sister? If sister tried to reach out to them and was rebuffed like she was with mother I would say it's best that she not be at the funeral. Mother's wishes should still be respected now.

Is it possible to show kid a picture of what grandma looks like now? I would do that, ask if he wants to see her and respect his choice.

My godparents died when I wasn't quite 5 (complications from surgery and suicide), I wasn't brought to their funerals and still wish I'd been.
posted by brujita at 10:07 AM on April 1, 2018

Regarding the sister coming to the funeral, that's a tough one. There are few opportunities like that to see many people paying tribute to someone and trying to communicate their character and life. On the other hand, it sounds like it would disturb some other close living relatives, and (as I've said before) I think close relatives' right to grieve should be respected. On the other other hand, this is an important turning point for you, so handling it the way you believe is right does have value. But I still don't think it's worth leaving your mom's sister feeling scandalized and outraged like the funeral dishonored your mom, if that's where her feelings would go. That's a big deal. So, I come down on the side of wondering if you could have the service professionally videotaped and then make a special time to show it to the sister (and/or her family), look at all the photo displays, etc., and then work to build closer connections with them over time.
posted by salvia at 10:18 AM on April 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

To expand on salvia's excellent suggestion, some funeral homes make live video of the service available through the interwebs. Your sister could get a sense of what your mom was like without upsetting the rest of the family. And since it would be in real time, it would be something of a shared experience... you could call her soonish and talk about it. I'm glad you want to bring her into your family. I met a much older brother 10 years ago, and having him in my life is wonderful.
posted by kate4914 at 10:40 AM on April 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

As I've mentioned before, I'm a "secret child" that is in contact with my bio-mom, but my bio-dad does not know that I exist. Years of conditioning lead me to believe that I was a "bad secret" and that I should just accept how the other members of my bio-fam need their relationship with me to be. I'm getting over that (thanks, therapy), but there are some lines that I would still feel uncomfortable crossing. Going to my bio-dad's funeral would be one of them. My bio-mom's family knows about me and they've been very welcoming, so that would be different.

If my bio-dad died not knowing me, or if he knew that I existed and didn't want a relationship with me, I wouldn't show up to the funeral. There's more than just What I Personally Want at play here. A funeral isn't just about blood, it's about the people in the deceased's life: family, friends, what have you. Sometimes it's by blood, sometimes it's by choice. I would say that choice overrides blood.

So, one of my friends is also adopted (adoptees tend to find each other, it's weird) and he had a letter-writing relationship with his bio-dad. His bio-dad died unexpectedly, and my friend showed up to the funeral. At the funeral, his bio-uncle (who is a rather famous comedian, to make things even weirder) pulled him aside and said that the family was very uncomfortable with his presence. Bio-uncle knew who my friend was, but most of the rest of the family didn't. Apparently my friend was his bio-dad's doppelganger and it was freaking some people out...and you know, I can understand that. They were in mourning and shock (the death was sudden and tragic) and the funeral probably wasn't the smoothest time to reveal that their brother/son/cousin had a secret child that few of them knew about. So my friend left. Nobody came out of that situation feeling good, or like anything had been resolved. It was awful.

Look, your mother made it really clear that she did not want to have a relationship with your half-sister. There may be reasons behind that that you don't know. Or maybe she was just being curmudgeonly, or setting healthy boundaries that made sense to her, I don't know. I do know that it sounds like she was super clear about it. Please respect her wishes and not bring your half-sister to the bedside. I would extend this to the funeral.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:00 AM on April 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think in regards to the funeral, if you can arrange a time for your sister to be able to go to the funeral home without other family members present it would be useful and not as drama filled.

That way she can say goodbye and doesn't have to navigate an entire living family, and they don't have to navigate her.

You can let the family know she's in town, maybe meet up with her, and do things but those who don't want to be involved don't have to be.

In terms of the grandchildren , I think either way is okay. It is up to you. If you do, make sure to make it very short. Explain to child prior to visit, and process afterwards.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:18 AM on April 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

My mother kept me away from my beloved grandmother who had a stroke and lingered for about a year afterward. I saw her once from the door of her hospital room and even that was too much for me at age 4. I have always been grateful to my mother for protecting me from these scary scenes.
posted by 8603 at 11:27 AM on April 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

When my grandmother passed shortly before her 90th birthday, I was well in my thirties and I didn't want to see her at the end. She had advanced dementia and had gone fetal. That wasn't how I wanted to remember to her.

At her wake, my then estranged older half-brother, who I was never expecting to see again and had never told my then 11 year old year child about, showed up with his son. There was a really awkward moment where I had to grab Kid Ruki and drag her into the funeral home bathroom and say "Um, this is going to be a big surprise to you, but I have an older brother and you're about to meet him." But she handled the situation with a shocking amount of grace, shrugged, said "Oh, the man that walked in who looks just like Grandpa?" and that all led to a big reconciliation.
posted by Ruki at 12:44 PM on April 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

My father died when my son was 2 1/2, and i took him to see his grandfather right up to the day he died.
I think if you can arrange it so that your kid has someone else beside you to look after him so he can leave the sick room with this perspn at any moment it should be fine.
I only regret bringing him with me on those occasions i was alone with him, and once my son had seen grampa and satisfied himself he still could not speak he wanted to go which was hard to do for me as i would have prefer ed to sit with my father for a while. So I made arrangements for relatives whom my son enjoyed to meet us at the hospital and take him to the park when he wanted to go.
I guess the important thing is when you bring the child, be sure that the visit can be as brief as the child prefers.
My son is 9 now, and still remembers visiting. He may well forget later.
But more importantly it was helpful at the time for processing the grief he had when my father died. We could talk about the visits, how grampa was too ill to carry on. How we could see that in his face. Still this did not prevent him from throwing a tantrum 3 months after the funeral because why did i not permit him to call his grampa anymore and why did he not visit? It was a tough moment, i cried and said that where grandfather is now that isnt possible, and i would love to call but it was impossible to call...
I think just be prepared for questions to come later than you might think.

As to traumatizing the child, you and your wife know best if this might traumatize the child. If the framework is ok, it can work. Don't force anything, eg kissing or good byes.
And nthing what many above say : don't use sleep as an euphemism for death or dying.

Also, remember your own needs. When my father was in a coma later died I ended up as mediator between his second wife , my mother and rest of family who all hate each orher. In hind sight it would been better for me to get less involved in those fights about who the second wife allowed to visit.
posted by 15L06 at 2:29 PM on April 1, 2018

1. Your three year old isn't going to remember either her grandma or saying goodbye. However, she will remember how she felt about her grandmother. If you think your child will be upset or bewildered by the current state of her grandmother, than I'd question what the point of that exercise actually is. If you think she'll take it in her stride, then there is no down side.

2. Having literally just come from the ideal, Hallmark movie post-adoption-reunification Easter family dinner, I say this with as much love and compassion and empathy and understanding as I can muster when I say that springing your half-sister on your family at your mother's funeral is a terrible idea for about a billion reasons.

Bury your mother as she would have wished. Help your sister to complete her story and heal the hole by inviting her into your family and helping her meet her relatives this summer. Celebration BBQ!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:41 PM on April 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

A lot of great advice here, but I’ll add my $0.02.

Sorry you’re going through this. It’s okay to not bring your kid to see your mom dying. If it feels like the right decision, don’t fight it. My dad passed in August, and I didn’t bring my 7yo to see him dying. All the patients on the hospital floor, the long hours spent by his side, watching him struggle, were traumatic enough for me - it would have scarred my kid for sure. She came to the memorial ceremony.
posted by gnutron at 5:25 PM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
A few things I'll add. My family is my Mom, Dad, and my Aunt. My parents divorced 30 years ago after my Dad found out about my sister. My folks haven't talked since the divorce. They both came to my wedding and were civil, but no communication before, during, or after. In fact, I was just told that my folks got divorced as a result of the discovery 30 years ago that my Mom had a daughter. My Dad was furious at the deception, apparently. Paints my Dad in a bad light. Anyway...

My Mom has had Irish Alzheimers ("forget everything but the grudge") for as long as I've known her. I was estranged from her several times, as well as almost all of her closest friends at one point or another, as well as my sister, my Dad, my aunt. I don't think honoring her grudges at the funeral is fair. There are too many people that loved her (previously) to exclude them after her passing. My sister wouldn't be the only ghost. My Dad should be there. Our next door neighbor. There's a list, and it's long.

Also, I generically referred to her funeral. She actually wants to be cremated and have a big party. She has $10k set aside for the party. So, long story short, it won't be a somber affair. The only family that will be disturbed by my sister's presence will be my aunt. I think everyone there will see someone who was on the wrong side of a grudge, though. I want this to be cathartic for all the attendees. I feel like it is the shame that caused so much angst. I want to release that shame. Ulitmately, I think it will be cathartic for the shamers, as well. When you forgive someone, you are really forgiving yourself. You set two people free, you and the subject of your judgement.

As always, thanks for the advice. I think we'll leave the 3-yr old up north until the party, keep my sister away until the party, and no bedside, "undercover" appearances.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:27 PM on April 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would not ignore a dying woman's wishes regarding her own funeral, if she had expressed any. having said that, I know almost nobody who agrees with me; most people have come to believe that funerals are for the living, not a last opportunity to pay respects to the beloved dead. whatever you yourself believe, nothing you do at that point can harm her and everyone should understand that any decision you make was well meant. do at that point what feels best and right for your family.

but please don't treat her distance from your adult sister as holding a "grudge" against her. she does not have the obligation of a mother to this woman and it cannot be forced on her. of course she was angry when her first No was not respected, it's as easy to imagine her panic and violation at continuing contacts as it is to imagine your sister's pain. welcome your sister as your sister into your own home and life, but don't force anything on your mother when she can't resist, it would be very wrong.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:49 PM on April 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

well, i come from a long line of grudges and painful family secrets (man they go back to civil war here, wish i was kidding), and i really think that your instincts are right. don't believe perpetuating grudgelyf is really worth it. don't think thats how life is meant to be lived or honored.

so my vote is with totes with let this party be one that folks are invited to, in order to say their goodbyes and hopefully find whatever closure they need – sometimes that involves someone's feelings getting a bit hurt – but maybe they need that jolt. might work towards starting to set some things right, dunno
posted by speakeasy at 4:54 AM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

(Please don't use the term "Irish Alzheimer's" - it's belittling to people with Alzheimer's and rude to people who are Irish.)

Honestly, it sounds to me like you want to use your mother's funeral to hold up a giant middle finger to your mom and enjoy the shock value of violating her most deeply held secret. At a party she planned and is paying for.

This is... not painting you in a great light.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:42 AM on April 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

There surely are slower, gentler, more lasting ways of letting the grudges die than exposing all at the wake. It's not a binary choice.
posted by Gnella at 6:52 AM on April 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Bloody hell. This sister of yours is an aunt to your kids. It's a new generation. Let your sister come to the funeral if you wish her to. Your aunt is not next of kin, you are. Not your dad. You. You get to decide the shots at the funeral as funerals are for the living .

I speak as an orphan, an executor, a family with lots of secrets and someone who did not attend one parents funeral to keep the peace for the closest next of kin. (Not me. )

If you'd like her there, ask her to come to the funeral. It's the generous and healing thing to do for your poor sister.

I'm probably evil but I'd be inclined to let my sibling in to see my mother if she had a calm personality and wasn't going to speak. I've sat by the bed of a dying parent and there's not much going on but it means a lot to those that come, to sit quietly.

That's not advice, that's just what my heart says. That your loyalty should now be to your sister and your own kids. The slut shaming your mum experienced at the hands of society and your dad hurt your mum, and continues to hurt and shame your sister. Fuck that. I'd want to slip her in, if she weren't a loon, and have her say her prayers and leave. That said, my own sisters are loons so there would be no slipping.
posted by taff at 7:39 AM on April 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

What this is is an act of vengeance on behalf of your sister for all the wrongdoings your parents and the previous generation inflicted on your sister and your generation. Otherwise, you would have selected the many other events and other ways to integrate your sister and her family into yours. Certainly the statement would be loudest made at a funeral. I say this as someone who has a close and respectful relationship with my mom.
posted by thesockpuppet at 8:54 AM on April 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

The only family that will be disturbed by my sister's presence will be my aunt

Also your dad, I'd imagine, who was furious upon learning of this sister.
posted by salvia at 9:45 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel like it is the shame that caused so much angst. I want to release that shame. Ulitmately, I think it will be cathartic for the shamers, as well. When you forgive someone, you are really forgiving yourself. You set two people free, you and the subject of your judgement.

It's not your place to decide who's required to release shame and when. A funeral (no matter how you're denominating it) isn't for settling old scores. You may disagree with your mother's decision regarding your half-sister, but you know, that wasn't your decision to make and it's not up to you to decide you're going to fix it. Maybe you want to try centering someone other than yourself here, because no matter how you're trying to spin it, that's what you're doing. Also:

My Dad was furious at the deception, apparently. Paints my Dad in a bad light.

No, actually, it really doesn't. At all. If you're trying to get back at him for this, you might, let's just say, want to do some more thinking about it from his point of view.
posted by holborne at 10:36 AM on April 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Okay, unless you come from a family that goes through a lot of relatives and has funerals and deathbeds on a regular basis, you are going to be a tourist, and falteringly feeling your way through the whole process. But there is no right or wrong way to do a funeral, there is only the preferences of the people involved. So what I am going to suggest is that you talk to the people and find out.

Talk to your little guy and ask him if he wants to visit Grammy at the hospital, after explaining to him that she is very sick and won't be able to talk to him or cuddle him. Then, if he says he wants to see her, have two people there when you bring him so that the visit can be very short, and if she is agitated or otherwise in a state distressing to him, don't bring him in until she is cleaned up or calm or otherwise looking relatively peaceful and sick. For closure you want her looking sick, so the imminent death makes sense, but not ghastly to avoid trauma. And you already know to emphasis that if Grammy is sleeping it's not related to the fact that she's about to die, it's because she's sleepy, and if it is related to the fact that she's going to die she's not sleeping, she's unconscious.

Then as to the sister - my take on this is that your mom is going to be gone soon, so her wishes are expiring. If she were going to live another fifteen years she might change her mind about seeing your sister but she would probably not. Apart from the trauma of having her marriage and security destroyed by something that happened eighteen (or so) years before it occurred, you need to assume that your mother has good reasons for being unable to accept your sister. Very possibly your sister was the result of an abusive relationship, so seeing your sister might remind your mother of the man who abused her. Or it might be breaking a promise that your mum made that she would not longer be the person who had that child. So, no, don't over ride your mum's wishes and don't bring your sister to visit with her.

Has your sister ever actually seen your mother? Ask her. And if she has not, and if that is important to her, discuss with her how your mother does not want to see her, and will not, repeat will not, will not want to reconcile with her, and that trying to do so at this point would be abusive.

And if your sister is on the same page with you about not abusing your mother, but if she has never seen her mother, and if she wants to actually ever see her once, then bring her to the hospital, not for a visit as it is too late for that, but for a farewell. Do not allow your mother to look at her. Do not tell Mum that she is present. Do not tell Mum that anyone is present. Mum might recognize her as that guy who ruined her life twice, or as suspiciously like the mother-of-her-first-boyfriend who made sure that her son would never accept her child, or something equally traumatizing. But see if you can allow your sister a chance to see your mum discretely. It all depends on your mum's condition. If she is unconscious it would be ideal, but if she is at all alert and aware it becomes difficult. It may be that your sister might end up coming to the hospital but not being able to come into the room, so seeing nothing through the doorway as she "saunters" past, but the hospital bed and those ubiquitous pale blue sheets they mendaciously call blankets, but it would be kind to give her that option because the trauma that has so harmed your mother has also harmed her and it would be nice for her to be able to say, "I got to see my mother once, before she died."

And if she can't say that, it would be kind for her to be able to say, "My brother gave me a chance to see my mother when she died."

Of course this involves making sure your sister is well adjusted and will not come into the room and grab your mother and shriek, "How could you abandon me, you bitch!" It is always possible that her lineage has bequeathed upon your sister some instability, whatever it was that made her father a non-starter as your mother's life partner and co-parent. This is highly unlikely, and yet genes will out, so let's say the dad was a brutally competitive social climber, your sister might be like that too, and incompatible with comforting rituals. Don't give her too much benefit of the doubt because despite the genetic link telling you to love and trust her, and your own wounds from your own parental estrangement that left you wanting a sane and loving family, she is still a facebook stranger.

Your sister might want to see your mother after she has passed but not before, which would presumably have to take place at the point of death, at the place where she is being cared for. Your sister and you would have a bit of a job to arrange the logistics of that - it might be too late, people sometimes go very suddenly. But one option would be for your sister to come visit you while your Mum is dying, and then when the call comes that This Is It, you bring your sister to the hospital with you.

As to the funeral.... before you mention your sister, ask your Dad if he intends to come to the party. If he is sufficiently estranged from your mother he probably does not. My feeling is that your sister belongs at the gathering more than your Dad does because he severed his relationship with your mother, but your sister did not sever hers, she had it severed for her unilaterally so her needs trump his.

If Dad ain't showing, ask your aunt if she is coming, and if she is, ask her how she would feel about the sister being invited.

Aunt may also have some unspoken unresolved trauma about the sister's existence. Whatever was so awful that your Dad ran away from her, more than eighteen years later, is likely bad enough that it also splashed and scarred your aunt a bit. That might be that your mother kept secrets and lied about things, or it might be something else that made your mother entirely the victim in this, but your aunt's needs should be respected. And she believes that The World should not know about her sister's child, but that only means that your sister and your aunt have to negotiate the ceremonies without informing the world.

One possibility is to hold defined times for the various people to show up at the party. It's not like a funeral where nipping out after the sermon would be regarded as a wee bit disruptive, nor showing up only once the casket was closed would be regarded as drawing attention to one's self. It's a party. So if your Dad wants he can show up for twenty minutes to give you a hug, and tell you that he is sorry for your loss, and then he leaves and your aunt can hang out for three hours until nine PM when the really serious boozing starts, and then your sister can show up, and you can introduce her to your wife and then you and your wife can take her home to crash with you and meet the boys.

The difficulty with all this is that once you exclude your Dad and your aunt from meeting your sister, there is not much family and not much funeral for her to be exposed to. So hold a second freaking funeral, a ceremony for your mother that works for YOUR little nuclear family, and invite your sister to that. Funeral homes are often obliging about this kind of thing. I mean, in funeral homes and churches there is often an adjoining chapel where family members can be sequestered, participating and observing the service, and yet not visible to other people. It happens that there are estranged - or weird and badly behaved family members - who need to be included and yet need to not ruin the ceremony, and the two, visually blocked places to participate is a tradition for a reason.

Your primary focus here should be making sure that deathbed farewell and funeral that YOU need, with your mother's needs second, the sisters' needs third, and everybody else as a kind of afterthought, basically there to support the immediate family. Your little guys and your wife should also be included but your wife primarily as primary supporter to you, and your little guys don't need the ceremonious trappings, just to know later that yes, Grammy loved them, yes, they loved Grammy, yes they got to say goodbye. But they are equally likely to remember that vegetable hot house smell when you take them to the florist to buy the funeral flowers as they are to remember the actually funeral home and I think that a $1000 party is not going to be a place for kids. It might be a drinking party. So if your Mum is going to be interred graveside ceremonies or ash scattering ceremonies are an excellent way to go.

You can hold two services, with the same minister, appear to leave, with your immediate family and the minister lingering, "Please, go, I want to say a last farewell alone," and then your sister appearing out of the shrubbery and the minister going through the entire graveside ritual over again. - If this is what you want.

You can do whatever you want. You are the tourist and death and bereavement is not like North Korea where tearing down a poster will end up with you serving a term at hard labour. Your sister and her family is going to be important to you, if you hit it off once you actually meet, and you can't help that if your aunt would prefer it not to evolve. But it is perfectly possible to observe the feelings of everyone involved with sensitivity, if you communicate about it. Your sister probably does not want the world to know that she is the child of a woman, and a family that totally rejected her - but if she does, she won't want your aunt's old friends to know, she will want her friends and her side of the family to know. And your aunt doesn't get any say in that. Your sister can tell anyone whatever she wants to.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:26 PM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

The construction of your mother’s active decision not to meet her relinquished child, expressed clearly many times over many years, as a ‘grudge’ is a very patriarchal one.

Calling it a ‘grudge’ and dismissing ‘shame’ is to ignore the context in which your mother existed. Which is, the child is more important than the pregnant woman’s personhood and volition. Making some assumptions from the age of your sister, your mother is in her 70s. My mother would be in her 70th year now if she was alive.

Here’s what happened routinely to unwed pregnant women - the man got no social censure; the women’s family was shamed and compelled socially to secrecy and expeditious removal of the child.

But that’s the social only. Routinely, women who gave birth to ‘illegitimate’ babies performed their labour to a chorus of abuse of attending staff. Through confinement and pre-birth the voices of the culture reinforced shame. In my mother’s (and my research of the context, and in respectfully listening to my aunt’s recollections) labouring women were verbally and physically ( yes, *beaten* during labour) abused throughout the birth experience.

In my country a formal apology was issued by the government only a few years ago for the extraordinarily demeaning behaviour of the state against the pregnant woman/relinquishing parent. The babies were taken from the woman without letting the woman hold her baby or even know it’s sex or even seeing the baby. In many many cases, the drugged and exhausted women were told their baby died, or they were forced to sign relinquishing documentation well before the 24th hour of the birth - which was even then, illegal.

The chief take away I got from my passionate research into this experience, the facts pile up that the pregnant and birthing woman was ‘done to’ at every stage of her journey. You can’t imagine some of the state enforced cruelties these women suffered.

When the dust settles from her passing, I urge you to consider your mother’s actual trauma from this event. Not one woman in that situation had a fair go. How you could find out more: with your mother’s death certificate and your birth certificate, you could approach whatever is the equivalent of Child Services in your country and a counselor can compile the documentation of her relinquishing journey. You will be surprised at the layers of social and medical scrutiny these notes construct. I did this and the idea of a ‘grudge’ and ‘shame’ was dramatically reconfigured into empathy and grief for what my mother and thousands of other women endured. It was heartbreaking to see her commodification as an artifact of the coercive and damning behaviour of patriarchal ideology.

You’re dismissing your aunt, yet she was there at the time. I listened carefully to my aunt and deferred her direct witnessing. Women’s shared experience of something that no man has experienced, being dismissed by a man wanting to reshape her story is part of the patriarchal enactments of control. The more I think on this thread, the more I’m aware that it’s easy to see a curmudgeonly, cruel woman instead of a traumatized woman. To continue to perpetuate the ‘done to’ enactments of this whole experience is to be avoided.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:16 PM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Of course this involves making sure your sister is well adjusted.... Don't give her too much benefit of the doubt because despite the genetic link telling you to love and trust her, and your own wounds from your own parental estrangement that left you wanting a sane and loving family, she is still a facebook stranger.

If I'm reading the timing right, did your father find out your mother had a child because your sister contacted her? If so, no wonder she "has a grudge" against her!

Either way, I generally believe in honoring the way a person chooses to represent themselves, rather than in airing out things that they personally consider to be dirty laundry. Your mother has gone to extremely great lengths to not be seen as someone who gave birth to an illegitimate child (whether that be because she was ashamed of the entire process or because of the circumstances associated with your sister's conception and birth). You are trying to "remove the stigma" associated with having an illegitimate child -- by ensuring she will be remembered as someone who gave birth to and then entirely neglected one of her children. That's not fair to your mother, and I think you know that.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:51 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just an additional anecdote: when I was a small child, I attended the funerals of my grandfather and great-grandmother, and it was much more upsetting to see my parents upset. I didn't understand what was going on. So if you think you will be crying at the funeral, please explain to your child that it's ok to be upset and people will be crying, and it's ok to cry if he feels like it.
posted by cass at 2:37 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

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