Still in shock after rude comments at loved one's funeral
November 7, 2018 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Recently, a very close relative of mine passed away after a lengthy illness. Lots of family and friends showed up to the wake and funeral, and my relative was known for being very generous to family, friends, and charities alike. The vast majority of people there were respectful and understanding of what we were going through. I was very sad, to say the least, but I was able to stay calm through the wake. But there was one relative...

Let's call him "Cousin Kyle". He's known for being intelligent and eccentric but having a weird sense of humor, but I've always thought of him as being good-natured at heart. He asked how my trip here was. I remarked that I had to get a plane ticket on short notice, so it was a bit more expensive than normal. He made a snide comment along the lines of, "What do you care? Aren't you a millionaire now?" Clearly he was implying that my relative must have left me a large sum of money and didn't leave him anything. I was in shock and said "excuse me?" and stepped away. I overheard him laughing to some others there, saying "what does [my name] have to worry about? They're set for life!" Later on at the refreshments (i.e. lots of alcohol), he continued to make snide comments suggesting that our deceased relative had somehow left me a fortune, but not him.

If confronted, I'm sure Kyle would say "I was only joking! Sheesh!" But the deceased relative in question was very close to me, and I was already dealing with all of the emotions that come with mourning. It wasn't a time for me to process nasty jokes.

(By the way, there was no way Kyle or I could have known for certain about any inheritance. This relative's will had not been read yet, and Kyle's rumors appeared to be just that.)

I'm not going to comment on whether either Kyle or I actually got a windfall, but I most certainly will be seeing Kyle over the holidays. We've had a good rapport up to this point, but now I'm not sure whether I should dread these insensitive "jokes", and what I should say. I'm still processing the grief.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total)
I'm so sorry for your loss.

My instinct is to take care of this before you see Kyle again - write him a letter or an email saying how hurt you felt. I'm not so sure they were "jokes" so much as some thinly-disguised bitterness that he thinks that you were getting a windfall he wouldn't be.

But that's not the point anyway; Kyle needs to be reminded that "forget about the money, I was very close to [relative] and I'm sure you can understand that I would much rather have had [relative] still alive than to have had any inheritance anyway. Your comments implied that I cared more about money than about [relative], which is not the case - and even if what you were saying was only a joke, it really hurt. I need you to stop saying things like that."

Then Kyle will do what Kyle will do - if he keeps making the same jokes, just say "Kyle, we've discussed this. If you don't stop I'm going to leave." And if he still doesn't then leave (the room, the house, the town, whatever you can do). If he decides to come after you with accusations that your relative stiffed him, just tell him "I'm not the person to be having this discussion with, if you don't stop I'm going to leave."

But maybe Kyle will apologize. If he does, accept it graciously and then just talk about 100% guaranteed safe topics like Star Wars movies next time you see him or something.

Kyle's acting like a jerk, but sometimes all that it takes to get a jerk to stop being a jerk is to point it out to them. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on November 7, 2018 [22 favorites]

Do you *like* Kyle or do you just need to interact with Kyle a few times a year? Like, is this one-time weird behavior in the context of a relationship you want to preserve, or is this what Kyle is like and you have no desire to be friends with him outside of your family relationship?

If you don't really care much about your relationship with Kyle, I would say just leave it. Don't bring it up - it doesn't sound like you expect him to respond well if you do. Be polite but lower your expectations and don't spend more time with him than necessary. Don't make a big deal out of how you're avoiding him, just avoid him (obviously this is more difficult if he's your only cousin and your mothers are best friends than if he's one of ten cousins, etc.).

As for specifically what to say if he makes these jokes again, I think in the moment something along the lines of "That's a shitty thing to say" would be good. Or I can see that it would be very tempting to say, "Maybe relative didn't leave you any money because you're such an asshole" (but that is not as easy to pull off out loud as it is to say in your head!).

If you want to preserve your relationship with Kyle then I think EmpressCallipygos' advice is good.
posted by mskyle at 8:12 AM on November 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Kyle made an insensitive and horrible joke at an extremely inopportune time. Kyle is a boor. He might also be a boor with a grievance about inheritance, but I wouldn't assume that. Many people have inadequate filters, particularly when they think they are being clever.

You're perfectly within your rights to write him a letter and tell him the remarks were not clever, not appropriate and not appreciated; but to be honest I think the whole exchange probably mattered much, much more to you than to him.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:13 AM on November 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Kyle may have been grieving in his own weird way. This is not to say that his comments were acceptable--they completely weren't--but just that they may not have reflected his real character. I say you call him on it, once, to see if he realizes he's being an ass. If not, boundary enforcement as suggested above.
posted by praemunire at 8:14 AM on November 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

"Please stop focusing on this. I would trade every penny to have more days with my loved one."
posted by spindrifter at 8:22 AM on November 7, 2018 [16 favorites]

You'd be well within your rights to contact him before the holidays and tell him if he speaks to you like that again it will be the last time he speaks to you ever, but if you don't want to take that tack you can just go with the blank face strategy:

Kyle: (obsessing over money again)
You: What do you mean?
K: You got all that money and...
You: Did I? What would that have to do with this?
K: well but
You: I'm just trying to understand what you're saying to me. What would that have to do with this?

Eventually, he will either be too cowardly to say out loud what he thinks about you and so will stop, or he will be forced to consider the context of what he's saying rather than just getting off on saying snide things to you because he's too emotionally stunted to manage his grief like a big boy or whatever. If you are among people when he starts in, reply to him in a tone of voice meant to be overheard, and maybe someone else will come deal with him so you don't have to.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:30 AM on November 7, 2018 [15 favorites]

On whether you should dread these comments, from my own personal experience, no I don't think you should. I also lost a dear wealthy relative who I loved very much, and have had exactly one such encounter in over ten years. If you ever run into such a person again, you can plan to hold them hostage for an extended diatribe about the wonders of probate and estate law, and consider that your best revenge.
posted by backwards compatible at 8:40 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Let. It. Go.

Many many years ago my 2yrs younger brother made a joke about inheritances to my stepmother when she and my dad adopted their first child. I was AGHAST. I was worried she would think I was thinking the way my brother was thinking.

24 years later, you know what? Jokes about inheritances are STILL super gauche and do not reflect poorly on you or me, they make Kyle and my brother look like the assholes they are. Those type of jokes are cringe inducing. I promise everyone Kyle joked with will never ever respect him or trust his judgment again. That’s how awful what he said was.

Skip it. Kyle is now like the furniture, he’s reduced himself in everyone’s eyes to toddler-like levels. Scratch that, toddlers are cute! Kyle is not cute, he’s abhorrent. Everyone feels this way. You do. Grieve your previous perception of Kyle and accept that he’s trash. There’s no coming back from what he expressed, there’s nothing to say to him. Move on. Erase him from your consciousness and your life. It will fit his world view. Enjoy the symmetry of that.
posted by jbenben at 8:48 AM on November 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Based on observation, not data, but deaths and funerals tend to bring inheritance issues and heated feelings of "but that's mine because... [insert]" to the forefront, together with unforeseen and shocking revelations of how such-and-such family member who always used to be so nice shows how well-developed their materialistic side really is.

That said, Cousin Kyle's remarks were pretty spiteful, the more so for saying them at a funeral. We don't know more of why he would have said them based on your question alone, and I don't want to know. What I do know is that, out of respect for the deceased who after all was the one who passed on, he should have kept his remarks to himself. They were absolutely not appropriate given the time and place, and indeed would not be appropriate anywhere.

Moving forward, set firm boundaries, make Kyle aware of them, and stick to them. If it were me I would avoid seeing him at the holidays altogether. If it cannot be avoided, the important thing is that he is aware of what you will or will not tolerate from him and that you enforce those boundaries as needed.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 8:56 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think it matters whether you and Kyle are receiving inheritance.

If you are and he isn't, and he finds out, he's going to act like this forever.

If you both are then he will stop.

If neither of you are then he should know that, so he shuts up.

But if he's in a tough financial spot and thinks you basically won the lottery and he got nothing, I don't think your relationship is salvageable without a discussion of the circumstances. You don't owe him anything, this is just about making your own life easier.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:32 AM on November 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Grief makes everyone act in weird ways. It turns some people into weird creepy jokesters and can make other people really ruminate over crappy things people say. I still think about the one or two insensitive remarks people made at the memorial services for both of my parents. They sort of stuck in a weird place where they're hard to shake off.

So, my advice is if Kyle's just some rando family member you don't see very often, I'd just let this go. If he's someone you have an ongoing relationship with, I'd still let it go until you see him again and give him one second chance. If he's still on that topic, shut it down and just let him know that's inappropriate and not going to be a topic of conversation with him. Tell him he hurt your feelings by digging into that topic at a funeral and You Are Done with that topic. The end.

I am sorry for your loss, it's hard to manage other people's nonsense when you are still feeling your own grief.
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on November 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss.

Funerals sometimes need to be treated like Las Vegas.

I speak from bitter experience. People can do and say appallingly uninhibited things at the ceremonies following bereavement and never do or say them again. Alcohol is never an excuse, but it's often the reason.

(I think it takes a gigantic effort to ring fence funerals and wakes in this way. They can feel like a bloodsport. But if you can manage it, it may be that Kyle never, ever alludes to this again. In which case you will be able to quietly resent his moments of spite as long as you need to, but without turning it into a feud.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:55 AM on November 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Was Kyle also close with the deceased relative? If so, I'd try to cut him some slack for now. Grief can make people act in really weird and uncharacteristic ways. He may have heard that you were getting a lot more than him, and he felt hurt by that, or this may be bringing up long-felt-but-unexpressed issues about you being the deceased relative's "favorite" or something like that. That doesn't make it ok, and I feel how this was hurtful to you, but it means that you don't necessarily need to be worried about him continuing to bring it up.

I'd let it go for now if you can, especially if you are not particularly close to Kyle. If he brings it up again at the holidays (he probably won't, but if he does) you can maybe pull him aside and say "hey, I know we're all hurting, but it is really hurtful to hear you say these things. Can we talk about this?"
posted by lunasol at 10:31 AM on November 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Are you certain that Kyle was referring to money he believed you inherited? Could he have been referring to another source of income, like a recent raise or investment? That's how it sounded to me the first time I read your question. Reading again, you said that he was "clearly" implying you inherited money, but it's not clear to me that's the case. I'm trying to be charitable to Kyle here, since you noted he had no way of actually knowing about the will.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:09 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Having dealt with my fair share of Kyles recently following the death of my parents, I’d recommend not giving it oxygen. Don’t write letters or have it out with him. Just roll your eyes and let it go. Direct your energy to processing your grief and to being kind to yourself at a difficult time. I don’t think you need to dread interacting with him in the future as things stand. But if you add fuel to the fire of his resentment by engaging with him, that is likely to create a fued and make future encounters something to dread. (I say this as the survivor of death and funeral related family feuds between my parents and their families. Life really is too short for such needless drama.) Kyle behaved badly. Leave it at that. If it eases your mind have an anodyne canned response at the ready for future possible comments, and rehearse it. If he does behave poorly in the future, deploy prepared response - and reconsider the amount of contact you’ll have with him, how you’ll protect your boundaries, and how you’ll keep yourself safe from hurtful behaviour. But cross that bridge when you come to it - don’t waste time worrying about it before it happens. Because maybe it won’t. People do behave badly/wierdly at funerals and about death and then stop. I’m so sorry for your loss, and that you have had to deal with hurtful comments while you are grieving.
posted by t0astie at 12:11 PM on November 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

At funerals, even more than at weddings, someone always says something dreadful. Sometimes it's grief and stress speaking, sometimes just the awkwardness of not knowing what to say. Let it go, if you can manage it, for your own sake even more than for Kyle's.

My condolences.
posted by SereneStorm at 12:13 PM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

"there was no way Kyle or I could have known for certain about any inheritance... I'm not going to comment on whether either Kyle or I actually got a windfall"

You're being cagey, but it sure sounds to me like you did inherit a significant sum, and Kyle did not -- i.e. that the rumors circulating at the funeral, though not yet known "for certain," turned out to be accurate.

If that is true, I think it is incumbent upon you to be the generous one here: let it go, and don't say anything. Kyle has a real reason to be aggrieved (no matter how ill-justified you think it is), and you will not convince him otherwise if you confront him.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:04 PM on November 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

Let it go. Like him or not, resent him or not, Kyle is your family so Kyle is part of the legacy your relative left behind - a potential ally in a world of hostile strangers. Kyle could also simply be hostile family, which metafilter knows is a real possibility, but I bet the middle is nearer the truth. What is the worst that can happen if you assume no ill intent and find a way to just move on?

Life can be long and fortunes change. You may find later that you are glad you invested in this legacy rather than liquidated it over a few ill-timed comments.

And, my condolences.
posted by this-apoptosis at 10:02 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

usually I say if people are dicks at funerals, destroy them, but your examples - the first thing he said was in response to you talking about the expense of a plane ticket. he mentioned money in response to you mentioning money. your remark sounds like harmless small talk, and obviously that is what it was. but it could be taken badly by anyone who wanted to take it badly, as his response could. he said "what do you care" about what a plane ticket costs, not "what do you care" about the death, right?

the second thing was overheard from a conversation you weren't in, so it isn't anything.

the rest of it, it's all rude in the way speculating about other people's finances is always rude, and in bad taste because of the time and place. but anything you think he suggested rather than saying outright, let it go. tracking down someone's implications and suggestions is thankless labor at the best of times, and this is the worst of times. tell him to fuck off to hell if he directly says to your face that you aren't sad, or shouldn't be sad, because you got money. tell him to fuck off to double hell if he says directly to your face that you did something to earn it or engineer it. or even if he says it behind your back, as long as he says it directly. but only if he actually says it. deciding that he implied something or suggested something or had a snide look on his face -- those are all decisions, and none of them are necessary.

maybe he didn't care about this person like you did, but he was at the funeral and he didn't have to be. few people go to them for fun. if he hoped to be in the will, he would have known it was too late to influence that. so if you are able to just decide or pretend that he was shocked, grieving, and drunk, and blame it all on that, you are free to do that. if he does say something else about money later like you're dreading, cut him off with "please don't talk about X's death, it is very upsetting to me still." if he says "so I hear you have a million dollars now," reply just as if he'd said "Can you believe Aunt X is really gone": answer any opener or question like that with "yes, I miss Aunt X every day, it's terrible to be reminded of her absence. Let's talk about her another time."

because money and rudeness are two subjects very attractive to jerks looking for an argument. sometimes jerks who are actually ok at heart are able to hear "you are distressing me" when they are unable to hear "you are wrong."
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:07 PM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

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