Script for asking bereaved friend to leave.
March 26, 2020 10:39 AM   Subscribe

In a nutshell: her sister died. It's been 10 days of cohabitation, and while my heart goes out to her, I am starting to get tired of sharing my home with her. Help me talk to her about moving back to her own home?

It's not like there's an ISSUE per se. She's not demanding at all, and is a perfectly lovely houseguest. She is perfectly happy to read, watch TV, and entertain herself while I work and the kids go about their schoolwork and projects, but *I* can't really relax into my routines because that weird and intangible ~feeling~ of having a guest in my home never leaves me.

Having her in my home means working my schedule (and my kids' schedules!) around her timetable. She keeps very late hours, for instance, and I gotta make sure my kids tiptoe around all morning so we don't wake her. No more boisterous yoga hour to start the day! Her dietary needs mean that I'm often cooking something separate for her, and since yesterday I've been feeling a bit of an internal groan as I do it. TBH - this is so mean spirited that I don't even want to admit it - she's been making a dent in my alcohol stash, my nicer chocolate, my expensive ingredients, etc. and I am starting to resent that. (Which makes me hate myself, ugh: culturally and personality-wise, I am usually compulsive about feeding people!) I don't feel okay asking to be paid back for food. When I drove her to Boston to see her sister in the last few hours, she did pay me for gas, and that was hard enough to accept! This is difficult for me to navigate.

Anyway, I am not yet at the point where I'm actually grumpy so now may be the perfect time for me to tell her, gently, that she needs to go home -- not just for the hour or two that she has been doing to cuddle her cats, but for like a whole day and night. Two, even!

How do I ask her to leave? Her sister just died. She's so bereft. And this COVID situation means she can't hang out physically with her other friends (she and I, out of necessity, have formed what we are calling a mutually monogamous "pod" where we can/must see each other - see my last Ask for context). She's in no shape to go home alone, honestly.

A script would really help!
posted by MiraK to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This depends - is she welcome back after going home for a couple of days ?
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 10:48 AM on March 26, 2020

TLS: Yes, but only if we're tapering off her stays here. Not like she can go away for a day and then come back for another ten days, and then repeat. By the end of April, I'd like to be spending maybe 2 evenings per week together, no more.
posted by MiraK at 10:50 AM on March 26, 2020

I don't have a specific answer, but whatever you say, make sure you can speak from a place of genuine kindness and helpful intentions.
posted by the_blizz at 10:53 AM on March 26, 2020

Can you start by telling her your kids need to get back to their routine so you'll be going back to your usual schedule on Day X? Perhaps if you went back to noisy early morning activities she'd be more motivated to be in her own place.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:55 AM on March 26, 2020 [67 favorites]

Does she have her own room? If so, I think you need to just get going with your regular life. She can use earplugs or whatever so she can sleep in. Food. She needs to a) eat what you prepare for everyone or b) do her own cooking during times you are not in the kitchen. You should not be cooking for her separately. If she can't get supplies now due to the pandemic, you can politely ask her to contribute to the household food.

Then, once you have put that arrangement in place, carry on and let go of your guilt.

That is not too much to ask of someone living in your home, even if they are grieving.

Also, not to be too judgey, but she needs to be home for her cats. They shouldn't be neglected, either.
posted by nanook at 11:01 AM on March 26, 2020 [14 favorites]

I think that's the key thing here--you're treating her as a very special guest and, as much as you love her, no one can be a very special guest in someone else's home indefinitely. I'm God's own night-owl, but I wouldn't expect a family I was visiting to be quiet in the mornings just so I could sleep in. Do you think that if you went back to your normal routine/meals, her presence might be more tolerable?
posted by praemunire at 11:03 AM on March 26, 2020 [11 favorites]

I prefer total straightforwardness in situations like this, e.g. "Hey, I wanted to talk about when you're going back home, I totally love you and want to keep seeing you all the time, and at the same time we keep such different hours and this is such a stress-filled time that the kids and I need to go back to our normal rhythms. Do you think you'll be okay going back later this week? We'll still talk every day and of course you can come over here and we'll come there."
posted by hungrytiger at 11:04 AM on March 26, 2020 [29 favorites]

You say she's in no condition to go home alone - is there an option for her to go home and not be alone?

Have you asked her what she wants/intends to do? She might not know what to do next.

Depending on her frame of mind, you might be able to have a conversation along the lines of "Hi friend, my family and I need to get back to our normal routine of early mornings and early nights. What are your plans?"

If you decide it's workable for her to stay longer, then she needs to understand the rules of the normal routine and probably start helping with cooking and chores. There are some pretty diplomatic ways to do this.
posted by bunderful at 11:04 AM on March 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

Maybe you can start the conversation about what her needs are. Everyone handles loss differently. Is she not wanting to be alone? Is she looking to talk through it? Is she needing connection? Is she using her stay with you as a distraction and not working through her grief? Like mentioned above, this conversation should come from a place of kindness. Maybe if you both understand what her needs are, you can navigate a plan that benefits you both.
posted by pdxhiker at 11:07 AM on March 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ah, nanook, that's one of the issues, she does not have her own room. She has been sleeping in my son's room. Since I have shared custody of the kids, this wasn't a problem until two days ago when the kids came back to me. For the past two nights my son's been sleeping in a trundle in his sister's room. Which, I am now realizing as I type, is really going to be a problem. Kid needs his room back.
posted by MiraK at 11:07 AM on March 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

Did she ask you to change your kids' schedule? Or did you do that preemptively?

As a conflict-avoidant person myself, I often find myself doing this thing where I hide from people the very existence of a conflict. So that for instance, yeah, if we default to different schedules, I'll silently change my schedule to theirs, rather than keeping my own schedule and letting them notice the ways in which their schedule is inconvenient for me and vice versa.

I do think it makes sense to tell her point blank that it's time to move home. But if she's going to keep being over even a few nights a week, I think it also makes sense to stop hiding incompatibilities and conflicts from her. If your schedule is a hassle for her and vice versa, then both of you should see the hassle equally clearly, and bear equal shares of it. If cooking two meals is a hassle, well, you shouldn't guilt or shame her for it, her dietary needs are what they are, but you should both see and bear the hassle equally — maybe by trading off who cooks, or maybe just by acknowledging that yeah, ugh, this is a pain for Mira, and we're all super grateful to her for it, and we all show that gratitude by doing dishes. Just don't let the hassle be all yours and totally hidden.

(And I agree with deludingmyself that if you make it visible how this is difficult for you, in a matter-of-fact non-shaming way, she may be more open to different arrangements, out of empathy and not anything more stressful than that.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:07 AM on March 26, 2020 [7 favorites]

Okay, one last detail and I will stop threadsitting: I can't use the kids need their schedule/routine/room back thing as a reason because she would likely take that to mean she can stay with me whenever the kids are with their dad. I don't want that. It's MY personal space I need. Which is one of the reasons I have so much guilt: should I suck it up, because, ya know, extraordinary times?
posted by MiraK at 11:14 AM on March 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

A few suggestions:
1. Really try to see if you can get comfortable asking her to contribute to food/booze. I think an extended stay in someone's house is VERY different than gas money to the hospital. These are really tough times and hers is even worse, so if that would help you let her stay longer, I think it is TOTALLY reasonable.
2. Also, don't change your routines for her! Let your kids do their thing. She can use earplugs if she needs to. Let her know you are going to have to let the kids get back to their routine and it might disrupt her - maybe she'll be fine with that and you'd be more comfortable with her staying longer. Maybe it will motivate her to start easing back home.
3. If you DEFINITELY need her out, give her as much notice as you can muster. Tell her starting in X days you want her to start spending more time at her house, with your end goal of 2 nights with you by the end of April, where X is not, say, tomorrow or the next day. Or just tell her that end goal, being clear that you want to start tapering (not stay 100% until the end of April when she suddenly moves home with 2 night visit) and let her work it out from there, if you trust her to. Or give her a few options, again stating your end goal, and ask can she agree to one or two nights (or whatever you're comfortable with) at home within 1 week? Give her a little say in it, if possible.
4. See how else you can help her. A dinner at her house once a week with the kids, or without if they can stay home alone? Daily/every-other day text/phone/check-in? Offer what you can, or see if she has something specific that would help, but keep necessary boundaries from the beginning. You obviously need to take care of yourself your kids and your guys' needs, and can't get into a routine of 5-hour long phone calls every day, or whatever she might want that would be unsustainable to you. You don't want to go through this ordeal again, with whatever new setup you have.

If you definitely need her out, I think you can still do #2 above but don't count on it to motivate her to leave - use it in conjunction with #3.

Unfortunately cannot help you with a script - I'm terrible with that.

Good luck.

Edit: posted before I saw your second update, so some of this is probably not relevant.
posted by sillysally at 11:17 AM on March 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I can't use the kids need their schedule/routine/room back thing as a reason because she would likely take that to mean she can stay with me whenever the kids are with their dad. I don't want that. It's MY personal space I need. Which is one of the reasons I have so much guilt: should I suck it up, because, ya know, extraordinary times?

Well, fine, whatever, feel guilty if you want to feel guilty.

But you do need what you need.

And the first step is to stop disguising that. Be open about what the kids need — and then, in the same matter-of-fact this-is-how-it-is tone you used for them, be open about what you need.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:22 AM on March 26, 2020 [20 favorites]

Nice things you could do for her to soften the blow:
-Check in with her via regular (daily or less) video chats.
-Bring her the occasional meal.
-Visit her at HER home, so that she's no longer on your home turf but you're still around for support. I'm sure her cats could use the extra snuggles!
posted by toastedcheese at 11:23 AM on March 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

How do you know she is in no condition to go home alone?

If she is in that type of condition she needs mental health help, not to camp on an enormously stressed family.

Letting her stay while resenting her is doing nothing to help her start to function more. It's merely delaying her getting the help or working on the issues that she needs to work on.

Watch out that you are not saying things like, "Of course you can come back here after you check on your cats."

Listen to your own internal scripts and play a few what if scenarios in your mind, like: What if I send her home? What will she do?

Are you afraid she will commit suicide? Do nothing but cry? Go out and pick up an SD and Covid19 in bars? Hate you? Stay home and not eat until she gets sick?

How realistic are your answers?
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:35 AM on March 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

Combined with your previous question (which I walked away from because it raised such strong boundary reactions for me), you seem to be in a whiplash pattern of trying to control people to manage your own feelings/values/norms/discomfort about things, and then feeling resentful or constrained when they take you up on your actions. Your description of being in a "mutually monogamous" relationship with a platonic friend (have I read that right?) feels inappropriately all-consuming to me, as did your previous question. Especially since your friend seems unable or unwilling to drive her own actions. So where's this all coming from?

So here's a script, but I think there's some work for you to do on noticing your impulse to manage others.
"Hey friend. We are in a really weird time. And it's worse and incredibly sad because of your sister's death. I want to do what I can, and I've liked a lot of things about you being here. But given my role as a parent, and the level of social disruption we're looking at for the next few months, I need to pace myself so I can care for people around me and not get burned out. That includes you, and it includes my kids, and myself. But it needs to look different so it's sustainable. For the time being, I need you to move back to your place, say by Monday, so I can get my bearings here. It's beyond critical that I provide a calm and regular home-base for my kids. Once that's in place, I want to make sure we are able to connect in whatever way we can healthily. Let's talk a few days after you've settled in at home to see what will work."
posted by cocoagirl at 11:43 AM on March 26, 2020 [11 favorites]

Okay, no point in putting this off, right? With the help of your answers I just had a chat with her. I said, "Hey so I'm wondering if it's time to start transitioning back to normal - or at least COVID-normal. The kids and I have to be getting back into our routine. Do you want to try going back home for this weekend, and see how you feel? You can go back and forth for a couple of weeks until you're settled in back home? What do you think?" She was immediately receptive, and now we have a plan. She leaves on Friday and comes back Sunday night. She knows she's welcome back even after a couple of weeks, in short bursts, if she feels the acute need for company.

:) Thanks for the guidance that said just be direct. Sometimes I get overanalytical and all up in my head, stressing myself out over nothing.
posted by MiraK at 11:54 AM on March 26, 2020 [78 favorites]

I had typed a long comment about put on your own oxygen mask and the read your update. Good luck to you both
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:19 PM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

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