Did we do something wrong to make family friends stop speakng to us?
August 5, 2022 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Family friends wanted to keep in touch after mom died, but then stopped speaking to us. Snowflakes inside....

My mom passed away a year ago. She had two close friends, "Barb" and "Cindy". We would travel with Barb's family growing up. We also spent time with Cindy and her family. We've known them for years. After my mom passed, Barb and Cindy told my sister and I that they still want us to keep in touch.

Well, I don't know if they expected the friendship that they had with my mom to continue on with us, but they would call us to chat. I took Barb to the cemetery and we went out to lunch a couple months after my mom passed.

There was a lot going on-we had to sell my mom's house, I moved houses, my sister is busy with 3 kids, etc. Barb and Cindy became upset with us for not contacting them. Barb left nasty voicemail messages for us about not staying in touch, Cindy became distant, etc.

It especially hurts because Barb's granddaughter whom we've known since she was in diapers got married, but my sister and I weren't invited to the wedding. Their families didn't attend my mom's memorial service that we had for her.

Barb and Cindy wanted a memorial service for my mom and then they didn't bother to show up either! They claimed that they could do their own tribute to my mom.

I feel bad, but I'm busy with work and trying to adjust to life without my mom because we were very close and I just miss her. I've had family members make comments about me not contacting them, but I honestly don't have the strength or energy. It's like they want me to take the place of my mom and I just can't do that.

I'm not perfect, but I'm racking my brain as to what we did that was so wrong? Any thoughts?
posted by lawgirl to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Barb and Cindy think you were responsible for keeping in touch with them after your mom died. Possibly because they are the elders and they thought you should be the ones to put in the effort. That's backwards, though, to normal grieving etuquette which puts fewer demands on the closest family members, not more.

Maybe when they are not grieving for your mom so much, they will come to their senses and realize they were expecting more than was reasonable from the daughter of the deceased. But you didn't do the wrong thing, not really.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:01 PM on August 5 [45 favorites]

Everybody hurts, as the fellow says. Barb and Cindy may be subconsciously expecting you to replace your mother, but you can't – you're not her, you're from a different generation and inevitably at a different stage of life from them. Your mother may also have been a balancing force in their own friendship, which also may have changed since she died, and this discomfort could be subconsciously visited on you.

None of this is your fault but it's at a kind of tectonic human level that's hard to get to and even harder to talk about.

I think it just needs time, for people to readjust – and yes, you may lose one or both of them from your life, if they can't come to terms with the new reality. But they could both have more respect for the fact that losing one's mother is the bigger loss.
posted by zadcat at 6:34 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]

Honestly, Barb and Cindy sound like terrible people, and you're better off without them in your life.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:43 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]

I was making excuses for them until I read that they skipped your mom’s memorial service. What?! They sound incredibly selfish and awful.
posted by sunflower16 at 6:55 PM on August 5 [32 favorites]

Also: who leaves nasty voicemails for someone who’s just lost a parent? I can’t even believe this.
posted by sunflower16 at 6:56 PM on August 5 [66 favorites]

As a corollary to the possibility that they want you to take your mom’s place, I wonder whether they expected to assume a role of mother figures to you. Perhaps they think you are ungrateful. That would of course be wrong-headed, or at least isn’t a dynamic they can assume without your consent and participation. They have been very unkind to you, and you are not obligated to do the work of repairing the relationship. Wishing you peace and healing.
posted by Comet Bug at 7:44 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]

Sometimes, being right is incidental to the situation. You're right in that you did nothing wrong. The question now is do you want to know what they were thinking and/or do you want to reconnect.

If you are inclined to pursue this, I would write a letter (or email if they do email) explaining how hurt you are that they think you are grieving wrong and how their behavior is making you question their friendship with your mom. Put the ball back in their court but write a conciliatory paragraph at the end chalking it all up to grief on both sides and ask them for a reset or fresh start. Their response will tell you everything, all you need to know.

(I might also slip in a sentence along the lines of,"I heard your granddaughter got married. Congratulations. We sent a small gift.)

Regardless, you did nothing wrong.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:46 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

who leaves nasty voicemails for someone who’s just lost a parent? I can’t even believe this.

You would be surprised! I was the recipient of a lot of weird behavior from people after my parents died (about five years apart from one another, and they were not together) including borderline-abusive voicemails. Grief and anxiety can make people do strange things. I am sorry this is happening to you.

I concur with what people have been saying, this isn't about you but oh my gosh it still hurts. I don't totally understand the timeline here (did the nasty voicemails happen before the memorial service? did you speak with them about them claiming they could do their own service? did you stop contacting them before they stopped contacting you?) but seconding strongly what jacquilynne said, sometimes older people think that they are the ones who should be getting contacted and not the ones who should be doing the contacting. Sometimes people who are kid-age to people who are parent-age don't think they should be doing all the reaching out for their own reasons.

My mom was larger than life and maintained a huge friend circle and an acquaintance circle of a lot of people who were, in their own ways, slightly damaged. She had a big heart and put up with, imo, a lot of bullshit and nonsense because she liked helping people and didn't mind that people were rude, abrasive, dependent, or otherwise in a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with her. My sister and I both pride ourselves on having boundaries around people who want more than we can give. It sounds like not only do Barb and Cindy want more than you can give right now (understandable that you can't give it!) they are being unkind about it, maybe because of their own grief, maybe because they miss your mom, or maybe because they think it's your "job" to look after them in some way. I know in my family too a lot of people got really wrapped up in my mom's house and when we said we were selling it there was some bad juju. "You can buy it!" we would say, but we were just DONE with other people's expectations by then.

We had to put the brakes on some of my mom's friendships that we were initially planning on continuing because the amount of attention that my mom's friends sometimes wanted and got from her might have been reasonable for a retired woman in her 70s but didn't make sense for two women with jobs and lives and a lot going on. It really sounds like you've been through a lot not even including your mom's death which is a really big thing. Focus on you for now, check in with your sister as much as is appropriate assuming you get along okay. Maybe make some social media forays into contact at some future time if you feel like you want to. Again, this is hard, it's okay to feel like it's not okay, and I am sorry this is happening.
posted by jessamyn at 8:25 PM on August 5 [47 favorites]

Did they bully your Mom? Their behavior is inexplicable, rude and unkind. I'm so sorry they have treated you so shabbily. Your Mom deserved better form them, and so do you and your sister. People can be just awful, but who knows what their deal is.

It's a big life change to lose your Mom, I'm so sorry.
posted by theora55 at 11:48 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your loss too. It's awful.

I bet if you wait like, six months, or whenever you're ready you can come back to Barb and Sue and give a fake "I'm sorry we lost touch with you, we were upset about our mom."

But I don't think you should rush to do that - they're just antagonizing you and adding stress. You don't have time for that.
posted by bendy at 3:58 AM on August 6

I would give them a free pass on the lack of wedding invitation. It’s rare that a grandparent of a betrothed gets free editing power over a guest list and there could be all sorts of benign reasons you didn’t receive an invitation to that.

At the same time the rest of their behavior is really odd and bordering on rude. That behavior may not really be about you though. If you feel like maintaining a tie with the I would just keep it to pleasant annual holiday cards.
posted by donut_princess at 5:33 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

As others have said above, grief is so hard and makes people act in ways they often can't explain or condone themselves. You did nothing wrong. And maybe even though they are behaving very (very) poorly to you they haven't done anything "wrong" either in terms of how they are managing their grief.

Maybe it would help to think about the one single thing you want to convey to them, now or ever, including when they are acting out.

Maybe that could be: "I'm so, so sorry you lost my mother and your deep bond and friendship. Your friendship with my mom is one of the things we loved about my mom, and I am just so sorry it is gone. I miss my mom and our relationship too. So much so it's almost too much to bear and manage our lives at the same time. I need time alone and so does my family to grieve. We can not replace what you have lost, but we recognize how much you have lost. We love you for loving my mom. Thank you."

Or something like that.
posted by desert exile at 8:22 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your loss.

I came to say what others have: people do incredibly weird things when grieving. Some of the behaviour I saw when my own mom passed away suddenly boggled my mind. After one very odd demonstration, my sibling and I decided to simply write off any strangeness for the first year.

That said, nobody crossed the line into abuse in the way you describe here, and if any of them had, I would have given myself permission to write off the person along with the behaviour. I'm giving you that permission now. You did nothing wrong, and you are under no obligation to undertake any emotional labour for these people or expend any of your precious emotional energy on them. If they resurface at some point and want to connect, you can decide how you feel at that point.

One thing I notice missing from your question is any mention of anything positive you were getting from these relationships. It might well be that these connections are simply not destined to outlive your mom, and while that is sad, sometimes it's just the way things go.
posted by rpfields at 2:51 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]

I recently had an experience where a person who was somewhere between a friendly acquaintance and good friend got very angry at me about something that I didn't really understand. They were in the throes of grief after losing someone very important to them (not anyone I knew and nor did I know of their relationship), and the best way I had of understanding their anger towards me (as explained by mutual friends) was misplaced grief. Which is to say, it was easier for this person to be mad at me than to deal with the grief they were feeling at losing this other person.

I don't know how old Barb and Cindy are, but it's terrible to lose a friend at any age, and to grieve, and to maybe possibly be confronting your own mortality. Sometimes it's easier to be angry at your friend's daughter, and stir up outrage and get attention for that, rather than to grieve. I don't know if they are fully emotionally mature folks who have spent years in therapy, but I'm going to guess not, and I'm going to guess that they don't really know what's going on with them. It may be that your inability to fully replace your mother -- which could never happen anyway -- has made them angry at you rather than being sad about missing your mom, when it's really all the same thing.

I'm not saying this to excuse them or suggest you could forgive them. I'm saying this because, yeah, like others have said, people behave in confusing ways when they are grieving and are often not even aware of what they are doing. It sucks, and I'm so sorry you have to deal with this.

This is about you, not them, and I'm so sorry -- most significantly, that you've lost your mom, and also because now Barb and Cindy are pulling away too. It might be too difficult for them to continue to be around you, and you are under no obligation to extend the olive branch either. You deserve extra care and love and kindness right now, and I'm sorry they can't provide that.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:04 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]

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