Q. Boundaries After a Death: I am a 28-year-old woman. Last month, my parents were killed in an automobile accident. We were very close, and it has been very hard for me, but I am doing as well as can be expected. Now that the holidays are upon us, I'm struggling to make plans. Thanksgiving was a big deal in our family. My parents hosted up to 25 to 40 people every year for as a long as I can remember. This year, I opted out of the holiday; just my boyfriend and me, pajamas, Chinese food, and Netflix. I don't yet know what I'll be doing in December. Here's the problem; everyone I know is asking about my holiday plans, and inviting me to “family” events. I understand that they're trying to be helpful and supportive, and I very much appreciate the invites from family and close friends, but I'm getting invites from people I barely know. Many of these people are my students’ parents (I teach high school) but some of them are random people who work in the community center my school rents space from. I really do appreciate that people are trying to help, and it's nice to know so many people care, but it's very upsetting to have to field these questions over and over. Every time I talk about it, I choke up, and I really don't like being “on display” like that at work, especially in front of students. Do you have any advice on how to duck these well-intentioned but intrusive questions/invites?
A. I'm so sorry for your loss. Of course you are in agony, but over time you will be grateful that you have been so embraced by your community. But it's natural that dealing with outpouring is impossible right now. I think you should designate a few good communicators to spread the word that while you are grateful for everyone's generosity, for now you are finding it most healing to deal with your grief alone. It could be that a listserv notice is sent on your behalf to fellow faculty and another goes out to parents explaining your holiday (non)plans. It could also include the name of a charity your parents cared about in case people wanted to make donations—often people want to do something useful. You will continue to have to deal with person to person discussions, but just say while you appreciate their concern and it's all so raw you just can't talk about your loss right now.
Q. Re: “you could look occasionally at pictures of your niece. She is the innocent party here …”: I find this advice to be a little strange. Yes, the niece is an innocent party, but what does that have to do with anything? The niece isn't being punished one bit by not getting to know her aunt. It would be far worse for the aunt to try and reconcile if she doesn't really want to, and can't forgive what her sister and husband did. Honestly, if it were me I'd rather just let the niece think I'm the weird, estranged aunt and move on with my life. Just because a person is your sister and that sister has a kid, that does not mean they must have a relationship.
A: I'm not saying forgive or even reconcile. It's true that the LW may just decide to go through life never being in the room when her sister, ex, and niece are there. But eventually the time will come—a parent's bedside, a family wedding, a funeral—when either the sisters decide who will go or who won't, or the LW will have to be face-to-face with each other. I'm suggesting it might be better to defang this situation before then, if the LW is willing to entertain the idea. It's also possible she might be able to normalize the fact that this niece exists.
Q. Post-Abortion: I wrote you several weeks ago about discovering I was pregnant at 45 (childless by choice couple). I've since terminated the pregnancy. My husband did not want to have a baby, and I was unsure. I felt I had only bad options. I made the most prudent decision given the circumstances, but am having an incredibly difficult emotional time in the aftermath. I already have a good counselor, but I feel like I need more intensive assistance for a week or two, maybe a month. Are you aware of any places that offer such help? I've researched two, but each are an astounding $40,000 for 30 days! P.S. I am not Christian and religious therapy is not for me. Thank you for your kind guidance before, and hopefully this time too.
A: The organization Exhale offers support for free. I can't imagine what kind of organization charges more than $1,000 a day to help you get over an abortion.
Q. Baby Shower Cost: I am throwing a baby shower at my house for a friend with a guest list of 10-plus people, most of whom I do not know. All the food is going to cost quite a bit so I want to ask guests to split the costs. Is it breaching hostess etiquette to ask? Should I shoulder the full cost since it is being held at my home?
A: If you feed them turkey apparently you can charge $50 a head. If you couldn't afford to host, you shouldn't have offered. If you would like to split the cost, see if you can get another friend to co-host with you. Food for a dozen or so people should not break the bank. Just make it a mid-afternoon dessert-and-cheese affair.
Q. Re: “I can't imagine what kind of organization charges more than $1,000 a day”: Maybe she was looking into in-patient therapy.
A: She weighed her choices and made what she decided was the best one. Spending 30 days and $40,000 to keep going over this in some hospital-like setting seems extremely counterproductive.
Q. Guardianship and Family Planning: Years ago, my wife and I agreed to be emergency guardians to my sister's children. At the time she and my brother-in-law wanted two. My wife and I, who do not want children of our own, agreed because my brother-in-law is an only child. We are their only choice and, we felt we could handle two children in the unlikely event of the worst happening. Now my sister is pregnant with her fourth child and made a comment about us having guardianship of all four of these kids. We love our nieces and nephew, but four kids is too many. After a lot of discussion and thought, my wife and I decided together that we would not be able to take all four in the event of my sister's death. We would still be willing to take two of them in. When I broke the news to my sister, it did not go well. She feels it is our duty as a loving aunt and uncle to give her children a home if she no longer can. Are we bound by family obligation with no say regardless of her reproductive choices?
A: First of all, the likelihood that you will have to raise this brood is minuscule, so it might be worth it to let it go based on the actuarial tables. But if this is truly concerning you, and since you've already raised this subject, you could tell your sister that you'd be more comfortable if she would at least explore alternatives. Many people make turn to friends when this issue arises because there is no one suitable in the family. But do not push this. Your sister has her hands full right now and planning what to do if her children become orphans is not her top priority. If the absolute worst were to happen, just reassure yourselves you'd figure out the best way to handle it.
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