Three years ago, one of his sons died from an accidental drug overdose. This was devastating for everyone in my family, but for me it was like one of my own children had died. This was the worst moment of my sister’s life, and I couldn’t help her because I too was consumed with grief. I had no room for her.
She got mad at me for “stealing her pain by making her son’s death something that belonged to me and not her.”
Since then, we’ve solved a lot of the problem, but since her son’s death, she says she’s “enlightened.” She says there’s nothing worse than burying your son, and I agree. Yet she also incessantly tells me, along with other family and friends, and even the postman, how they should feel.
If you say, “I had such a terrible day,” she will reply, “Is it worse than burying your son? No. So don’t let it bother you.” If he says, “I love the beach and can’t wait to go back,” she says, “(Boy) loved the beach; make sure you think about them while you’re there.” brother is having marital problems and she told him, “You’re being selfish and only think about what makes YOU happy. Get over it. It’s not important.”
How to handle this? I don’t want to restart the discussion or break our careful peace treaty, but my God, how do you say to someone, “I understand that your son is gone and I don’t want to minimize it, but right now I want to be angry because there is a hole in my roof and I have to spend $2,000 to fix it.” Or, “Just because your son is dead doesn’t mean you decide how everyone else feels!” But, like, nice. Not pushy.
The dueling competition is an unseemly and unsuccessful undertaking. Miss Manners supposes that her would-be winners take solace in her singular despair, but what a miserable and lonely prize that is.
Unfortunately, your sister, having considered herself a victim of it during your feud, now seems determined never to be outdone again.
Miss Manners suggests that you disguise your reprimand as an apology. But it must be done with delicacy and extreme humility: “Do you remember how horrible it was to feel that I was stealing your pain? How terribly did I act to think that I was the only one consumed by pain?
“Well, I know there’s little comparison to what you’ve endured, but when other people are upset, you’re invalidating their feelings when you tell them yours are worse. I think you of all people should understand how terrible that feels and not want to inflict it on anyone else.”
Hopefully, this will help your sister understand, through experience, the outcome of her behavior and not add this conversation to her list of problems.