Open Mouth. Insert Foot Six Feet Into The Grave.

by admin on April 7, 2011

I love my mother-in-law “Karen”. She’s always been good to my husband and I. But she has a tendency to speak without thinking. She teases, and even though she means well, I don’t think she realizes that not everyone shares her kind of humor. This is especially true when it comes to my family. My mom and sister are both on the sensitive side. I am too, but I’ve had time to get use to Karen’s personality. A little background: My husband’s father (Karen’s husband) died when my husband was very young. My dad also lost his father to heart disease when he was relatively young as well and thus has always had a strong sense of mortality. My dad recently had a health scare with his heart, and even though he turned out okay, it left us all on edge. In my mother-in-law’s defense, I don’t think she was aware of my family’s history.

Because of their personality clash, my mom “Barbara” doesn’t care to be around Karen much. She’s always been civil to her; she just doesn’t like to be around her if she doesn’t have to be. However, we had an occasion recently to get both families together, and everything seemed to go just fine, but later that evening I got a call from my sister. Apparently a conversation took place between Karen and my father that was overheard by Mom and Sis, but not by me or my husband. Karen and Dad were talking about financing retirement, and Karen told my dad, “I get $1,000 every month and Barbara can too. Guess how? My husband died and now I get his pension.”

My jaw hit the floor when my sister told me. I’ve heard Karen make similar comments before but never in reference to another person dying. My mom and sister were understandably hurt by this comment and excused themselves soon after. My dad though wasn’t fazed by it, and when I called him later to apologize for Karen’s behavior, he assured me there was nothing to apologize for. I’m sure Karen’s comment was intended to be a joke, and she didn’t actually mean to suggest that my father should die so that my mother can get extra money. But it was thoughtless nonetheless. I still love my mother-in-law, but I don’t think our families will be getting together again anytime soon.   0222-11

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Miss Raven April 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I have to agree with the title of this post… it was a foot-in-mouth moment. Karen wasn’t intentionally trying to be cruel, but it turned out that the situation surrounding Dad’s health turned her comment into a bit of a faux-pas. Like if you were to say, “Ugh, I could just KILL my kid right now!” to someone whom you didn’t know had actually lost a child. Without the extenuating circumstances, it’s just something you say without thinking. With the extenuating circumstances, the comment becomes in unbelievably bad taste.

In my family also, we use humor to get through life’s little (and bigger) tragedies. A “laugh so we don’t cry” sort of credo. There have been plenty of times since my boyfriend lost his mother a year and a half ago that we have made jokes about her life insurance money (which he was the sole beneficiary of). I don’t think this was an etiquette violation or even a terribly crass comment on the part of Karen. It’s just how she copes. Everyone copes differently.

I agree with the rest of you, keep these families apart. OP’s family has a completely different sense of humor and coping mechanisms and the two sound like oil and water. I can’t fault Karen for being bold and a little abrasive. Some of my favorite people in the world are both those things.


ashley April 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm

@Just Laura Okay I see your point there with the gossip, didn’t really think about it that way so thanks for clearing that up.


Anderlie April 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Yeah I think the OPs family are being oversensitive, particularly when it’s been mentioned the MIL probably didn’t even know of the recent events. Perhaps if she was told she’d feel mortified by the comment?

Seems to me if the person the comment was directed at isn’t offended nobody else really has any reason to be. While I’m very sorry for their recent troubles perhaps the OPs family could next time just let sleeping dogs lie instead of breathlessly getting on the phone to create drama where there was none.


Sarah Peart April 8, 2011 at 2:14 am

I think she may have been saying – you cannot control your life/death but you can control your family´s further financial security. Maybe a little tasteless but practical things often are, emotions are good servants and bad masters. How many widows have been found in the street? At one stroke you lose your friend, lover, partner and your house, memories and familiar environment. Someone I know lost her husband at the age of 32, six children between 5 and 13 – can you imagine what would have been her future if the mortgage had not been automatically paid off and a fund set up for the children? They were able to attend private schools and university. Due to the financial stability they could mourn but did not have to worry about the future.


Molly April 8, 2011 at 2:59 am

Sounds like Karen would have gotten along great with my dad – shame his bum ticker took him from this world last year. Sadly we don’t even get a pension 😉 It’s an awkward moment for sure but if she didn’t know about the OP’s father it’s just bad timing and not really a breach of etiquette. Some people have a black sense of humor – I do myself, having inherited it from both parents!


YWalkalone April 8, 2011 at 3:32 am

I agree with the previous poster who said “know your audience”.

I have a darker sense of humor as well. When my ex was diagnosed with MS after months of tests, pain and uncertainty, he invited his friends over and had a party, calling it a “Congratulations, it’s MS!” celebration (his idea, but our minds traveled in the same vein). When my friend was in a decently bad car accident six months ago, I was in the ICU with her and her sister, and started making jokes about how much pain the telephone pole that she crashed into was in. They both appreciated the mood lightening, and by the time I left they were laughing and feeling better. However, I refrain from making jokes like those examples around my immediate family, who are similar to the OP’s, being oversensitive. I don’t fault Karen any more than the simple fact of failing to know her audience. She has met these people before so she must have known that they would take offense. My impression is that it’s more of a “foot-in-mouth” comment than a malicious one. And while I think the OP’s family were being too sensitive and dramatic, there’s not much you can do in that situation. Karen will continue to “offend” and they will continue to be offended. It’s best just to keep them apart.


Wink-n-Smile April 8, 2011 at 10:33 am

Black humor ahead:

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But if your cardiologist believes that, don’t let him TOUCH you!


YWalkalone April 8, 2011 at 5:17 pm

@Wink-n-Smile and @Squashedfrog–you are both awesome, btw.


Toni April 8, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I like Karen’s sense of humor. She takes the fear out of situations by joking about it. I think the other people are too sensitive. “Trouble knocked the door–but hearing laughter hurried away.”


Sarah April 9, 2011 at 4:23 am

Karen, who most likely knew nothing of the circumstances, made a joke to the OP’s dad, who took it well and wasn’t offended. She didn’t intend to say this to the others. And Karen is the only one who has actually lost a spouse, if she wants to joke about being a widow then I think that’s fine, maybe it helps her to deal with it. I don’t think people should be required to consider not only the audience of a private conversation but also any potential eavesdroppers before making a joke – if you are a sensitive person and know that someone else’s jokes often upset you, then you should try not to listen to their private conversations.


sally April 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Sometimes joking about your own sad circumstances is actually a polite thing to do as it lets others know you are ok and they don’t have to walk on eggshells around you. Etiquette is all about putting others at ease, and it sounds like Karen does a pretty good job of it.


Enna April 10, 2011 at 11:12 am

My grandma won’t find some jokes funny because of her age – it doesn’t mean she has no sense of humour just a different one – likewise some jokes she finds funny I wouldn’t: not only are we in different generations we are also very different people. I think that Mum and Sis aren’t drama queens – if they had laughed then it could have come across as bad in the oppisite way. Maybe if OP’s Mum and the other Mum spend more time with each other they will know more about each other’s sense of humours?


Enna April 10, 2011 at 11:20 am

P.S Maybe in a different set of circumstances everyone would have seen the amusing side to it? My Mum had her birthday yesterday and we ate out for lunch and had a BBQ for dinner because the weather was so nice. My Dad had drank some chapange and the bubbles must have gone down wrong because he burped when we were eating. My Mum, Sister and I just burst out laughing (it wasn’t a nasty burp) but if it had happened in the restuant at lunch then it would have been frowned upon.


chrysanthemumgeorge April 15, 2011 at 9:05 am

It sounds like Karen and I would get along great with my family. I had a scare with my health recently. The tests for cancer came back negative, but my husband and I were making jokes about life insurance and how he would be a young widower. My sister told me that she was disappointed that I was okay as she had no excuse to buy a new dress for the funeral.

Now, none of us would have intentionally made those jokes around people we weren’t certain shared our sense of humor, but it does sometimes slip. I am all for laughing at the parts of life that seem frightening, it makes it much easier to bear.


Kai April 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

My great-grandfather died on his wife’s birthday. My great-grandmothers response? ‘He always has to go and steal my thunder and make it all about him doesn’t he?!’. She died 6 weeks later because she loved him too much to live without him. The point is, that quite a lot of people use black humour as a coping mechanism. It doesn’t mean you’re a horrible uncaring person, so yes I think some people are being very oversensitive here.

The OP’s father had a health scare (doesn’t say how major or minor this was). Karen made a joke to him about it, and he took it well. The OP’s mother and sister overheard a conversation they were not a part of, became upset, waited till they got home and rang the OP to cry about how cruel Karen is.

As said, I see nothing wrong with black humour. But you do need to be careful of your audience. The father took the joke well, so presumably he shares a similar sense of humour, or really just couldn’t care less. The mother and sister were not Karen’s audience. To me it sounds like they already disliked her and jumped on an excuse to dislike her further (particularly the way they went running to the OP about it later). Maybe they were genuinely upset, I can understand that, but a gentle ‘I’m sorry, I’m sure you didn’t mean it badly, but I’m a little sensitive about his health at the moment. Let’s change the subject’ should have been used. If Karen is as nice a person generally as the OP implies, I’m sure she would have been mortified to know that she had upset her daughter-in-laws family and would have been more careful in future. You can’t whinge about a person’s behaviour behind their back when you never tell them about it so they are even aware they are doing something wrong.

Had Karen said this to the mother or sister, or had her thoughtless comments pointed out before but chose to continue, I would be on the side of the family. But it seems like no one has pointed out her behaviour to her before. And as they say about listening to other people’s conversations, be careful because you may not like what you hear.


Kai April 15, 2011 at 10:26 am

I just had a quick re-read. The OP said that Karen knew nothing of the family history. So this begs the question, why take such offense to a lame joke when the person knew nothing of the situation? It really does look more and more like mother and sister finding an excuse to hate Karen. At least the father was decent and realised she had not way of knowing and certainly did not mean it.

Dumb comment not meant maliciously. There are far worse things to be offended by so I hope the mother and sister get over it.


cherise jones May 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I think that Karen has the right to view things her own way. Also, I don’t think she was trying to offend anyone by the comment she made. After all, she DID actually lose her own husband. One thing I used to pray for alot was for God to make my skin a little bit thicker so I wouldn’t be so easily offended. Today, I can enjoy many different personality types because of those answered prayers so many years ago. Men are re not as sensitive as we are, that’s why Dad didn’t think too much into the comment that she made. I pray that God blesses everyone in that situation with more patience and understanding so they can all get along without having to stay away from one another.


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