Growing up I often played with and adored my cousin M who was four years my senior. Somewhere about junior high we had a falling out and things deteriorated during high school. I must admit that I felt wronged and was a bit bitter. My senior year of college M got married. My Aunt, her mother, made a big deal about wanting everyone possible to attend in order to have an extended family photo taken. In a weaker moment of judgment I didn’t even ask for the day off. I sent my regrets and never gave the matter a second thought. My cousin got incredibly ill the day of her wedding. She even had to leave the altar to throw up (this is important later).
After the wedding I am treated even more poorly at family events and holidays, but not just by M but also by her sister G and my Aunt and Uncle. At first I chalked it up to my not being at the wedding and “ruining” the group picture, but no one says why they are being mean. I started avoiding family gatherings if at all possible.
Fast forward two years. I go to my grandparents for Easter and am miserable. Not one relative outside my immediate family and grandparents have spoken to me. I have no idea of what sin I have committed. Cousin G approaches me at the dinner table and says, “Great Aunt E told us that you told her during the ceremony that M was pregnant when she got married and that is why she was throwing up.”The room was silent. I was aghast. Luckily I remembered that I hadn’t attended the wedding and the wedding pictures would prove it. I answered with this information and the silence deepened until Cousin G pronounced that, “Oh yeah, I remember that now. Well, we knew that it couldn’t be true”. The room felt physically lighter.
So, now here is my problem. Should I confront Great Aunt E? How terrible was this? It would be bad to say such a horrible thing and especially bad at the wedding no less…It is worse to then repeat such a thing to the party in question…but to make a thing up about someone who couldn’t have said the horrible thing in the first place? I feel like she purposefully defamed me but I have no idea of why. This isn’t something that could have been said on accident. Conversely, now that my entire family knows that I didn’t say said terrible thing I have reentered everyone’s good graces and then some. I am invited to everything and Aunt now goes out of her way to include me in things that I had formally been snubbed on. Should I just be glad that I could clear myself and move on? I really want to know why and let her know how much hurt she caused. 0817-11
Every extended family has an issue of this type at least once in a lifetime. One way to insulate oneself from becoming the family pariah based on gossip is to have an impeccable character. If one is known for being excruciatingly honest, this works in one’s favor to cast doubt in the minds of those who hear slander. Sometimes it takes years to achieve that level of perceived character but since family relationships last for decades, it is well worth the investment.
The storyteller’s situation highlights the need for someone to have gone to her and asked the simple question, “Did you really say this?” Anytime you hear negative reports about another family member, particularly one that has the potential to split family members from each other, I do think there is an obligation to either completely dismiss it as hearsay slander you won’t be party to or to have the courtesy to ask the accused for their side of the story. There is a proverb that says, “The one who states his case first seems right,until the other comes and examines him.” You hear one side of the story and it seems right….until you get the other side of the story and the whole picture comes into sharper focus.
With that in mind, the OP may want to confront Great Aunt E with the question, “Did you say this about me?,” if for no other reason than to confirm what Cousin G is claiming her great aunt said and give Great Aunt E the opportunity to defend herself if she’s been misunderstood. If Cousin G’s report proves to be true, one can express to Great Aunt E how that kind of bad and untrue report is damaging.
The other option is to say nothing at all to Great Aunt E once the report is confirmed to be true. There are times when the value of confrontation must be weighed with the cost of what will be achieved. Over a year ago, my father-in-law indignantly asked me why I had allowed XXX to happen. I replied that I had no idea what he was talking about. His response was, “Well, then someone is lying to me.” To end the confusion, I produced emails that had been the only form of communication on the matter and proved that I really did not have a clue about the situation and had no culpability in it. I was not offended that my FIL confronted me….he was offended by the situation and he was getting to the bottom of the problem. I never did address the matter with the extended family member who had lied because it just wasn’t worth it. I knew the truth, my parents-in-law knew the truth and that was enough. Sometimes you need to go through life confident that you know the truth, God knows and maybe key family members know and it is OK.