I’m not sure if I’m in the wrong or not on this issue, but a third (yes, there were a first and second death to prompt this letter) death in the family has caused the conduct of a pair of my aunts (herein named 1 and 2) to weigh heavily on my mind. It bothers me so much because I’ve worked in funeral culture (a funeral museum that is now closed up), and I feel as if I’m being a bit unsympathetic.
The first death was that of an uncle who was, to all accounts, dearly beloved by nearly every member of the family. There was the standard reaction- weeping, remembrance pictures, stories told of sweet or funny things he’d said and done, a show of support for his widow and children. After a while, the bereft were left to their mourning and to pick their lives up as best they could and move on. Two years later, my grandmother passed. There had been quite a lot of fighting in the family concerning her estate, but of course everyone came to do their mourning. I have no doubt that their grief was profound. She was their mother, and I remember the horrid ache of losing my own at a MUCH younger age (I was 16 and they were old enough to be my mother then. It’s been twenty years.) Aunt 1 made much of having been beside the bed when she passed, crowing over it like a sort of crowning glory or great achievement. Aunt 2 was initially quiet until a few days after the funeral, possibly out of shock. From the moment Grandma died, Aunt 1 behaved as though she were proud of her grief, wearing it like a sort of regalia and mourning in an overdone way that would make the Italian funerary tradition (loud cries and weeping, much beating of breasts and tearing of clothes and hair) proud.
It’s been two years, and every day, the two aunts involved have been posting those glittery, pithy pictures of angels and roses and platitudes one finds on Facebook pages of the grieving. Both of them post multiple expressions of their grief per day. It’s like they’re trying to out-grieve each other, or like their grief is some sick trophy they share and revel in expressing and pawing over. I understand that, as their mother, they miss her. That much is natural. I miss her too, but having their grief flaunted and waved in my face like some kind of awful banner disgusts and angers me. I’m the kind who grieves in private and recovers fairly quickly, but having the wound opened multiple times a day like this is intolerable for me.
My cousin died a few days ago. Already, Aunt 1 has pounced on the fresh tragedy and is posting stuff about “my beautiful nephew, who will be in heaven with the angels forever” and similar stuff. Aunt 2 has shown the same restraint in every issue that she showed before Grandma’s death.
Am I being unsympathetic? Normally I consider the grief of bereft families as nearly sacred, but I don’t think I can use strong enough words for my disgust at Aunt 1. I have no plans to say anything to anyone in the family. Your answer will be solely for my own peace of mind or alteration of conduct. 0331-14
I am sorry for all your losses.
While your aunts’ preference for grieving may not appeal to you, the bottom line is that you cannot change them. Grief can be used to create a victim identity and some people wrap themselves in it. Demonstrative grief can also be a way to assuage guilt over actions taken (or not taken) while the person was alive. “See how much I loved the deceased? My grief is never ending.” Their grief begins to define who they are and until they see the need to change, they won’t.
I would block your aunts’ posts from appearing in your Facebook feed. What you cannot see cannot perturb you. It is not disrespectful to block relatives from splattering drama all over your feed. You can still check out how they are doing by visiting their Facebook profiles since it is you who determines when and how you wish to interact with these women.
You can also suggest to them that they seek grief counseling. Hospitals often have a group grief counseling available and there are private organizations like GriefShare that offer group support for the grieving.