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How to support a person who is grieving when you have a terrible relationship w/them?


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We've recently lost my sister-in-law (SIL) to a multitude of health conditions. Not only was her sudden loss a shock, but she had just turned 40 and kept her health issues a secret from us. 

I am trying to figure out a way to best support my husband and his family during this terrible time. However, one of the bigger issues is that my MIL has never liked me and she is currently taking her anger out on me and our 4-year-old daughter.

I want to be there for her and help in any way I can, but the nicer I try to be to her, the worse she is to me. I haven't confronted her b/c I understand that she is in great pain and I couldn't even begin to imagine what she is going through. However, I can't endure this abuse for the rest of my life. Not only is it a mental load for me, but it's also affecting my relationship with my husband and anyone that is within our orbit.

I could give a laundry list of horrible incidences with her that would show how fraught our relationship is, but I'm not sure that would help here. The bottom line is that within the past 10 yrs, she has repeatedly belittled or tried to bully me, and has been extremely passive aggressive, hyper-critical, cruel, or just downright cu***.

In the past few months, I have offered to do errands for her, clean the house, help her with her doctor appointments, etc. I have no problem with her saying no to any of it. My problem is that once I've offered, or shown that I'm trying to be empathetic, she doubles down and becomes especially nasty.

For example, her 1 go-to move is that when I offer to help, she gives a simple and short 'no' - which is fine - but then the very next day, she will call my husband and tell him how she and my FIL can't take being in the house any longer, so of course, my husband will tell them to come over. Within minutes of being in our house, she becomes hyper-critical - criticizing everything in my house from the way I dress down to what I'm giving my daughter to eat. Every move I make she'll declare out loud "we never do this in my house!" Or "I'd never allow her to do that!" She will then march into my daughter's playroom and start saying how we're spoiling her and try to "donate" some of her toys on her own, which of course sends my daughter into a tailspin.

I'm trying to support my husband by either going to my in-laws house or having them come to ours often. But each time she hones in on me & begins to passive aggressively berate me or becomes short tempered w/my daughter. If I try to walk away she'll follow me. If she sees I'm talking to neighbor to avoid her, she'll walk right up & take over the conversation. Lately I haven't gone or left when they came over. But I am wrong for doing this? More importantly, can my daughter and I do this for the rest of our lives?

Me writing the laundry list of issues between her and me here prob wouldn't help much aside from me venting, but my biggest question is how do I support a grieving person that I just simply can't stand and who obviously feels the same?

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2 hours ago, sp99 said:

Lately I haven't gone or left when they came over. But I am wrong for doing this? More importantly, can my daughter and I do this for the rest of our lives? . . . my biggest question is how do I support a grieving person that I just simply can't stand and who obviously feels the same?

There is nothing wrong with protecting yourself from someone who is abusing you. You don't say what, if any, understanding and support you have from your husband in all of this. Does he recognize your distress and support you in setting limits on his mother's behavior toward you? You may have no control over your mother-in-law's behavior toward you, but you do have control in how you respond to her. 

Disenfranchised grief: Why mourning an estranged relationship is completely valid

In Grief: Setting Clear Boundaries

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My husband has always been supportive & sides with me for the most part. I try not to complain about her too much because 1: I don't want to seem like I'm harping on her 2: she's 70, so it's not like she's going to change anytime soon & 3: since we lost my SIL, I try my best to ignore her b/c I know that it's just a symptom of her grieving, (even though our relationship has been less than stellar since the beginning).

Is it wrong to not want to join my husband & daughter every time they visit my in-laws? A friend told me it's ok not to be home when they come over to our house. In a way I feel like I'm chickening out & not being supportive of my husband. She's been acting like this for yrs, but it's worse & I feel almost helpless about it now since she's grieving. 

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Only you can decide how much, if any, support you are willing and able to offer to your mother-in-law. Short of visiting her in person, might you find some alternative, indirect ways of acknowledging her grief and demonstrating that you care ~ e.g., a written note, an email or a text message saying simply that you're thinking of her? See, for example, Helping Another in Grief and Helping Another in Grief: Suggested Resources

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On 7/15/2022 at 6:08 PM, sp99 said:

My husband has always been supportive & sides with me for the most part. I try not to complain about her too much because 1: I don't want to seem like I'm harping on her 2: she's 70, so it's not like she's going to change anytime soon & 3: since we lost my SIL, I try my best to ignore her b/c I know that it's just a symptom of her grieving, (even though our relationship has been less than stellar since the beginning).

Is it wrong to not want to join my husband & daughter every time they visit my in-laws? A friend told me it's ok not to be home when they come over to our house. In a way I feel like I'm chickening out & not being supportive of my husband. She's been acting like this for yrs, but it's worse & I feel almost helpless about it now since she's grieving. 

It is not wrong. In order to provide good support to your husband and your daughter, you have to set up healthy boundaries from abusive behavior. Your support is essential, but to your primary family. Your in laws are your relatives, secondary circle. And therefore you don't have to tolerate passive aggressive behavior just because your MIL is in pain and you are on her way. Her pain is her own and we can only imagine what a parent must feel. However her loss or any loss doesn't give the person the right to treat others with continuing aggressive attitude. Because you care for her you will have to give her space and let your husband and daughter visit them without you for a time. With this healthy way you acknowledge she deserves your respect through this very horrible time for a parent. If she feels annoyed by you, you take action by not adding more stress to a very unhappy situation. 

I'm writing this because I have been your MIL sort of. Until my youngest brother told me clearly: stop with your cinism, enough. I would have go on unleashing my anger to whoever was with me in the room. There is something narcissist in us that is released a we cannot see the other side, the others in front of us. Our pain doesn't entitle to treat anyone bad "in a continuous way". 

 

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It's good to set boundaries!  Show support within those limitations, send a meal, a card, but I'd protect yourself and your daughter, OMG, she's only 4!

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