DEAR AMY: My sister recently died suddenly. My husband does not like my late sister’s husband. My mother invited my sister’s husband to share our holiday dinner. I have a problem with him right now because after 35 years together (she even waited for him while he was in prison for more than a decade), he announced that he had met someone two months after my sister’s death. We all believe he was dating this woman before my sister passed. Currently, my mother, brother in-law and I are in grief therapy. Our counselor suggested we do things together that my sister liked, as a form of healing. My mother believes this could be an exercise for healing. My husband refuses to go and has said I am being disloyal to him if I go. He said I should put him before all of them. My husband and I have gotten into huge arguments over this and have even talked about divorce. I want to go to my mother’s house to be with her after my sister’s death, but I don’t want my husband to be unhappy and alone, either. My husband knows the reason why I want to go to my mother’s. I told him he is being controlling. I don’t know what to do. I am torn and feel miserable. Your advice?
Torn and Miserable
DEAR TORN: My reaction is that you should share this dinner with your family and your husband should do this with you — for you.
Including your late-sister’s husband in this meal makes this challenging for everyone, but you can assume that this is likely the last holiday meal you will share with him, and if this helps you and your mother find peace with this huge loss, then your husband should try to be helpful.
Yes, married couples should put one another at the center of each other’s lives. Right now, this applies to him. He should be kind and gentle toward you, even if it causes him some discomfort.
I’m glad you are getting grief counseling, but I also think that a tension-filled holiday dinner is not necessarily going to help all of you. I think if you and your mother took a walk together and visited one of her favorite places together, this might help you both more than plowing through the awkwardness of this high-stakes holiday meal.
You can say, “Honey, I’m hoping that you can do this for me. If you don’t want to go, or if you don’t think you can behave well, then it would be best for you to make other plans for that day. I’ll be back by six and I’d be happy to bring you some pie.”
DEAR AMY: How can older family members not feel guilty about stopping the extensive gift-giving that has evolved over the holiday season? My husband and I have been very generous to all of our children and their children. Our family has now swelled to massive numbers and it is overwhelming for us. Also, it must be noted that these family members hardly ever reciprocate or thank us. They don’t remember our birthdays and gift-giving from them is very sporadic.
DEAR OVERWHELMED: Here’s how you do it: You look back on your decades of generosity with pride, and you put the word out that from now on, you will focus on celebrating the holiday season through a shared meal and experiences together. I suggest you send out a group email with this message, and make some plans to attend seasonal concerts and services in your community.
The time has come for you to enjoy the season in the way you want to.
DEAR AMY: I loved your advice to “Upset.” She and hubby had a deal about where they would ultimately live, and you suggested she should expect him to hold up his end of the agreement. I know what it’s like to live in a place where you are unhappy. After a year of living in Cleveland, a return to California became essential for me! My husband and I also had an agreement. He kept his part of the bargain. We’ve been in California for 30 wonderful years, and he would agree that coming home was the best thing we could have done!
DEAR GRATEFUL: A deal is an agreement between two parties, and both need to make good on their part.