Dear Amy: My mom unexpectedly passed away about a year ago after a very brief illness. We were extremely close. I was with her nearly every moment for those last weeks.
When she died, I was raw, devastated and completely numb. It took me days to even be able to shed a tear.
My sister-in-law, whom I love, immediately asked me for the earrings my mom wore daily, as well as an expensive handbag and a fur coat.
Saying no has always been hard for me in the best of situations.
I’m a people pleaser. This was the worst of situations, and I just said OK.
Now, I find myself feeling infuriated and angry.
I feel like I was taken advantage of in one of my darkest times.
I would have said yes to these requests. I have enough mementos and the “stuff” wasn’t what was important to me.
I feel like my SIL completely disregarded how grief stricken and exhausted I was, and was greedy and demanding during a vulnerable time.
I do love her, so this feels awful.
Being a people pleaser also means that confrontations are difficult for me and the last thing I would ever want to do is create a rift in my very close and loving family.
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Do you have any advice on how I can move past this?
— Grieving Daughter
Dear Grieving Daughter: As a “people pleaser,” you may not quite recognize how to put yourself on an equal footing with the people around you.
A lifetime of extending yourself toward others can take you outside of your own emotions, and so your first task is to give yourself permission to actually feel your negative feelings (“infuriated and angry”). You then need to recognize the legitimacy of your feelings and reactions, and to deal with them, either by expressing them or by working through them on your own and letting them go.
You have a voice and the right to speak your own truth.
If you don’t feel able to share your honest reaction with your sister-in-law, you could write down your reactions: “I feel taken advantage of. She didn’t recognize my grief. She jumped in too quickly and didn’t give me the chance to offer these things to her. She made a mistake. If I choose to forgive her for her behavior, I will let it all go.”
Lastly, you should recognize this: You miss your mother. You miss seeing her wear those familiar earrings. You wish you could reverse all of these recent events, but you know that you can’t.
And now you must adjust to this new reality, but it will take time — and tears.
You should allow yourself both.
Dear Amy: My husband and I were married for five years. During the 10 years of our relationship, we grew close to each other’s families.
Our relationship’s demise was really just a function of us growing up and growing apart. Fortunately, we didn’t have children. Our split has been amicable.
I am a fairly talented quilter, and have made some quits that are considered art pieces.
After my ex and I got engaged, his mother had a landmark birthday, and for a gift I gave her a particularly beautiful quilt I’d made (I like her a lot, and at the time I was also trying to impress her).
She sent me a lovely note saying how much she likes the quilt.
The thing is, I would really like to have this piece back. Some of my quilts are getting good prices in online auctions, and this is one I would like to include in my collection.
Do you think I can ask her to give this back to me?
— Wondering Ex
Dear Wondering: Can you ask your former mother-in-law to give this back to you? Yes.
Should you? No.
It was a gift. It should remain so.
Dear Amy: I am responding to “New Widow,” who was asking for an appropriate response to, “When are you going to start dating?”
First, I want to say that I am sorry for her loss.
I lost my husband just over two years ago to COVID-19. It was also sudden, leaving me to raise four boys (ages 11-15) alone.
Everyone grieves differently. When I’m asked that insensitive question, my response is “… when I am ready.”
It leaves very little wiggle room for pressure.
— Also a Widow
Dear Also: Thank you for your succinct and perfect response. I’ll add my sympathy regarding your own loss, which seems monumental.