If there were ever a good time to use the old “I didn’t ask to be born” line, SS, this would be it. Your sister blames you for something totally out of your control, and although her rational mind must know this, she’s let her anger and bitterness become such a big part of her that it’s easier to hang on to them than to admit she might have been wrong. This would be ridiculous if it weren’t so sad, but the only person who can change it is your sister, and she doesn’t want to. She decided at 14 that if she couldn’t have her family her way she wouldn’t have it at all, and she’s sticking to it.
You’re not really giving up on her if she’s never been there in the first place. And, since by not continuing to pursue a relationship with her you’re giving her what she says she wants, in a way you’re doing her a favor. If you want, you could write her one last letter telling her you’ll be there if she ever changes her mind, but don’t hold your breath waiting for a response. When a door has been slammed in your face, the only thing you get from banging your head against it is a headache.
When I was in my 40s I realized I was gay. Kathy, my wife of 17 years, was actually the one who figured it out for me. She found another man, and divorced me to marry him, but we stayed friendly, partly because we truly care for each other and partly for the sake of our two daughters. She never wanted them to be angry or ashamed of me. I live in another city now, but my partner of several years and I have made several visits to see her and our kids, and they all get along really well.
Now Kathy has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is deteriorating rapidly. I am very sad about it and, before she became too ill to talk, spent many hours on the phone with her, reminiscing about our life together and raising our kids. I will miss her. But there is one thing that concerns me. Would it be appropriate for me to attend her memorial service? Her present husband has never liked me, and I wouldn’t want to intrude on his grief. Also, I’ve become somewhat famous in recent years, and wouldn’t want to take attention away from the service. On the other hand, I will want to pay my respects. I also feel I should be there for my daughters. Should I go? And if I go should I bring my partner?
Although I sincerely hope you won’t need my advice for many years, GA, I feel strongly that a memorial service is for those who cared for and respected the deceased to get together to share their memories and their feelings, and should be an occasion for inclusion, not exclusion. It is not the place to fight over who does or does not have the right to grieve. Any unfriendly feelings mourners may have for each other should be put on hold for the occasion. Kathy’s husband’s feelings for you are irrelevant; what is important is how you and she felt about each other. If you’re uncomfortable going as her former husband, go as her daughters’ father. Or go as her current friend. And if she and your partner are fond of each other, he should feel welcome, too.
That doesn’t mean you should play the role of chief mourner; that belongs to her husband and daughters. Tell your daughters you’re coming, but that unless they want you to sit with them during the service, you and your partner would feel comfortable sitting farther back, and at the reception you should maintain a respectful background position. As for your presence being a distraction, fame doesn’t prevent grief, and if you’re really all that well known, people will talk even more if you don’t show up.
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