Grieving mother diminishes others' problems
Dear Amy: My older sister and her family are survivors of suicide.
My nephew killed himself on his father's birthday, eight years ago. The pain and grief have been deep and endless. My sister and I are close. I've stood by her side during the darkest of times. After all this time, she puts on a happy face but is prone to flashes of anger toward me and others.
When I talk with her about my (relatively) small struggles, such as a job loss, or difficult relationships, my sister always has to "top" my own struggles by ending with, "Well, at least you don't have a dead kid," or some other similar retort.
It's feeling like a competition. I feel I can't speak to her about any of my smaller problems.
My sister often acts the martyr. At dinner parties that she hosts, she will not ask anyone to help with the food or dishes, but then later (in tears) says, "No one offered to help!"
But Amy, when we offer to help -- she refuses. I can't win!
Amy, I feel like distancing myself from her. She feels like she is the most hurt person in the world and that no one can possibly understand her. I feel put down and rejected.
Dear Check-Mated: Even though your sister's flashes of anger serve to push you away, I hope you won't abandon her. She sounds stuck in a cycle of grief and anger, and this will affect all of her relationships.
It is unkind of her to use her son's death to diminish your problems, and yet -- surely she is speaking her own truth. Grief separates sufferers from the world. On one level, embracing -- or at least tolerating -- the quotidian problems of everyday life could actually help your sister to heal. I think you should gently tell her, "My problems might not seem big to you. But they're real. You're my sister. Your reaction to me makes me feel small and sad."