Stay Classy

I have a terrible relationship with sister. How do I get through my dad’s memorial service without ripping her a new one?

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Sisters fighting at dad memorial

Don’t duke it out with your sister at dad’s memorial.

I have two sisters. One is a twin and the other is a year younger than us. My younger sister and I have been bitterly arguing over past two years, mostly about her (in my opinion) poor treatment of my parents and others. My dad died a few days ago and we’re planning his memorial service. I’m furious with my sister, with whom I haven’t spoken in a year, and don’t wish to see or speak with her. Please give me some guidance for staying classy and in control at the service. After all, it’s all about my dad.

I am so sorry, both about your dad and the rift with your sister. You are right that your conflict with her has no place at a service for your father. Fighting there will not only hurt your relationship more but also make the day harder for your mom and twin sister and everyone else who loved him. Not to mention that the half-life of things bitterly uttered at funerals is pretty long, and you don’t want ugly words marring the memory of saying goodbye. Here are some ideas, keeping in mind that you’re in for a tough day, so you should probably try to do all of them:

The key to controlling your behavior is, well, controlling your behavior. Now, that’s not always possible or even desirable or fair, particularly when you are grieving. But since you’re well aware of some specific triggers that will arise, figure out a plan for venting-some-emotions-slash-serious-self-care both before and after your dad’s memorial – it will make it easier to keep your cool at the actual event.

  • Create a mantra you can chant to yourself (endlessly) throughout the day. Be it “stay classy,” “let it go,” “shake it off,” or whatever phrase your dad used on you two when you argued as kids. Every time you think you need to say it to yourself, say it twice.
  • Asking good friends for help is a life skill that will rarely let you down, so I will never stop recommending it. Find someone you can confide in about how difficult this relationship is, and who can help you stay focused on honoring your dad and not falling into your argument with your sister. (Obviously, don’t pick the friend who is always eager to commiserate about what a bitch she is. Save that friend for the post-memorial debrief).
  • For today, try pretending your sister is just another girl who lost her dad. Nothing more, nothing less. Because however justifiably pissed off you are at her, that is what she is.
  • Remember this sentence, even if it annoys the crap out of you: It’s tough being the baby of the family. I take a true middle-child’s umbrage at this, but even in the closest families, everyone still has their individual experiences.
  • Really, though, good on you: You wrote a letter in which you 1) stated your positive intentions, 2) asked for help, 3) resisted the urge to fill me (and the Internet) in on all the details and thus cast your sister in a negative light. So I am completely confident you can pull this off as gracefully as possible, given the circumstances.

Meg Tansey hails from New England, where talking about your feelings is frowned upon. She has lots of life experience but is not an actual therapist. Meg has a MFA from The New School and currently lives and writes in New York City. Send Meg your questions at (subject: Ask ML).

Please note: Questions may be edited for length or clarity. Modern Loss is not a therapeutic adviser; this category should only be used as a guide. Users should verify the veracity and appropriateness of the information posted on the site with his or her own therapeutic adviser. 

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