Last week my cousin passed away. He was only 36 and it was traumatic for the whole family. He was very unhappy and had struggled with mental illness and addiction for a number of years. Finally, he committed suicide. That left a wake of reactions in our family and I’m sure for his friends.
My brother was very close to him and tried to help him to navigate the difficulties he was experiencing. They spent many nights together and had shopping adventures, sharing much along the way. My cousin’s death hit my brother hard.
My mother lives in another city and was making plans to come for the funeral, along with my grandmother and aunt and uncle. She started making all sorts of plans for who will do what on the day of the funeral. Finally, when the date and time were set, she told my cousin and my brother that I would take them to the funeral. That was not something I wanted or asked for and it created a bunch of challenges for me.
My husband travels a lot and the Friday afternoon of the funeral, he would be away. I have two little girls, aged seven and ten and I wasn’t sure what I would do about them. I didn’t want to take them to the funeral since it’s upsetting for them to be in an environment of such sadness and to see their relatives crying. I know many cultures include the children but I was concerned about exposing them to so much grief and having to explain suicide to them.
I’m a recovering people pleaser and in the past, I would have bent over backwards to accommodate a request like the one that my mother placed on me. But after my health collapse from stress, I am changed. I am aware of what I have to do and what I don’t have to do and this was one of those situations where I needed to push back. It’s really not my job to drive my family to the funeral.
I called my mother and told her to stop making commitments on my behalf. I told my cousin that it would not be suitable for me to take her to the funeral and I called my brother. I explained that it would be very difficult for me to lift him there and back and to navigate the logistics of picking up my children. He wanted to leave directly after placing the coffin in the hearse and my cousin wanted to stay and chat to the out-of-town relatives. It would have been impossible for me to meet two opposing needs at the same time.
I made arrangements for a friend at school to take my kids home after school and I could fetch them both from their house on the way home. Finally, I had managed to make plans and I assumed that my brother could take an Uber and my cousin’s husband could drive her there. I’m not sure why I became the person to drive everyone there when my husband was away and my children need to be taken care of.
But this was the pattern of my life for a long time. People expecting me to do all the hosting of family functions, to be there to prop everyone up. I’m the strong one but people forget that I have feelings too. I’m also grieving and I also struggle at times. I’m the one who experienced a monumental burnout that took three years of my life, and yet people are still pushing things on me that I didn’t want.
On the day of the funeral, my oldest daughter woke up sick. She had to stay off school and I couldn’t take a sick child into the home of people who were already doing us a favor. I had to take her along to the funeral, adding a last minute complication. At the funeral, my brother refused to greet me and embarrassed me in front of about 500 people. He was so angry that I refused to drive him to and from the funeral, something I didn’t volunteer for and something that was pushed on me by my mother.
It’s very clear to me that this was a case of implementing a boundary. The logistics of looking after a sick child, finding the church, dropping people off and fetching my other child were just too much for me on a day when I was grieving and struggling. Once home, I had to make food for my children, brush teeth and get them to bed before I could allow my grief to flow. I had to hold it together enough to make polite conversation with the family who looked after my child, to listen to my kids talk about things that didn’t feel important at a time when I was consumed my grief.
I’m clear that I’m responsible for my own life and the consequences of my decisions. I put up a boundary to protect myself and to be able to manage on the day. The people around me didn’t accept it. My brother is ending our relationship because I was not there for him. I know that I did the right thing for me and that I can’t be responsible for other people’s happiness. It’s just so frustrating that I can’t make it clear to people that I only have so much to give. Caring for myself has become perceived as selfishness.
I believe in having compassion and understanding. I know that my brother’s grief is clouding his judgement and behavior. But I also don’t deserve to be publicly humiliated and rejected like that. I’m able to separate out my emotions from my behavior. Do I just walk away from this relationship that is co-dependent until he learns how not to be a victim? Do I bring compassion and just let him treat me badly?
I’m hoping that my family has learnt not to push things on me anymore. We can only be responsible for our own behavior and we have to accept the consequences of what we do. Looking back, I don’t believe I acted selfishly in refusing what was forced on me. I would do that again. I can’t control the way other people see that situation and I can’t control their perception of me being selfish and unkind. I have to surrender to the knowledge that I did the best I could in that situation. What other people do or think is not within my control and is also not my responsibility.