Dear Amy: I am a man in my 60s, happily married for 31 years. We have two wonderful young-adult sons. I am also estranged from my elderly parents and my one younger sibling, a brother.
I grew up with an alcoholic, physically abusive father, and a cold, distant and critical mother.
My father whipped me with his belt. Something as simple as spilling my milk at the dinner table would get me a swift and painful slap on the side of the head.
My mother had no sympathy, and didn’t protect us.
I left home as soon as I graduated from high school and have always lived at least 2,000 miles away from them.
My brother became an alcoholic. I, too, had issues with substance abuse, and made poor relationship choices as a young man.
Through counseling, some difficult interior work (and a lot of grace), I found a better way to live than how I was raised.
I married an amazing woman, and we created a family and home that is a place of joy and healing for me to this day.
It has been 15 years since I have seen my parents. I do not miss them. I have gotten random letters from them over the years, questioning my mental health, accusing me of being an elder abuser, and of being ungrateful and unforgiving. I mostly ignore their letters.
I don’t know what I should do when one of them dies. I wish them no harm, but when it does happen, I imagine it will be more of a relief for me than a time of grief.
Part of me would want to see them buried just to have some kind of closure, but when I think about attending the funeral, I imagine it being very unpleasant. Any advice? – Estranged Son
Dear Estranged: You deserve huge credit for creating a life for yourself and your children that was the opposite of what you received in childhood. Hard work meets grace, indeed!
I think that many of us imagine closure as an open line that is finally stitched shut into a circle, completing a difficult journey. But my own experience with family dysfunction, loss and grief was more like a spiral: As you make your orbit through life, you pass the same points over and over again, even as you create more distance from the events and people that caused you pain. Each orbit brings you more useful perspective.
That having been said, I also believe in showing up, even when you suspect the experience might be painful. That’s where grace comes in. If you show up with an attitude of humility (and minimal expectations for how others will behave), you will say goodbye, and perhaps also find the grace to move toward forgiveness for both the dead and the surviving parent.
Your beautiful and healthy life is a triumph. Carry that with you as you go.
Dear Amy: My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a wonderful invitation-only party.
My friend of 23 years showed up with her sister (whom I know, but did not invite).
Neither my husband nor I said anything about the extra guest.
My friend had a Tiffany gift bag, which she placed on the gift table.
Later that evening, I opened the gifts.
Inside the Tiffany bag were two anniversary cards and a small salt and pepper shaker set shaped like pigs, which my friend purchased while on a recent vacation (I used to collect pigs, but told everyone years ago that I no longer do).
I returned the gift and Tiffany bag to her, telling her I had no use for this.
Is it OK to bring a $2 gift to a special occasion in a Tiffany’s gift bag? – Upset
Dear Upset: This Tiffany gift bag has really been a trigger for you.
Yes, it is OK to use a Tiffany gift bag to house other gifts, but your (presumably now ex) friend created an obvious fiction by using the bag, and then insulted you with what was inside. That is not cool.
It was rude of you to return the gift, but in this case, the disrespect may be proportional.
Dear Amy: This phrase in your reply to “Lost Woman in the West” brought tears to my eyes: “Spend time with friends, and in nature. Books, movies, art and music will touch that part of you that is dormant – your sense of wonder and joy.” – Grateful
Dear Grateful: It works for me.
You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers may send postal mail to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or “like” her on Facebook.