DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother-in-law is very ill, and we have all been put on alert for her passing away. According to the doctors, it will happen in a few weeks. We are preparing mentally for this.
My mother-in-law and I have never been close or friendly. She has always said disparaging things about me to my face and behind my back. Consequently, my in-laws have treated me as an outsider.
While not glad for her passing -- and wanting to be supportive of my spouse -- I don’t know how to respond when I will receive comments like “So sorry for your loss” or “She was such a good mother-in-law.” I’m not sorry to no longer have her in my life -- and she was not a good mother-in-law.
GENTLE READER: You should respond to condolences by saying “Thank you” and let pass any praise they may offer. They are not asking for a recital of your grievances.
Miss Manners believes that you should also be aware that by doing otherwise -- by what you think of as setting the record straight -- the reputation you alter is likely to be your own.
Complaining about in-laws while they are alive may elicit some sympathy, but doing so instead of mourning is not likely to have that response. It will seem gratuitously mean -- which is why there is a convention of not speaking ill of the dead -- as well as callous toward your presumably grieving spouse. People who feel they have known a better side of your mother-in—law will conclude that you were the problem.