DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister is a deeply unhappy person, always on the lookout for some reason to be offended. Everyone in the family has always tiptoed around her and tried to read her mind, lest we failed to fulfill her unspoken expectations. We all struggled to be absolutely perfect in order to keep the peace and avoid her wrath.
Of course, it did not work. Somebody seeking reasons to be angry and bitter will always find them. One by one, she chose estrangement from all of us, though her hatred always burned hottest toward me and our mother.
Mom really struggled with the hurt and embarrassment of the situation. She was always a very private person and did not want to be the subject of gossip, so the situation was never discussed outside the circle of people who had been rejected by my sister. Only I knew what Mom was really going through.
Mom passed away recently, and my sister was delighted. She made phone calls to express her great joy that the old "B-word" was finally gone to hell, and to mock anyone "stupid enough" to mourn her passing. She also told insulting stories I am certain were untrue, simply to hurt the listener and tarnish Mom's image. She was brutal.
I heard all this from a couple of Mom's friends, people who loved her and helped her as her health declined. They had had no idea about the turmoil within the family, and were utterly shocked and greatly distressed. Aside from these friends, I have no idea how many more calls my sister placed.
Unsure what to do, I got out my mother's address book and began writing letters to each person listed about whom Mom had spoken to me. I told them every kind thing she had ever told me about them, every expression of gratitude I could remember, all the nice stories she told me. I did not mention my sister or ask if any of these people had heard from her.
I wanted to respect my mother's desire for privacy regarding this break in the family. I just told them who they were in my mother's eyes, in hopes that it might help heal any hurt caused by my sister's choice to lash out and "set the record straight" about my mother's true feelings and character.
However, I have hesitated to send those letters. Is it appropriate for the bereaved party to send such letters of condolence to friends and neighbors of the deceased?
GENTLE READER: That you propose making amends without criticizing your sister is admirable. And such letters from the bereaved are properly written, though normally in response to letters of condolence. Doing so is an excellent solution to these circumstances; people who express sympathy are gratified to be told how much they were valued by the deceased.
Miss Manners would certainly not have you follow your sister in disparaging a relative. But if anyone brings up her conduct, you can say, "I'm afraid she is troubled," and refuse to discuss it further.
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