Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review May 30, 2002/ 19 Sivan 5762

Attending my ex-mother-in-law's funeral;
in search of forgiveness

By Wendy Belzberg | Q: Though my husband and I were divorced two years ago, I still have very fond feelings for his family. For more than a decade his parents were like my own, and they are wonderful grandparents to our two children. A few weeks ago my ex-father-in-law's sister -- of whom I was also fond -- died suddenly. I called him to express my condolences and to say that I wished to attend the funeral. My father-in-law requested that I not attend. My ex has a new girlfriend I have not met, and my former father-in-law thought it would be too awkward. What do you think?

A: It is hard to argue with the way a bereaved party feels - even if he is wrong.

A funeral is a final occasion to honor and to respect the dead. It is not the time to perpetuate family squabbles among the living. It seems to me that the real litmus test should be whether the deceased would feel comfortable having you graveside. Just because you no longer have a formal role within the family does not make your loss any less. And if you and your former father-in-law are on good enough terms for you to call him, it would seem that you should be allowed to attend. With the caveat, perhaps, that you should lay low and not choose this moment to introduce yourself to your ex's girlfriend. In an ideal world you would think we could call a cease-fire to family feuds and ill will, at least until after the shiva.

Q: Five years ago I left my home and three children for a man whom no one liked. We are now happily married. I have since tried to communicate with my children, but they will have nothing to do with me. They despise my husband; they hate me for leaving them. I have recently reconciled with my mother, and I am again on speaking terms with my brother and cousins. Just two days ago I wrote to my son asking his forgiveness, and told him how sorry I am for hurting him. He wrote saying that even though he doesn't consider me dead, he is not ready to resurrect me.

I want to be in touch with my children and grandchildren. My mother has tried to mediate but my children leave the room as soon as my name comes up. I have written to them and have had other people talk to them on my behalf. I have communicated over and over how sorry I am for what I did. I send my youngest daughter birthday gifts; I send my grandchildren gifts, cards and e-mail. I get no response. Should I just give up?

A: You have already made one tragic mistake. Don't make another.

While your behavior has been less than exemplary, everyone makes mistakes. And so I will resist the natural temptation to lead with "You should have thought about the consequences of your actions in the first place." As your children grow and mature, they too may come to understand that they are less than perfect. What they will not understand is if you are willing to give up on them a second time. Keep calling, writing and sending cards and gifts. You may never gain their forgiveness for the past, but you can gain their trust in the future by showing them that - this time - you are here to stay. If it comes, the thaw will not be on your terms or on your time frame. But time should not be a factor for a parent who wishes to reunite with a child.

One last word of advice: Stop enlisting the help of outside mediators. You made your bed --- so to speak; stop asking others to help change the linens.

Ask Wendy a question -- any question --- by clicking here.

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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg