QUESTION: My sister is in hospice and is not expected to live another two months. I have been part of her caregiving circle. We have been very close all of our lives, especially since we have no other siblings. Her husband has announced that her funeral service will be private with only their three children, four grandchildren and himself present. I am devastated that he has locked me and my family out at this very traumatic time. I don’t feel it’s my place to question him, but I’m heartbroken and don’t know what to do. Do you have any advice to help me sort out this terrible situation? —Jackie
ANSWER: First of all, I am so sorry for both your situation and your impending loss. You are kind and compassionate not to question the motives of your brother-in-law, especially when there is such tremendous deep loss involved. I know you are feeling isolated and left out, but instead of creating friction and possible future tension with your brother-in-law and his family, work on letting go of your expectations. It isn’t out of the ordinary that you expected to be in attendance at your sister’s funeral service. But that is not the option you have been given. Do not dwell on the fact that your brother-in-law has chosen to keep the funeral service private. Allow him the room to grieve in his own way. In order to reframe the situation ask yourself this question: What can I do to honor and respect my sister outside of my familiar tradition? Maybe you can visit her burial site, bring her favorite flowers and celebrate your love for her in your own way. Write a poem or a prayer, read from her favorite book, reminisce over photos of the two of you, or just talk to her and share your feelings. Whatever you choose to do, alone or with other family members, will help to bring closure. Once this happens, you will be able to move forward and carry your sister’s spirit in your heart forever. And that’s what really counts. And, if possible, retain a relationship with your brother-in-law, your nieces and nephews. A piece of your sister lives within each of them. If you still find you are having trouble dealing with her death, contact a mental health professional who offers expertise in grief counseling.
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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.comor Amazon.com.