Why people act different when loved ones die

WILBUR asks: My father passed away last Tuesday. I was left out of all the funeral plans. I am handicapped, but my husband isn’t. My sister, who has taken it upon herself to do everything for my mother, had her two sons, daughter, and husband give a eulogy. I was never asked to speak, and neither was my husband. All plans for the wake were done without anyone asking my opinion about anything (all the way down to refreshments in the coffee room – they didn’t even tell me there were any until I went for coffee). My husband says that my sister was trying to help me avoid any more pressure over the death. If you agree let me know please.


First of all, of course, my head is bowed down for your loss – fathers are just so wonderful.


I’m not brilliant enough to be able to read your sister’s mind – your husband has a lot more knowledge about her than I ever could, so his thoughts might well be correct.

But I do know a few things about humans. And one of them is that nothing, and I mean nothing, brings out the shadow-sides of personalities like the loss of a loved one. And when that loved one is a parent, humans start to act based on very old, deep baggage. Maybe your sister is someone who goes into take-charge mode when she’s under stress (which would fit with your husband’s view of her taking responsibility for your pain).

Or maybe this is a bit tougher than that – maybe she has always had some deep-down resentment, if she felt you were closer to your father than she was. Or maybe she still looks at you as the child you once were, and figures you can’t handle pressure or pain.

It could be any of these, or something completely different I never thought of.

What’s important is that you realize two things: First, that this might well be something she isn’t even aware she did or is doing – it could be completely unconscious.

And second, and more importantly – that your dad is gone, at least in the form he was in, and now it’s you and she who will determine what your family will be. Which to me means Forgive Forgive and Forgive!

If she really intended to do something hurtful, she’ll do it again, and you can react to that. But right now, the odds are she was just doing what felt right to her, and if you can treat her with love and all the understanding you can, you two will be able to move past this and create a beautiful new sisterhood that will last the rest of your lives.

I don’t know how easy it is to find this, but there was a wonderful play written about just this some time back: sisters dealing with the death of their father, and how it affects their relationships. It’s called Crimes of the Heart, by Beth Henley. It was also made into a good movie with Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek. Seeing or reading the play, or watching the movie, might help you realize just how universal this is.

But what’s especially universal is the need for Forgiveness. You’re making me remember the day Handsome (my human friend) put me into the back seat of his car and slammed the door shut – on my tail! OWWWWW that hurt!

Now by the way he reacted, it was very obvious that he hadn’t done it on purpose (he just about started crying, he was so sorry and worried). So I could have held it against him for the rest of our lives. Or I could do what I did, which was to realize he fully loved and cared for me… and learn to make sure I got my tail out of the way of any doors!

So WILBUR, that’s really my advice. Try to think the best of her, knowing that everyone in the situation you two were in is not quite their smartest, most aware, or best self. But don’t forget what happened, and keep an eye open to see if it happens again. And if so, then you’re in a great place to bring all this up and see what you can change between you.


Best of Luck. And again, I’m so sorry about your loss.


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