Ask Amy: Daughter's suicide still haunts survivors

FresnoMay 11, 2014 

Dear Amy: Four years ago, my sister suffered a tragic loss: Her daughter committed suicide at the age of 20. We have all surrounded her with love and support.

But increasingly my sister (admittedly always rather self-absorbed) has started to use this grievous loss in a way that we simply don't know how to handle.

She makes demands and decisions that are hurtful to family members. She displays a shocking lack of empathy. If we communicate this, the comeback is we don't know what it's like to lose a child to suicide.

We're finding ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being held hostage by the tragedy because to comment further on her behavior makes us look brutally insensitive. It's as though she's saying to the world, "I lost a child to suicide, so you have to do whatever I want and feel really sorry for me while you're doing it, forever."

My parents — who lost a beloved granddaughter — chose to leave town at Christmas rather than deal with my sister's drama. We want to help her and not criticize. How should we handle this?

— Sis No. 2

Dear Sis: You cannot transform your sister into a different person. You cannot diminish her neediness, grief or emotional manipulation. But you can make ongoing choices about how you will behave. If you can draw a firmer line, even at the risk of seeming "insensitive" to her, you will be behaving in a way that is more honest and truthful. Ultimately, this may "help" her, although there is a possibility that it won't change her in the slightest.

There is no point in telling her "I lost a beloved family member too." But you can say, "I'm so worried about you; I can't seem to help you. I want you to heal." There are a number of bereavement groups for survivors of suicide; she would benefit from attending meetings.

In terms of her insensitivity toward you, you should push back. Her behavior is getting worse. You're going to have to risk hurting her feelings by saying, "You are being unkind. You are being disrespectful. This is hurting our relationship."

Dear Amy: I could not believe my eyes when you advised "Worried" that "taking on some debt for college is actually a pretty good long-term investment."

— Disgusted

Dear Disgusted: Many share your disgust, but I stand by my statement that managing some debt to finance school can be worth it. No student should mortgage a future, however. I agree that some students and families are taking on a treacherous amount of debt.


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