Dear Margaret,

My family has had a really hard few years. We’ve had several deaths in the family and as a result, we have all struggled. By contrast, I recently got engaged! My loving partner has been with me through it all, and I am very happy that we can finally celebrate something good as a family.

However, my mother insists on making every conversation about my wedding about how sad she is to be missing the rest of our family. And, I get it, I really do, but is there anyway to gently let her know I can’t have that conversation over and over again?

Thanks!

Engaged and ready to celebrate!

Dear Engaged,

Like your mother, I can get a bee in my bonnet. I will harp on about an issue, as my mind demands a solution to a problem that is, essentially, unsolvable without things like a time machine or the Philosophick Mercury.  My thinking is in a circular pattern that’s as annoying to me as it is to other people; I am railing against the baffling chaos and injustice of reality.

What works for me in this situation is ritual, and symbolism.  Humans have always used these things to make answers when there were none; when we had no explanation for weather, natural disasters, and disease, we created gods and spirits.  For believers and sceptics alike, a ritual can bring catharsis and closure in the face of grief and loss.

In your case, can you incorporate an homage to departed family members in your wedding rituals?  This can be anything from a mention in one of the reception toasts to a brief slideshow of photographs of the missing family members, to an acknowledgment in the wedding program.  Or, if the wedding itself won’t be able to accommodate such things, maybe a special dinner or breakfast before the wedding to honour their memory might work.

Knowing that these people will be remembered might be a help to your mom.  Then, if she persists in bringing up how sad she is, you can say, “I know, mum; me too.  That’s why I am so glad we’re taking the time to remember them as we celebrate.  Now, what did you think of these place settings?”