Dear Barbara, Please talk about family conflicts when someone is dying. My Dad is dying right now. He remarried and our families do not get along at all. I am having a very difficult time with my Dad's wife, her daughter, her comments, etc. How do you deal with this?
Families are a unique grouping of people and personalities. They present us with great opportunities for learning how to get along with others. This seems to go smoothly with some, others not so much.
What I have discovered is that a family member dying can bring a family together. It can be their finest moment of closeness and comfort. But for other families it brings out the worst in relationships and will affect family dynamics for years. Under stress, emotions seem to bring us together or push us further apart.
There is no perfect family, no perfect relationship, no never have a disagreement, argument, or misunderstanding family. It is natural to have moments of tension and disagreements but we generally work through those moments. This is how normal family relationships work. Blended/step families take the challenges of getting along to a new level. Habits and a growing up history are missing.. There is no foundation to draw from and in many cases integration just doesn’t happen.
I think relationships and interaction with others are hard work on a good day. Under stress it is like holding a magnifying glass to the sun. A family member dying is one of the ultimate stressors.
During the illness and dying process if the family dynamic has been one of support and comfort then there will be more comfort and more support. The magnifying glass effect will increase the family bond. If the relationship history has been one of discord then that discord will likely increase, UNLESS members make a concentrated effort to have a truce.
Here are my thoughts on how you can navigate this challenging relationship you have with your step family: bring up the subject of the uncomfortableness in your relationship directly. Say "I know in the past we have not seen eye to eye. We haven't really gotten along. For dad’s sake let’s have a truce and all do the best we can to get along and make this a special time".
Sometimes even going this far is not going to work. If talking is out, or you do talk and get a negative response, then all you can do is be the best possible person you can be. Let all the negativity roll off, don't engage, be a presence for your dad, agree even when you don't agree. BE THERE FOR YOUR DAD, love him, be courteous with those around him, ignore the attitude of the others. You want this to be a good memory when your dad is gone. You want to look back on this and say “I did everything in my power to make his dying a good life experience.”
You may have to work very hard to make it happen. You can't change others but you can work with yourself to do everything possible to get along with them ---until this is over. Then you never have to see them again if you don't want to and you will have the knowledge that you tried your best to create a peaceful, conflict free space for your father.
Something more about... Family Discord As Death Approaches
It's scary when a loved one is facing end of life. Families need education. Families need support. When we are educated, when we understand the dying process, the knowledge reduces the fear. Aren't we our better selves when we're more calm? I have a bundle for families that covers diagnosis to grief. You will find it here~ The Family Support Bundle.