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My Aunt Promised My Mom On Her Deathbed She’d Help With My Wedding

... And she's failing


My aunt is making my wedding feel like a miserable high-stakes tightrope act, and my anxiety is getting out of control. Janet is my mom’s younger sister and has a great eye for design and fashion. When my mom died almost four years ago, Janet apparently made her a deathbed promise that she would help me with my wedding, should it ever occur. (Janet has reminded me of this promise repeatedly over the years.) When I got engaged last year, Janet talked a big game about going wedding dress shopping and being there for me “anytime.” This meant a lot to me; my mom and I were very close, and her death after a long illness was devastating. I still miss her terribly and hate that she will not be there on my wedding day, so I was excited at the prospect of having my aunt by my side.

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Except… that’s not how it’s worked out. Last spring, Janet missed three wedding dress shopping excursions, including two that I specifically scheduled around her and which she dropped out of at the last second. Her absence stung, especially because I had made it clear that I really valued her opinion. I ended up buying a dress without her.

We asked Janet to co-host a post-wedding brunch for us, along with my fiancé’s aunt; Janet graciously agreed. Of her own accord, Janet also offered to design table runners for the reception as her wedding gift to us. I was so moved by this offer and enthusiastically took her up on it. In return, I offered to pay to have her makeup done for the ceremony, an offer I also extended to my sister, my mom’s best friend, and my fiancé’s mom and step-mom. The other four women enthusiastically responded yes, immediately, and all seemed to understand that I wanted them in the room in an attempt to make up for the absence of the person who I’d most like to be there—my mother. Janet took five weeks to respond. When she did, she told me she’d love to be there, that she would like to bring her daughter (my cousin) with her, and that she needed to know how many yards of fabric she needs to make the table runners ASAP because she is “very busy this fall.” I was stunned. I have no idea how to calculate table runner yardage without knowing how many guests we’ll have, something I won’t know for several months. (We just sent out save the dates last month and won’t send invitations for a few months still.)

I also mentioned Janet’s daughter. Janet has historically made a lot of family drama about wanting to bring her kids to child-free events. Ideally, I too wanted a child-free wedding but, specifically because of Janet, we are compromising and allowing teenagers. Janet’s daughter is actually really cool, and I guess I’m willing to have her in the room with us during makeup, although I think it’s incredibly bad manners on Janet’s part to have invited her.

The real problem is that we would like to invite Janet and her husband to the rehearsal dinner, which we are holding in a very small, very intimate private dining room of our favorite restaurant. There is no space for Janet’s children, and I don’t want them there. I am terrified that not inviting her teenage kids to the rehearsal dinner will deeply offend her and ruin our relationship, just like it ruined her relationship with my uncle. I have come up with all sorts of ways to try to make it okay for her kids not to be with her—asking my friends to take them to a movie, arranging for a surprise dessert to be delivered to their hotel room, telling Janet and her husband they don’t have to come to the dinner if they can’t bear leaving the kids in the hotel for a few hours, etc.—but unfortunately none of these ideas solve the underlying problem of Janet believing her kids cannot be separated from her and are entitled to attend every event she attends.

I am so sad that someone who holds such a special place in my life is making this planning process feel not just like a burden but like a grenade that could go off at any time and ruin my relationship with the closest person I have left to a mother. I know I have painted Janet to sound like someone who maybe I shouldn’t want a relationship with, but, like I said, she has many wonderful qualities; I just wish I could find a way to help her tap into those qualities and cut me just a little bit of slack as my wedding date approaches. Any advice you have would be much appreciated.

Thank you so much,

—A bride suffering from serious aunt-ipathy towards her wedding

A:DEAR Aunt-ipathy,

I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom. Four years is an impossibly long time and no time at all. Grief is tricky—I find it sneaks up on me when I least expect it and makes my feelings confusing, so maybe it will help get through the Auntie-Drama if we break things down a bit.

First, you’ve got an aunt who promises big and doesn’t follow through. She will make table runners! How lovely, and how easy to promise, until you realize that will mean you need to do a lot of last-minute work and figure out how to get them done and go back and forth with the bride about it and generally behave more like a bespoke tailor than an Amazon seller. Likewise, hosting a post-wedding brunch doesn’t sound like that big of a deal—sure, I’ll host a brunch, what’s so hard? Until you realize you need to coordinate every single decision with the bride, the groom, and some other auntie you don’t even know and there’s a constant possibility of tears. Auntie isn’t right to be over-promising and under-delivering. But you’re telling me you love Auntie, and I gotta think she loves you too and is just not being great at this. That’s unfortunate… and probably not about you at all. Because you want your mom and your mom isn’t here (which is the literal goddamn worst) and what you’ve got is your aunt, it feels really personal. Because, well, you want your aunt to step in for your mom, and in the end she just can’t do that… and nothing is really going to make that better.

Then, you’ve got someone who is a known drama-lama about her kids. Look, I completely agree with you. Teenage kids do not need to be invited everywhere with their parents. But, but, but? You’ve invited Auntie to host a post-wedding brunch for you? And they’re staying in a hotel? And they’re teenage kids so you won’t have unruly small kids running around? I don’t think not inviting them is a particularly good choice. There’s what you’re entitled to do within the bounds of being polite (which you very much are!) and what you can do without causing major family problems you’d rather not have. So, can you squeeze in two more chairs? Move to a very large table in the main part of the restaurant? Any other options? If not, I think you simply apologize to Auntie. Don’t try and solve the problem of her kids for her, but do say you’re sorry you can’t include them but there is simply no room.

And finally, and most importantly, you have someone who promised to be there for you in your grief and isn’t showing up. People handle grief in such different ways. Is it possible Auntie is also really struggling with your mom not being there for your wedding? I know you thought Auntie would be your go-to person (because she literally repeatedly promised to be!), but is it possible someone else is showing up for you? Maybe someone you didn’t expect? I know its impossibly hard to ask, but can you open your heart up to love and support from somewhere else and accept that, for whatever reason, Auntie just can’t be that person right now?

I think my answer reads really pro-Auntie, but at the end of the day I’m actually pro-you, and you sound like you really want to keep Auntie in your life! I hope you can remember to put yourself first—if that means you need space from Auntie, take it, and if that means you need to forgive Auntie and move on, do that.

End of the day, here is the raw truth. Your mom isn’t at your wedding. And nothing is going to make that better. Not your aunt, not anyone. And for that, I am so sorry.

—Amy March


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