Q: Dear APW,
My fiancx proposed to me in private while we were on a vacation with his family. We met in 1998 and have been dating for 20 years. Our families and friends have long given up on us ever getting married. My dad had a terminal illness and he was the first person I told. The day of the proposal, I Facetimed him in private and then later we announced the news to my fiancx’s family. Our parents were overjoyed with the news. Four days later my dad passed away.
Then two days after my dad passed away, while I was in the middle of planning his funeral, I started receiving a mix of congratulation texts from friends and questions about why I hadn’t informed them of our engagement personally. A few hours later my fiancx informed me that his sister had posted our news with pictures of us on Facebook and tagged him (I am not on Facebook). His sister was in the room when it was announced that my dad was dying and was well aware that I was in the middle of planning a funeral that she had already confirmed she was attending. My fiancx confronted her and she flippantly apologized for “stealing his thunder” and acted like this would be something we would get over. She claims that she was just overjoyed with our news, that she just wasn’t thinking and that she didn’t know that when she tagged her brother that our entire list of family, friends, and acquaintances would see her post. His sister is in her mid-forties, married with two kids, a high school English teacher and has been on Facebook for over a decade. She is more than familiar with protecting her privacy as a teacher and a parent and knows how the tagging feature works on Facebook (as I remember her using it often when I used to have an account). As for the “not thinking” excuse, in the amount of time it took her to upload the pictures and write a grammatically correct paragraph she had time to think about what she was posting and why.
So, when I found out she announced our news I had to respond (and I am still responding) to everyone who texted or brought it up in conversation that my father had just passed away and that my fiancx’s sister did not have our permission to announce our engagement. Often I break down crying while explaining what happened and why I haven’t told them personally. So, instead of getting a joyous response to our news I am getting an awkward mix of apologies, condolences, and watered-down congratulations. And I am having this conversation over and over again.
I am so incredibly angry with my fiancx’s sister. Now that it has been a few weeks after the funeral I am stewing with rage at the loss of being the first to announce our engagement to people who have been waiting for this news for two decades. A moment of joy that should have been an anchor in a sea of grief was taken away. My fiancx and I both feel like his sister has stolen something from us. Because of her actions, we no longer want to have a wedding and are making plans to privately elope without friends or family in attendance. We both feel like this is our only option to gain back control over announcing our happy news and avoid his sister ruining anything else.
We are even considering throwing an anniversary party later to include family and friends, long after the dust has settled. On one hand (the practical hand) we will save a lot of money, on the other I am saddened that our plans are being shaped by one person’s selfish and careless actions. Both of my parents are now gone and my own siblings have all been understanding and supportive of our plans. However, we have not told my fiancx’s family and don’t know how and/or if we should until after we are married. They are going to be upset that there will not be a wedding for them to attend or help plan. More so, my future sister-in-law will take it personally. What is the best way to break the news on our planned elopement? Are we wrong to make plans while we are still angry? Will following through on our plans help us get over our anger?
A: Dear Anonymous,
That is really, really hard. I’m so sorry for your loss, and the timing of it, and the callousness with which it’s been handled.
It made me pause when you suggested cancelling the wedding. What your sister-in-law did was incredibly thoughtless, and made even worse by her refusal to see why it was wrong or how deeply it hurt you. But it’s a little bit of a leap to go right toward, “Wedding is off; we’re eloping!”
Which signals to me that maybe you should take a beat. You have a lot of really, legitimately raw emotions right now, in the wake of this loss. Set the wedding aside and focus on processing and healing for a minute. Don’t give up on the idea of your wedding—you’ve been waiting for this for twenty years! The exciting part isn’t over. Your friends weren’t looking forward to just the announcement, but the actual celebration itself. It seems hasty to throw one out because you missed out on the other.
What you’re feeling is real and valid. But it’s also a little more painful than it would feel if your grief for your dad wasn’t so fresh. You will not always feel this bad, and one of the ways you can be gentle with yourself is by not making any big decisions while you are.
Meanwhile, you have these texts to respond to, and I would frankly just chuck that b right under the bus. “Wow, I’m so sorry you heard that! We weren’t ready to announce to everyone, it was really rude of my SIL to let you find out that way!”
Take care of yourself. That may mean setting aside some wedding-related decisions for a minute, it might mean changing your plans a bit, it probably means a leeeetle bit of letting your friends know to direct their ire at your sister-in-law (in the name of healing!).
PS: Does anyone else think this would be an excellent time for a surprise wedding? (Once you feel up to planning again.) And make sure your SIL doesn’t find out in advance. Obviously.
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