Snubbed at His Brother’s Funeral

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Social Q’s
By PHILIP GALANES

Two months ago, my brother died. For 20 years, we were not close. During his final illness, my wife and I visited him, though it was hard to travel to his remote home. We flew cross-country again to pay our respects at his funeral. But my sister-in-law excluded me from everything. I was refused admission to the pre-service meeting with the clergyman. I was omitted from printed obituaries (though there was room for his dog), and none of the eulogies mentioned a surviving brother. Given this disrespect, how should I behave toward his family?

ANONYMOUS

I am sorry for your loss. But let’s remember that the disrespect you feel came from a woman who was grieving the fresh loss of her husband and daily companion. I don’t minimize your loss; you grew up with your brother. But after 20 years of more perfunctory contact, your pain is probably more existential than focused on him. Your sister-in-law lost her mate.

Your assessment may also be on the money. She may resent your failure to keep in closer touch. (She may also have been exhausted from caretaking during his illness and zonked out with grief.) But after such a long absence from his life, did you really expect a meaningful voice in creating his funeral service? Your omission from his obituary and eulogy seem like more pointed slights. Still, I direct you to the high road.

In answer to your question — “how should I behave?” — I hope you choose compassion and sympathy, even if your sister-in-law was mean. My first choice is for you to call her and ask how she’s getting along. But I’ll settle for your ripping up that poison-pen letter that you, and many of us, would be composing in our heads.

In-Flight Etiquette

The woman seated next to me on an airplane asked if I would switch seats with her friend, who was in the middle seat of the row behind us, so they could sit together. I had an aisle seat, which I greatly prefer, so I said no. The woman began to yell at me and make a scene. I try to be kind; I would have switched for a parent with a small child. But how much of my convenience should I sacrifice for a stranger? Would you have switched seats?

ROBIN

Probably not. In the micro-economy of airplanes, everyone knows that an aisle seat trumps a middle one. The unpleasant woman next to you asked you to downgrade for her sole convenience. You were not obliged to accommodate her. I too might have acceded to her request if it involved a small child or an elderly person or the prospect of sitting next to Joan Didion. But these exceptions would be ad hoc and require a level of charm in the asking.

The moment the woman next to you began raging (or frankly, became even mildly unpleasant), I would have disengaged and pressed the call button for the flight attendant. Flight crew can sometimes be helpful in facilitating multipronged moves that allow friends to sit together, while respecting the economy of aisle-, middle- and window-seat values.

Giving Notice

I recently took a job, working for a person I’ve known for several years. She recruited me heavily. Now that I’ve been here for six months, I don’t think it’s a good fit. It’s a new organization, and my responsibilities keep shifting. And I’ve just received an offer that would allow me to live in the same city as my partner (we’ve been living apart since I began graduate school). But I don’t want to leave my boss in a bad spot. Your thoughts?

ANONYMOUS

Take the job in the city where your partner lives, assuming it’s a better fit with your skills and personality. And use all your might to negotiate the longest notice period possible (or that your boss would like from you). I admire your concern for her, but you are also responsible for developing your career and relationship with your partner. Even if you play this perfectly, your boss may still be annoyed with you. But as long as you behave with integrity, you can’t ask more of yourself.

Micromanaged Meals

As usual, I went to Passover Seder at my older sister’s house. I love her, but she was as controlling as ever. She micromanaged everything from the minute we walked in the door. I am beginning to feel that I can no longer celebrate the freedom of the Israelites at a home where I am imprisoned by my sister’s bossy hostessing. May I stop going?

JENNY

While I applaud your personalized dramatization of Passover, I am afraid that I cannot play Moses in leading you out of your sister’s Egypt. Take a look at the first question in this column. Do you want to end up like that? Speak to your sister (gently) about loosening the reins. Offer to help with the music or some other feature she doesn’t care much about, and keep nudging until she makes a space for you.