1/29/2024 | By Amy Dickinson

Coping with grief is challenging for everyone, but this people pleaser finds that her personality is making the process even more difficult. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson suggests.

Dear Amy: 

My mom unexpectedly passed away about a year ago after a very brief illness. We were extremely close. I was with her nearly every moment for those last weeks.

When she died, I was raw, devastated and completely numb. It took me days to even be able to shed a tear.

My sister-in-law, whom I love, immediately asked me for the earrings my mom wore daily, as well as an expensive handbag and a fur coat.

Saying no has always been hard for me in the best of situations. I’m a people pleaser. This was the worst of situations, and I just said OK.

Now, I find myself feeling infuriated and angry. I feel like I was taken advantage of in one of my darkest times.

I would have said yes to these requests. I have enough mementos and the “stuff” wasn’t what was important to me. I feel like my SIL completely disregarded how grief stricken and exhausted I was, and was greedy and demanding during a vulnerable time.

woman kneeling at grave managing grief

I do love her, so this feels awful.

Being a people pleaser also means that confrontations are difficult for me and the last thing I would ever want to do is create a rift in my very close and loving family.

Do you have any advice on how I can move past this?

– Grieving Daughter

Dear Grieving Daughter: 

As a “people pleaser,” you may not quite recognize how to put yourself on an equal footing with the people around you.

A lifetime of extending yourself toward others can take you outside of your own emotions, and so your first task is to give yourself permission to actually feel your negative feelings (“infuriated and angry”). You then need to recognize the legitimacy of your feelings and reactions, and to deal with them, either by expressing them or by working through them on your own and letting them go.

You have a voice and the right to speak your own truth. If you don’t feel able to share your honest reaction with your sister-in-law, you could write down your reactions: “I feel taken advantage of. She didn’t recognize that I was coping with grief. She jumped in too quickly and didn’t give me the chance to offer these things to her. She made a mistake. If I choose to forgive her for her behavior, I will let it all go.”

Lastly, you should recognize this: You miss your mother. You miss seeing her wear those familiar earrings. You wish you could reverse all of these recent events, but you know that you can’t.

And now you must adjust to this new reality, but it will take time — and tears.

You should allow yourself both.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from coping with grief as a people pleaer, to adult daughter dilemmas, and a godmother who regrets her lack of engagement. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

© 2023 by Amy Dickinson

Click here to read more Ask Amy columns curated for a baby boomer audience. 

Amy Dickinson