Chris Aman

My grandmother recently passed away from a heart attack. It was very sudden, and our entire family is in a state of shock - except for my sister-in-law. She is very good about being sympathetic in public, but my brother told me that she's more concerned about what they will inherit from the will than helping with funeral arrangements. Should I confront her?

My condolences to you and your family.

To answer your question I would like to begin by providing a brief review of the grief cycle:

1. Denial and isolation - a defense mechanism to buffer the immediate shock

2. Anger - reality and pain re-emerge, intense emotion and anger may be directed at anything and everything.

3. Bargaining - a normal reaction to helplessness and vulnerability is the need to regain control, we use bargaining to do this.

4. Depression - normally this is a deep sense of sadness and regret.

5. Acceptance - we can all hope to get to this stage; we become calm and are able to cope with the loss and accept it in our own way.

With every loss we all go through these steps in a different manner. You and your immediate family, who have grown up with and had your grandmother in their lives since birth, will deal with the passing in a more emotional and connected manner. You will experiences this cycle in what will likely be a more emotionally intense manner. That is not to say that your sister-in-law will not, but she will not experience these stages at the same emotional level. Part of what could be going on is that she may not know how to talk with your brother about the passing, and in an attempt to console him or fill what can often be an uncomfortable silence, may lean towards this type of conversation (not that it is appropriate or consoling). This could be her method of trying to feel more comfortable and cope with the situation herself.

If she has not outwardly given you the impression or made the statement, right now may not be the best time for you to bring this up. You need to take time to appropriately place the grief emotions where they need to go: on the grieving. It would not serve you or your family well if you redirect that anger on your sister-in-law.

Another way to view this is that, since the grieving process is different for everyone and the manner in which others cope is varied, you may see the greed of others come shining through as a way in which to exhibit denial. This is when those big, lifetime family separations often occur. You can chose to be angry about it, avoid it, confront it or keep out of it and work through your grief so that, when you do confront it, you are in a better place with your own emotions. At that time, it may be a non-issue.

You are working through a very difficult and emotional process. Don't let her take this time away from you with her manner of coping, dealing, or greed (if that's what it is). You know her better than I do and if it is greed on her part and not a manner of coping with the circumstances, work through your issues and concerns first and then, after you have come to the place of acceptance, you will be able to confront the emotions associated with how her behavior left you feeling in your time of grief. You will also be able to determine whether or not the confrontation is worth the energy and effort.

There are appropriate times for confrontation. The last thing you want to do is turn the remembrance of your grandmother into a family battle and then regret this later. Work through this first and then decide where to go with your sister in law.

Chris Aman, MBA, MSN, APRN, NP-C, is the co-owner of Inspired Life Wellness Clinic, where she is a psychiatric provider for teens and adults. She and her husband, Jason, have six children and live in Bismarck. They enjoy outdoor activities in the summer and hibernating in the winter.