Q: Our 24-year-old daughter, "Mary," is getting married this August. My mother is 84, a hard-core feminist and atheist. She views religion as an oppressor of females, and hates anything to do with church. My two daughters are somewhat religious, and the groom and his family are Protestants.
When I told my mother that Mary's wedding would have a pastor reading some Bible passages, she said she would walk out of the ceremony in protest. I got angry and told her, "Then leave." She hasn't spoken to me since, and returned my Mother's Day card unopened.
My sister, who lives three blocks from her and is close with my daughters, tried to reason with her. Mom isn't speaking to my sister now either. My Dad is caught in the middle, trying to reason with Mom.
Mary called my mom, and Mom denied saying she would walk out. She says she will come to the wedding and not protest.
I, Mary, my ex-wife and others think that if my Mom isn't talking to me or my sister, we don't want her at the wedding — not out of anger, but because it will be a major drama distracting from the joy of the day. She cannot drive or get there on her own.
I don't feel that I need to apologize to my Mom, and I believe her behavior is toxic. I feel sad for her because she is depressed and not in very good health. She seems determined to be unhappy and find things that offend her. It may be mental illness, but she won't consider treatment.
What do you suggest my sister and I do? She is still talking to my Dad and brother, but who knows for how long.
Frustrated Father of the Bride
A: I suggest you do what I'm doing right now: wondering what you really stand to gain by excluding your mother.
On one hand, you have your stated intent of pre-empting a "major drama."
On the other, you have your stated concern for an 84-year-old in poor physical health, dealing with depression and possible other mental illness, and either choosing or being stuck with a "very bad way to live the last years of one's life."
Is the "joy of the day" so fragile — and ceremonial perfection so important — that it can't withstand an act of generosity to an ailing family member?
Our discussing it here might be moot, since Mary decides the guest list and apparently wants to scratch Grandma, but I imagine a vote for compassion from her father would carry a lot of weight.
Something else: You actually do have something to apologize for. You got angry and lashed out despite being aware that she's not emotionally, and maybe not mentally, 100 percent.
Since you missed your chance then to exercise restraint and good judgment, and since you have a couple of months to work with, please take this chance now to champion inclusion. It's a cause people rarely regret they embraced — not to mention, it's the right tone to set as Mom's needs likely mount.