When Not to Sympathize, Vol. 13, Issue 26

Dear Etiquetteer: True story: An family relative recently lost her husband. She sent me a few pictures of him as a young boy, and a copy of the obituary and a card with a personal note. I have not written her back anything yet, as terrible as that sounds. You see, she's been a complete narcissistic maniac to my parents in the years before her husband's death, calling them at all hours, asking for large sums of money, screaming that they wouldn't miss the money, waking them up in the middle of the night with hysterical phone calls screeching at them about how mistreated she has been because they won't send her money. My parents have cut her off and tragically had to sever the family relationship. I know what a basket case she can be and I don't want to open that can of worms by being in contact with her, for fear she'll begin to call me. In solidarity with my parent's, I've not written her back anything. What is the proper thing to do? Send a sympathy card, or remain silent?

Dear Contacted:

Under the circumstances, and as callous as this may sound to some, Etiquetteer believes you did the right thing in declining to respond to your Virago Relative's obituary correspondence. Loyalty to your parents should take precedence, and Virago's previous behavior speaks for itself.

Every family has its Eccentric - indeed, Etiquetteer might be considered the eccentric in his family - but there are Eccentrics and there are Eccentrics. Reading your letter, Etiquetteer immediately called to mind the late Paul Swan, known during his lifetime as "the most beautiful man in the world," who lived as an artist creating in many media: paint, sculpture, and dance. Offspring of a Nebraska farm family, he lived his entire life expecting his family to support him whether he was successful or not. Naturally, this led to some Difficult Family Dynamics. Etiquetteer encourages you to read his interesting biography.

Another madcap was the late Marion Tanner, immortalized by her more famous nephew Patrick Dennis as America's Favorite Relative, Auntie Mame. Aunt and nephew eventually fell out over her behavior, specifically turning her New York home into a "boarding house" for derelicts and countercultural types - to the extent that she lost the house when she couldn't pay the mortgage.

Etiquetteer wishes you well in future dealings with your Virago Relative.