Content Warning: Grief, child loss
Everyone processes grief differently, but we can all agree that working through our grief is not linear.
Special occasions, including holidays and birthdays, can be especially hard to work through, even years after the loss, agreed the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.
Redditor IonicSolarFlare had developed a tradition of visiting his late son’s grave every year on his birthday.
But because his son was a twin to a living sister, the Original Poster (OP)’s wife was becoming increasingly concerned about how his tradition would impact their daughter and her birthday.
He asked the sub:
“AITA for visiting my late son’s grave on his and his living twin sister’s birthday?”
The OP had a tradition of visiting his late son on his birthday.
“So, to start, my son was born with a birth defect, and only lived three hours. He had a name, two parents who loved him, and now he has a small grave in our local cemetery, buried next to the rest of my family.”
“His twin sister, who was born completely healthy, turned five last week.”
“Every year on their birthday, I take time to visit my son’s grave. My wife used to come with me, but last year, she didn’t. I respected her decision but went anyway.”
The OP’s wife couldn’t take any more of the tradition.
“This past week, after I got back from my son’s grave, my wife confronted me. She told me she was ‘tired of (me) living in the past.'”
“She said a few different things to that effect, but the one that sticks with me most is, ‘He’s dead, h**l, he was barely even alive! I’m sick of you disappearing for hours on (my daughter’s) birthday night. I’m starting to think you love him more than her or me.'”
“(For clarity, I always go after my daughter goes to bed, and I’m gone for somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, including the drive there and back. I think she used hyperbole in the heat of the moment.)”
The OP lashed out at his wife for her comments.
“I was horrified. I had no idea she feels that way.”
“Then, I was furious with her for that ‘barely alive’ comment. I’m ashamed to admit that I shouted at her, and she’s now staying with her parents.”
“I have apologized for my outburst via text, but she has not responded.”
“Her unwillingness to communicate with me makes me think I might have done something unforgivable.”
Fellow Redditors weighed in:
- NTA: Not the A**hole
- YTA: You’re the A**hole
- ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
- NAH: No A**holes Here
Some saw no issue as long as the OP wasn’t neglecting his daughter’s needs.
“NTA. Grieve how you need to. I would guess your wife’s outburst came from her going through her own grieving process. But just because she wants to move on one way, doesn’t mean you need to do the same.”
“I think you should consider couples counseling with a counselor who specializes in child loss.” – Fit_Bluebird4662
“You’re absolutely allowed to grieve your child and it’s extremely wrong of your wife to try to force you to stop.”
“Visiting on his birthday is not unreasonable at all. It’s not like you’re there every day and neglecting the rest of your family.”
“My stillborn sister (who was never alive outside of the womb at all) had a cake and party every year on her birthday for almost ten years. Now mum and usually me or one of my other siblings will go to her grave on her birthdays, and she’s eighteen now. It’s perfectly healthy to want to acknowledge and celebrate your child.” – kokonikoreteureshii
“NTA. You both process grief differently. You find comfort in visiting your son’s grave and your wife finds it a painful reminder of her loss. You did nothing wrong by going but you each lashed out in your pain.”
“There’s no easy answer here. Perhaps next year you could go quietly first thing in the morning, or the day before. Perhaps both of you could see a grief counselor for a few sessions. I wish both of you peace.” – ToastMmmmmmm
“NTA. You’re allowed your half hour of remembrance a year. Maybe she’s still grieving, or maybe she’s moved on and doesn’t get why you’re carrying on your tradition. You’re not hurting anyone by going to visit the baby’s grave after your daughter is asleep. I imagine you’re celebrating her birthday and giving her all of the love and attention she could ask for.”
“That little baby never had the chance to have any of that, and it’s totally normal to feel sad and grief for the little boy who didn’t make it, and to want to stop by on his birth/death day, even if it’s just to drop off some flowers or talk to him or whatever it is you do when you visit. It’s also normal to not feel that pull, and it’s okay for your wife to not want to visit.”
“As mentioned multiple times, therapy is probably a good idea for both of you, but especially her. It sounds like you have a pretty healthy way of coping, but being as reactive to her as you were indicates that it would probably help you too.” – Beluga_Artist
“Cleanup from the birthday can wait until after grieving. I rarely clean up completely on the day of an event. I always wait until the next day or two, depending on what else is going on and how tired I am.”
“OP, I’m sorry for your loss. You can grieve however the h**l you want and for as long as you want. As a mother of four, my youngest being five, my heart aches for you. I don’t care how long it’s been, most parents never ever get over the loss of a child, and five years is NOT that long.”
“NTA. As long as your five-year-old isn’t being affected negatively, your wife is being extremely insensitive. This is just cold and cruel.” – betatwinkle
Others wondered if the wife was bitter about unequal home responsibilities.
“Just because the kiddo is in bed doesn’t mean the work is done. Birthdays are cumbersome, with lots of prep and cleanup. So dad goes off for some quiet grieving time, while mom is left doing the heavy lifting and having to be on call in case daughter wakes up, and OP can’t understand why she’s hurt?”
“Also, what cemetery is open after dark? Is the kiddo actually asleep when he leaves or is she in the process of going to bed (bathing, brushing teeth, etc.)?”
“It’s perfectly reasonable for him to go to the cemetery on the birthday week but not the actual birthday. It seems his wife is feeling abandoned and in my opinion, rightfully so.” – theunkindpanda
“I was almost going to say NTA, but I changed my mind to YTA or ESH.”
“Your wife said, ‘I’m sick of you disappearing for hours on (my daughter’s) birthday night. I’m starting to think you love him more than her or me.'”
“I think that you shouldn’t disappear for hours to go to the cemetery AT NIGHT on your living daughter’s birthday. While she is left to clean up after the party or the dinner, you take off.”
“If it’s important to you to visit your son’s grave, do it throughout the year frequently or if you must do it on his birthday, go during what would be your morning job and not the time you have for personal time with your husband at night.”
“Why not start the new tradition of doing something to honor your son on your daughter’s birthday as she gets older like buying your flowers, and then planting a flower in honor of him?”
“I’m guessing it’s not really about visiting his grave, but other things you do or say throughout the year or on the birthday. What he says sounds like a last-straw statement. If your daughter goes to bed at 8:00 p.m. and you are in the cemetery from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., that is really concerning. Most people go to the cemetery and say a little prayer, I don’t usually camp out.” – JustVisitingHere4Now
“Soft YTA. I respect your grief and there is no timeline for it. Some losses we grieve forever.”
“However, your daughter is now old enough that it affects her. You being missing for several hours on the evening of her birthday is unkind to her. This is why your wife said what she said, which was overly harsh regarding him being hardly alive, but she was being protective of your daughter.”
“Her comment makes me wonder if there are other ways she feels deprioritized, whether related to how you grieve or not. A briefer visit to the grave the day of, or a longer visit the day before or after, is a better way to honor your son but, just as important, celebrate with your daughter.” – hotheadnchickn
“NTA. But, can I offer a little insight perhaps on the situation?”
“Being a mum is hard, and birthdays are hard and busy and long. The preparation before, running everything during, and then clearing up after. My partner would say he’s really helpful and he’s present on the day, and he is, but the bulk of the mental load comes from me.”
“Having to do that and make the day special for my living child whilst also having to manage grief and probably guilt for not acknowledging enough my child that passed would be unbearable. I would feel guilty about my daughter having a ‘slightly sad’ moment on her birthday, she deserves a day of sunshine. But I’d feel guilty for not giving my son the acknowledgment he deserves also.”
“Then throw in all the other birthday stresses…”
“She’s probably jealous you get to grieve in the way she hates herself for not being able to, or because she’s trying not to do it in front of your daughter. She’s still going to be grieving losing her son, and wondering what if and dealing with another year passing without her son, watching your daughter hit milestones she will never see him hit.”
“So, my recommendation is to find a way you can both grieve and acknowledge him as a family, without letting grief interfere with your daughter’s birthday. She’s right in that sense, grieving the day before or after won’t change much. But it might impact your daughter knowing that her special day is tarnished by grief for a sibling she barely knows.”
“But don’t be mad at her, she’s still a mama who lost a baby, struggling with conflicting emotions and demands of motherhood at such a difficult time.” – hizzthewhizzle
Some really needed to know what “unforgivable” thing the OP yelled at his wife.
“So… what did you yell at her? Like some people pointed out, that’s conspicuously missing from your post. And since it seems to have been horrible enough that she decided to go stay with her parents over it, it might be missing VERY intentionally just so people side with you.”
“Either way, I’m actually leaning slightly on YTA, especially if there’s an actual birthday party that needs cleaning up after, and you just up and disappear on your wife. I also don’t buy it that you only take an hour and a half for it.” – slendernan
“YTA because you have yet to respond to anyone asking what you shouted at your wife, and the fact that you think you ‘might have done something unforgivable’ makes me think that yes, you probably did shout something worse than ‘he was barely even alive’. This is some very selective storytelling for sympathy points here.” – darkblaziken94
“Could it be that she wants some closure, or rather manage to cover the wound, and the yearly visit to the grave rips it open? She doesn’t want OP to go on his own, leaving her alone with her thoughts knowing where he is, and she doesn’t want to go again. She wants them to focus on the live daughter and let the dead son become a background painful memory.”
“OP should be thinking hard if he wants his daughter to grow up with the ghost of her brother hanging over her head at every birthday.”
“As well, OP repeats what his wife said but doesn’t repeat what he said, which leads me to think that he knows perfectly well that he said something unforgivable.”
“YTA.” – Renbarre
“I’m going with a light YTA on this one (towards just YTA because you won’t tell us what you said to your wife that is possibly “unforgivable” and caused her to go stay with her parents).”
“You do have a right to grieve how you see fit, but as another comment pointed out, the way your post is focused out, the way you frame your wording, it’s focusing on ‘your son and his twin.'”
“Ask yourself, why are you more focused on reliving your son than focusing on your living wife and daughter? It’s not going to affect your son if you visit on a different day. But as your daughter gets older, she will start to notice. For all we know, your daughter might have woken up after you left and was wondering where you were while Mum put her back to bed.”
“As a mother, she likely didn’t have a choice but to keep living for the present from the get-go. Not doing so would make her a ‘horrible parent’ to her daughter, and society as a whole. (In her mind.) It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love your son. But more so, focusing on her daughter in the present.”
“That fact that she’s questioning where you love your lost son more than her and your daughter is telling on how she feels you’ve been treating this day.”
“You may think you’re doing a great job of hiding the sadness you’re feeling during the day, but it might be more noticeable than you realize. If that’s the case, your daughter will eventually notice if you’re just making it through the day to go mourn in the evening, if she hasn’t already.”
“I agree with all of the comments pointing out that you really need counseling for this.” – R0se_0f_fire
Everyone in the subReddit could respect that the OP was still grieving and had found a way that made sense for him to process that grief and honor the memory of his son.
But the sub was divided over his choice of time to do it. Not only would this practice eventually impact his living daughter’s birthday and her understanding of his love for her, but it was clearly affecting his wife, probably emotionally and in the context of their home.