This question is at the intersection of family political disagreements, wedding etiquette, and apologies. Years ago, when my husband and I married, my “Uncle Bill,” his wife and Bill’s daughters attended our wedding. They were gracious and generous, and I really appreciated the effort they took to travel to us. However, within a few years, Uncle Bill grew increasingly extreme and emotionally volatile. He alienated my mother (his sister) and other family members with racist, homophobic, and personally insulting comments. Ultimately, I (and several other family members) cut off communication with him.
When Uncle Bill’s daughter, “Jennifer,” got engaged, she kindly invited my husband and I to the wedding. We were exhausted from parenting a young toddler, on a tight budget, and honestly, we did not have the energy to be in the same room as my uncle. I purchased a nice gift from her registry to be sent with a note of congratulations and regrets. I have ADHD and am horrible with RSVPs, dates, acknowledgements, everything like that—I forgot to return the wedding RSVP card. My cousin later texted me about our RSVP, and I apologized for forgetting to reply, gave our regrets, and wished them the best. My mom attended the wedding; she and Bill were able to put their differences aside for that night, at least.
Fast forward five years to now. Mom emailed Uncle Bill asking about family mementos from their father. Apparently, she was hoping to have some specific memento to leave to my brother and I someday. Mom was not trying to stir drama, but honestly it sounds like the email would have been better as a phone call. I got dragged into this with a text message from an unknown number, out of the blue: a screenshot of Uncle Bill’s email response to my mother … but his response was 100 percent about me. He objected to Mom’s request for mementos (which is fine). He said I had severely insulted Jennifer by not returning the RSVP card, and by not getting her any gift, after all the money he had spent to attend my wedding (he included a dollar figure). He insulted my mother’s child-rearing skills based on my behavior, and insinuated that I must also be a bad mother to my own daughter. His email ripped into my mom in every possible way, below the belt, based only on MY behavior.
I don’t know what to do. I honestly thought I sent Jennifer a nice wedding present; I remember reviewing her registry and selecting an item. Maybe I forgot to check out the cart? I’m just horrible at these things … but that’s in no way an excuse, I know. Jennifer’s younger sister recently got married, but we were not invited, and now I wonder if that was the reason.
I don’t care what Uncle Bill thinks of me (though I’m still angry he insulted my mom’s and my child-rearing). More so, I’m mortified if I’ve insulted his daughters so severely. After many tears, I’m ignoring Uncle Bill’s out-of-the-blue text, but I want to open a line of communication with Jennifer and her sister. What should I do? Do I send a belated wedding gift, with a mea culpa explaining that it was an oversight? Or just send a heartfelt card? I don’t know if Jennifer even shares her dad’s grudge … but I want to make some sort of gesture to let her (and her sister) know that I’m sorry and I still consider them family.
— Sheepish, But Also Angry