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Annie’s Mailbox: Awkward or uncaring in the face of death

First Posted: 5:54 pm - April 9th, 2015

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Dear Annie: Our only child passed away last year after a long battle with cancer. He was in his early 20s, and we were grateful that my family and many of his college friends were by his side throughout.

The problem is my husband’s side of the family. With the exception of his 88-year-old mother, who lives far away and phoned regularly, the rest of his family did nothing. My husband’s sister and brother and their children visited once early on, and that was it. My husband’s sister came to our house for a few hours, and my brother-in-law shocked us by telling story after story of people he knew who had cancer and suffered horribly. I asked him to stop, but he seemed unable to help himself.

This sister lives within an hour of the hospital. They were part of an email chain that I used to keep family and friends updated on our son’s condition. As he worsened, we sent word that they were welcome to come to the ICU, but not once did any of his paternal aunts, uncles or cousins call to see how he was holding up.

They showed up at the funeral and barely spoke to us, except for my brother-in-law, who told us he’d heard rock salt could cure cancer. The niece who once babysat my son said, “I wish I would have visited him at the hospital.” My reply was, “So do I.” That was the last time we spoke.

I am now done with that side of the family. But I feel sorry for my husband, who won’t get so much as a call or text on our son’s birthday or the anniversary of his passing. He has told me he wishes his family could be as supportive as mine. My family loves him. Tell me, Annie, how can relatives be so uncaring? — Sad Wife

Dear Sad: Please know how sorry we are for your heartbreaking loss. The death of a child is one of the hardest things to bear. We cannot explain why these relatives seem so disinterested, but based on your brother-in-law’s behavior and that of your niece, they are awkward and uncomfortable in such situations, so they avoid them. They don’t realize that their presence alone can be comforting, that they don’t need to fill the silence with conversation, and that they need to put aside their discomfort for their family’s sake.

You could phone them and suggest they call your husband on these occasions to say they are thinking of him, but there are no guarantees that they will do so. We are glad he has your family to fill the gap.

Dear Annie: We have given each of our adult children money toward their weddings. One child has divorced and is now engaged to be married again, although it’s a first marriage for her fiance. Do we contribute any money toward this second wedding? We don’t want to be unfair to her siblings, who may not have a second wedding. So far everything has been equal. — Pondering

Dear Pondering: We think the cost of a second wedding belongs to the couple. Tell your daughter you are happy for her, but you will not help finance the event. Do, however, give the newlyweds a lovely wedding gift.

Dear Annie: I would like to respond to “Wondering in Winter,” who received an anonymous message saying his wife is having an affair.

Several years ago, I was the recipient of an anonymous phone call telling me my wife was cheating. The person mentioned a trip my wife was planning with her girlfriends and said she intended to meet up with the Other Man. I immediately confronted my wife, and she broke down crying, apologizing profusely.

We reconciled, but I am not sorry I acted on the anonymous message. In hindsight, the signs were there. I just wasn’t paying attention. — Liberado in N.C.

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