DEAR AMY: My 77-year-old father-in-law is an eccentric man — he always has been and probably always will be. He's a former librarian, so he's always been chatty about odd topics. He has quirky hobbies and can be a bit argumentative when the topic of conversation turns to certain subjects. His wife died over a decade ago. I find him endearing, but my own family does not. My parents and my older brother absolutely hate to be near him. They find him irritating and occasionally rude. They keep contact with him to the bare minimum but are always polite to him. My brother is hosting the holidays this year, and to my surprise, extended an invite to my father-in-law to join us. He asked me to invite him, and also told me to ask him to "be seen, and not heard" (in so many words). He said that he didn't want to get dragged into "philosophical arguments about nothing," and didn't want him being "weird." I didn't know what to say. I haven't extended the invite to my father-in-law yet. I just don't know how to say, "don't be weird" and "keep your mouth shut." I don't want him spending the holidays alone. What do you think?
DEAR CONCERNED: I think your brother is a bit of a jerk — or at least he is acting like one.
No, I don't think you should ask your father-in-law to keep his mouth shut in order for your family to be able to tolerate him for a few hours.
You don't mention your spouse or partner here, but if your partner is on the scene, they may be able to gently and respectfully influence their father to modulate his behavior when he is around your family.
Also — because you are so fond of him, if he attends, make sure he is seated near you. You might be able to steer him to conform closer to the dynamic at the family table.
I think you should say to your brother, "I don't want to tell my father-in-law to keep his mouth shut and stop being weird, so — if you don't want to invite him, you should tell me now."
Fellowship surrounding the holiday season should involve a level of patience toward the quirky, the eccentric, and the misbegotten. It is not enough to merely issue an invitation — both hosts and guests should work extra-hard to be inclusive, well-behaved, and kind to one another.
DEAR AMY: My younger sister passed away last year, and it hit both my mother and me by surprise. I have accepted the loss, even though I've learned that she lied to both of us multiple times, was hanging out with disturbing people, and was not taking care of herself. My mother, on the other hand, is still having the hardest time getting over her. I am sure it is a different feeling losing a sibling, as compared to a mother losing a daughter, but I was wondering if there is any way I can console my mother into moving on.
DEAR TROUBLED: People seem to respond to loss across a wide spectrum, and each person grieves in their own way.
Surely, no loss is as great as the one experienced by a parent losing a child. The very structure of this loss seems to upend the natural order.
I'm not sure you can console your mother into "moving on." Learning (after her death) about the challenges and mistakes your sister made might plunge your mother into rethinking or regretting some of her own choices as a parent. Every competent and caring parent takes on the responsibility of caring for and protecting their child. Your mother might be wrestling with a sense of deep failure, layered on top of her grief.
Let her talk. Project an attitude of openness, even if you are frustrated.
Introduce her to a circle of her peers who have experienced similar loss. The organization Compassionate Friends offers just this sort of support. Check their website: compassionatefriends.org, read through their online material, and find a local meeting for your mother. If you contact the organization directly, they will provide a packet of materials to send to you.
DEAR AMY: How dare you insist that people must suppress their constitutionally protected right to free speech at the dinner table — just because their opinion is unpopular?
DEAR DISAPPOINTED: People have the right to speak, but sometimes — at group dinners — it is wiser to keep the peace, while they pass the peas.