DEAR AMY: Lately I have become persona non-grata to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Next to my wife, they have been my closest confidants for years. Being so suddenly rejected by these two women really hurts. They claim I could have gotten my wife into an experimental program for her stage 4 cancer and that I didn’t. I have no idea what they are talking about. Two top oncologists at different hospitals and the NIH and NCI agree and tell us to stay on the chemo she’s on because it’s working. These physicians have said that she should definitely not go into any trial. I’ve called my in-laws and apologized. I’ve asked how we can get back on the right footing. Neither woman will accept my apology. They treat me with utter disdain. Yes, I know cancer causes all kinds of grieving. But it also brings families together. This is tearing us apart. I can’t bear the thought of spending the holidays (they live nearby) with people who despise me. Of course, my wife is standing with me. We are using the excuse that Thanksgiving and Christmas both fall in the weeks when she is getting her chemo and she can’t go out. But the truth is, it’s simply too awkward to be false and pretend like everything is OK. We have been entirely transparent for the past 20 months of this struggle. I feel these women are incredibly selfish and hurtful. What should I do? What could I say to bring us back as one loving, supportive family around my wife?
Cancer Dividing a Family
DEAR DIVIDING: Your total transparency during this health crisis might have actually set some of this in motion, because it seems to have inspired your wife’s family to believe that they are partners with you in her treatment.
Your wife surely has a role to play here. You don’t mention whether she has asked her mother and sister to treat you differently. They need to be reminded that your wife is in charge of her own treatment, and that their reactions are undermining her emotional well-being at a time when all of you need one another.
You might not be able to heal this family. For now, you should maintain a calm front, conveying to your in-laws that you miss them, and that is all. Encourage them to visit with your wife. Don’t discuss her treatment with them. And be aware that serious illness does make people behave irrationally. It is their powerlessness and grief talking. Fortunately, it sounds as if your wife is going to beat this. Keep your eyes on that prize.
You all might benefit from attending a family support group. The American Cancer Society (cancer.org) has a searchable database for support services; just enter your ZIP code and a list of local services will pop up.
DEAR AMY: I have a relative who when he is invited to a family celebration (whether it is a christening, Holy Communion, confirmation, or wedding) always shows up empty-handed (no gift). We know that he is not financially secure, but on the other hand I would not consider him in need of welfare. Nobody expects him to give a lavish gift, but to me showing up with nothing at all is rude. I would rather have him respond that he cannot attend the event than show up empty-handed. What are your thoughts about this situation?
Perplexed in New York
DEAR PERPLEXED: Your examples of celebrations this man does not bring gifts to are Christian celebrations, and yet your reaction to him is distinctly not.
I hope you are not serious that it would be better for this man to stay home than join in a family celebration empty-handed.
You could attempt to coach him to always bring a card with him. Cards make nice keepsakes for all of the events you mention. But a gift should not be required at any of these celebrations.
DEAR AMY: I thought you were snarky in your response to “Wondering,” the woman who reported that her live-in guy’s mother, “Betty,” came to their house every day, took care of their dogs and rearranged their furniture and cupboards while doing so. This woman should not be in their house at all.
DEAR UPSET: This couple was accepting “Betty’s” free doggy day care. I suggested that “Upset” should communicate her concerns to Betty, but otherwise it might be worth it to put up with what she called “minor annoyances.”