DEAR AMY: My husband and partner (we were a same-sex couple) of 39 years recently died. We live on the West Coast and his entire family (mother, brother, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunt, uncles) lives on the East Coast. I have no family. He left his childhood home more than 50 years ago, so he hardly lived with his younger brother and sister. For all these years we flew back for weddings and other family gatherings, sent money for graduations, birthdays, etc., and met with all his family many, many times. Everyone acted friendly toward us. His brother and sister flew to our home one month before his passing and claim I was cold, distant and rude to them. I didn’t see it that way, but I apologized. It has been a month since his passing, and not one family member has reached out to me via text, card or phone call. My brother-in-law suggested that the immediate family does not need to send condolences or thank me for taking care of their brother. He further said that other family members would not know what to say. He even said that I was simply “out of sight ... out of mind.” My hope was that by reaching out to me, his family would acknowledge a life well-lived. I am not looking for sympathy for myself; but this has me confused about their true feelings about his and our life together. His brother and sister told me they will not attend his memorial service on the West Coast. Am I missing something here? I am trying to understand their behavior.
Saddened on the Left Coast
DEAR SADDENED: Your brother-in-law has a very weak point, in that immediate family members (who are presumably grieving, themselves), might not feel the need to reach out to you in sympathy with a note or call. This theory only works, however, if you have all seen one another after your loved one’s death and expressed your mutual condolences personally.
In this case, of course, they should contact you, and the fact that they haven’t makes it sound as if they wrote off their brother many years ago. Their inattention is rude and hurtful. (“Not knowing what to say” is no excuse.)
You and your husband seem to have tried to maintain a relationship with these faraway family members over the years. The family’s collective behavior now illustrates why he left his home 50 years ago to live on the other side of the country, and why he was so lucky to have you.
DEAR AMY: For the second time in less than three years, my husband is going to be treated for cancer. We know the toll it takes on him, with a lowered immunity from treatments. This time he is also battling a newly diagnosed heart problem. We have told no one about either of these diagnoses or treatments. We are very private people and prefer not to have people asking how he is, how treatments are going, gossiping amongst the neighborhood, etc. We were able to successfully and carefully avoid social situations the first time he had cancer. But we have many elderly neighbors who feel slighted if we do not accept their social invitations. They ask if they have offended us when we do turn down offers to socialize. How do we protect my husband’s health and our privacy without offending others?
DEAR PERPLEXED: You can dodge by saying, “Thank you for the invitation, but we’re into staying home lately and we’re turning down all invitations for the next little while.” If they ask if everything is all right, tell them, “Everything is fine.” If they ask if they have offended you, say “No, not at all.”
You have the right to maintain and protect your privacy any way you choose, but please understand that this will not shield you from well-meaning questions and curiosity. You should be prepared to deflect it with politeness: “It is nice of you to ask, but I don’t want to discuss it. Thank you for understanding.”
DEAR AMY: I liked your advice to “At a Loss,” who wanted to exclude her mother from her own wedding. I had an identical experience and handled it exactly as you suggested, by assigning a friend to basically monitor my mother at the wedding, and be prepared to escort her home, if necessary. Everything worked out fine!
DEAR BEEN THERE: No solution is guaranteed, but I’m happy this worked for you.