Dear Amy: My partner, “Chas,” and I have been together for 30 years.
My sister “Shelly” introduced us. Shelly and Chas are very old friends, in fact, Chas is her daughter’s godfather.
Chas tends to be quiet and low key; Shelly is exuberant and loves attention.
All these years, we have shared various family gatherings and holidays. We get along well.
Recently, Shelly invited us to a family dinner. Chas had just had surgery and was not able to attend.
He sent his greetings and regrets, and I went by myself.
We had a very pleasant, lively evening.
Two days later, our brother sent an email to Shelly and me about some other miscellaneous stuff.
Clumsily, he had created his email message on top of an exchange he and Shelly had the day after the recent dinner.
Shelly had enthused about what a great time we all had, “mostly because Chas wasn’t here.”
I was (and am) stunned. I sent a terse reply to both, saying, “I guess I wasn’t aware of how unwelcome Chas is at these gatherings.”
Shelly texted me: “I know that was super unkind and I hope you’ll forgive me.”
I have not responded. I have NOT breathed a word of this to Chas, who would be blindsided and deeply hurt. Shelly texted again: “[Brother] gets me going and words just come out. I miss you.”
I don’t even know if I want to fix this.
I have two siblings who share snide remarks about my partner behind my back!
Carrying this on my own is painful.
I need a LOT of time and space to get over this and am not confident I have the bandwidth to deal with it. Any thoughts?
Dear Blindsided: You are justified in feeling wounded and you did the right thing to call them out.
My thoughts are: Of course, siblings complain and gossip when they don’t think they’ll be caught!
I assume that you and “Shelly” might have occasionally sniped about your brother, spouses, or in-laws over the years. There are probably times when you are relieved when somebody’s spouse has to stay home, and you have some solo time with your sibling.
Your sister has known “Chas” longer than you have. She may feel comfortable grousing about him because he is a de facto family member.
She issued a quick and sincere apology (it was perhaps a little too quick). She has asked you to forgive her.
What she hasn’t done is to explain what was behind her statement, therefore owning her point of view. Nor have you asked her to.
Once you feel more collected, you should sincerely and accurately express how you feel, and ask Shelly to explain herself.
Dear Amy: Our daughter died from cancer.
Initially, there were quite a few, “I had that kind of cancer, she’ll be fine” supporters. We/she heard all the other well-meaning (but not so helpful comments.
As the cancer progressed, fewer people had anything to say, until one day our daughter noted that none of her friends were visiting or even calling anymore.
She gracefully accepted that they probably just didn’t know what to say or do and were uncomfortable when visiting, simply because of that.
Except for a very few. They came anyway.
They sat with her and often said nothing. Sometimes they chatted. Sometimes they shared a meal or took a nap together. Sometimes they just dropped by to say “Hi” and share a quick hug.
They provided a presence that said more than words could possibly convey.
That presence lifted our daughter’s spirit more than anything else, especially toward the end.
Whether it’s a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one, or any other unfortunate major life event, people don’t need to know the “right” things to say.
Just showing up, and thereby reassuring the person suffering that they are still loved and are a part of life, a part of the world going on around them, is a greater gift.
— A Grateful Parent
Dear Parent: Thank you so much for sharing this heartbreaking experience. You’ve offered a very deep and important lesson: It’s OK not to know what to say. But life really is about showing up.
Dear Amy: Thank you so much for devoting your entire column on Veterans Day to Vietnam veterans and their families. Every single letter brought tears to my eyes.
Dear Grateful: So very many veterans contacted me, providing their very moving and valuable testimony. I’m extremely grateful to them all.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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