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Ask Amy: Sister wants to reconcile while mother is ill

Amy Dickinson

DEAR AMY: I am the oldest of three daughters. I have lived 600 miles away from my family for 25 years, but I have always been close with my mother.

She has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and emphysema. My youngest sister has mental health issues and is unable to cope with much beyond her own well-being.

My middle sister has devoted little time to any of us. I tried for years to have a close relationship with her. Sadly, she only seems to call me when she is in need. She competes with me. I have often been hurt by her inattention.

Recently, she purchased a home near our winter residence; I was excited that we might finally have a chance to "bond," but she never seems to have time for me.

After trying for many years to have an emotionally intimate relationship with her, I gave up. Now, she seems to have assumed the role of the caregiver for our mother, which is wonderful.

I sit here thinking how childish our situation is in light of my mother's declining health, and feeling guilty that we are not "playing nice" for my mother's benefit. Do you have any insight? — Older, But Not Wiser

DEAR OLDER: If you feel guilty about not "playing nice," then you could easily alleviate your guilt by ... playing nice.

Parental illness frequently brings out unexpected qualities (and shortcomings) in siblings. Some people run for the hills, while others step up. Dealing with your mother's illness gives your sister an opportunity to be useful. She deserves a lot of credit for taking the opportunity.

The fact is that you may not develop a radically different or new-and-improved intimate relationship with your sister. What you can do is determine to show up — actually and figuratively. Acknowledge and thank your sister for her efforts. Ask her to give you a job to do so you could take some of the burden off her shoulders. For instance, you might be able to deal with insurance issues, even from a distance.

You have been close to your mother for all of this time. Share her with your sister, and your relationship may improve.

DEAR AMY: After kicking around the idea of retirement for a couple of years, I finally retired a few weeks ago. My wife tried to persuade me to stay on the job for another six months. Having failed to persuade me, she stopped interacting with me in any way.

This has been going on for two months. She sleeps in her room, and I sleep in mine (we've been doing this for years), but now she has reverted to locking the door to her room to ensure I don't try to sleep with her.

This is a tried-and-true pattern for her, as it appears to be the only way she can communicate her anger. Although I have tried talking with her (and using notes), she is unmoved. I have also invited her to therapy sessions with me. She refuses. I believe she is angry because she thinks I should still be working at my old job or, at the very least, should have a new one. She is four years older than I am and is still working, with no plans to retire. I am ready to end this relationship; I'm in my late 60s and do not plan to be miserable for the rest of my life. — Welcome to the Golden Years!

DEAR WELCOME: Lacking your wife's side of this story, what you present sounds like a classic and extreme domestic standoff. I agree with your desire to be happy. If your wife will not speak to you or interact with you in any way, and if you cannot successfully bridge this gap, then you should discuss with your therapist the idea of ending the charade and simply living separate lives.

DEAR AMY: I'd like to add to the other voices urging you — and others — to understand the severity of chemical sensitivities as referenced in the letter from "My Office Problem." This is not a question of simply not liking fragrance; at its most severe, it can be crippling. — Fellow Sufferer

DEAR SUFFERER: Thank you. I think it's also possible that the person with a (very real) chemical sensitivity would also use this condition to bully a co-worker.

(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: askamytribune.com. You can also follow her on Twitter askingamy or "like" her on Facebook. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.) 

 


By Amy Dickinson
Tribune Media